Friday, December 26, 2008

To Sleep, Perchance

In the US today it is very easy to find ways to 'rev' your engine, so to say. The prevalence of coffee purveyors is at an all-time high and tea is getting raves, especially green tea, as a source of antioxidants. The counters which we can buy drugs over are often almost blocked by the piles of 'legal speed' that are being offered for sale.
These 'uppers' consist largely of caffeine and/or pseudephedrine for the active ingredient(s) and various herbal and manmade stimulants, along with vitamins, minerals, amino acids and loads of sugar and flavorings(in the energy drink category). The herbs guarana and ma huang are common sources of caffeine and ephedrine respectively. The ban on ephedrine is often ineffective; importers get much through the borders. Products containing ephedrine are still showing up. Synerphine from bitter orange has a similar effect and is legal. These stimulant drinks and tablets often contain the vitamins and amino acids and minerals that are found in any full spectrum 'vitamin pill', at a greater cost than necessary. The desired effects of wakefulness and weight loss(if this occurs at all) comes with a cost. The side effects have been fatal. The heart is stimulated along with the nervous system, increasing the pulse rate and blood pressure. The kidneys get overworked which is not good. Anxiety, nervousness, insomnia, sweating and dizziness are all problems when using this stuff. The drinks that add vitamins, herbs, amino acids and other ingredients rarely contribute to dangerous levels of these unless one imbibes too freely. Theobromine and theophylline are found in chocolate and tea; they are related to caffeine and are often beneficial in very small doses, for instnace they can help asthmatics breathe easier. Dogs are poor at metabolizing theobromine from chocolate which is why they can die from ingesting candies made of that. Cats can also but they usually won't eat it. Theobromine has a side effect of relaxing smooth muscles, which is good sometimes but bad other times. All your sphincters are smooth muscle controlled. The pharynx relaxation can cause reflux; in other words your gullet can relax, which means your stomach contents may be burped up and burn your esophagus. The bowels and bladder will relax too, which may cause trouble.
Then there is something called "rebound hypersomnolence". This is the "crash" that you get after a few hours on these uppers. The body that you have pepped up with artificial stimulation is tired, and the chemicals are used up and the reaction is to be more tired and sleepy than before. To ingest more can work for an hour or two or three but the cycle will just be delayed. The best way to handle these problems is to plan your day better and exercise youur muscles and your thinking; don't fall for short term fixes that only postpone things. Better planning can help you avoid cramming the night before a test or trying to lose weight without watching your diet; and exercising regularly will reduce your weight and help generate the feelings of well-being that preclude anxiety and stress in the first place.
On the other hand, the need to sleep when you are TOO nervous, or anxious, is NOT very widely addressed by the OTC(over-the-counter) drug industry. The few drugs available without a prescription tend to be antihistamines such as chlorpheniramine maleate or diphenhydramine. These will make one drowsy but they are not very effective except if you want to crash the car. The benzodiazepine(Valium+ Xanax) family of drugs is very effective but they require a prescription because it is easy to get habituated, and much abuse occurs. The similar acting barbiturates are even more dangerous. Rarely seen today, the 'cold-turkey' withdrawal from these is often fatal. Even moderate use can involve bizarre and dangerous memory loss, social disruption, violence and intoxication. Stay away from this family of drugs, though a proprietary mix of belladonna and phenobarbitol can ease chronic gastritis. Poppy tea can work as a mild sleep-inducing drink but the federal agents that beat your door down may wake you up, plus you will get little sleep trying to buy ever more from dangerous sellers in dark alleys.

Methaqualone hasn't been sold for years; newer preparations, all prescription, have had mixed results. Some swear by them. I am unwilling to experiment with my liver until more time passes.

So what is there that is natural, effective and safe? The best two things around for me have been a root,valerian, and the natural body chemical, melatonin. Valerian is an evil smelling, though not too hideous tasting powdered root from a plant that is grown worldwide, it originally comes from Europe and Asia. The Wikipedia article tells much, including that it smells like a wet dog! This is a great analogy, unfortunately. There are two warnings about possible night terrors and a mutagen(cancer-inducer) that may be in it. I have had good luck with the stuff myself but haven't used it overmuch. The other chemical, melatonin, is from the brain itself, and is available in dollar stores. It works in a mild but effective manner. As it naturally occurs in the body it is far less harmful than anything you can find elsewhere. It will not knock you out but if a slight tenseness is keeping you awake, it will help . It turns into tryptophan, an amino acid in turkey that is known to help one sleep.

I have been writing these words from experience, backed up by reading other sources, mainly Wikipedia, where I just learned some very interesting things about melatonin. It is a hormone, which usually can be seriously dangerous to mess around with. This chemical is rather safe, and it is an antioxidant, and has other interesting properties. It was first discovered when researching color change in reptiles! A patient in one study got relief/sleep from 1/2 a milligram but not from 20 milligrams, so try a small dose first. They are sold in tablets, OTC in Canada and the US but not in Germany. As with any advice here or elsewhere, read the labels, inserts and online. No blogger can write the amount of information you can find with even cursory investigation. We can but give mere hints and clues to what you need to know, especially for your individual needs. The column on potassium is an example. I just read that Lisinopril (a very good hypertension med) takers can experience drastic increases in potassium levels and must watch for that. For an ironic factor, this drug and other ACE inhibitors were discovered and developed from a pit viper venom!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cheap Ills

Several unpleasant conditions have easy remedies from the supermarket if you know what to look for and use. When people drink a lot of fluid or have diabetes or sweat excessively from exertion or hot weather, they are susceptible to nocturnal cramps. These arise because their electrolyte levels have fallen with the flushing out of their blood by the liquids they urinated or sweated out. This excess water carries off potassium and sodium. The muscles need a specific level of these chemicals to contract and relax properly. Cramp arises when the muscles cannot relax. The replacement of the potassium is easy if you have potassium chloride in your house. It is sold as a salt substitute and is very bitter tasting but once you get relief from those horrible cramps you will be happy to endure a bad taste for a few seconds. A teaspoon in a glass of water will suffice. After drinking this, a bit of plain water will help the taste pass. Potatos, bananas and other food sources are too slow to help, plus you'll gain four pounds just eating enough!There are many sources of very expensive drinks which can replace these electrolytes. Some are just sold as sources thereof(especially for babies with diarrhea) but they are all overpriced from the standpoint of the active ingredients. They work but at a much higher price than necessary. Just look in the same place regular salt is sold and the substitute will be there in a 4 ounce size or so. Mix a little with some flavored drink and make your own.
The harsh coughs that I used to get where my lungs felt like I'd been breathing chemical wastes are much less unpleasant since I discovered expectorants. Even the cheapest cough syrups have guaifenesin, which makes your lungs produce something to cough up so they are not dry and burning anymore, and dextromethorphan, which suppresses coughs so that you don't have as many spells. If your nose is runny or clogged you can rinse it out and save yourself many sniffles and handkerchiefs. Some people have more relief with a mildly saline solution, otherwise known as salt water, because plain water may irritate or feel unpleasant. A method used in Yoga to relieve nasal clogging is to lay on your back on a bed and hang your head off the side. The sinuses will drain down your throat and may clear up enough to stop clogging. Years ago the Navy researched and approved a method of sore throat treatment that seems slightly nuts but works well for some sore throats. Press a cold source(ice water or the like) on the BACK of your neck. It works on sore throats that are aggravated by tense muscles.
Headaches are sometimes relieved by pressing firmly on the web between your thumb and first finger. This is a method called acupressure, along with acupuncture a subject we shall discuss further in future.
I have discovered a way to treat diabetes related ulcers on my hands. These appear at infrequent intervals and seem to have no initiating factors other than not taking my pills. They sometimes seem like small boils, sometimes like holes in the epidermis, dry cracks or rashes. The use of bag balm is not effective and rather causes some discomfort, though the stuff is great for almost every lesion other than these. I found that a green aloe lotion sold to help sunburn can heal these within a day. The first time I used it, it was a highly advertised and well-known brand that cost about $6 a bottle. Since then I have found cheaper and cheaper versions, though I am sure that the aloe in the lower-priced forms is not so plentiful. I want to try plain aloe for the next outbreak to see if that works. Aloe, of course, is the way to help so many ailments. It can be used internally as a purgative, and I am so amazed by its efficacy I would bet that drinking some could help with internal lesions like ulcers and possibly even early cancerous lesions perhaps. I have no proof but with all the help it has given us in so many ways it just might be good for that!
There are painkillers for toothaches that can make the night less horrid, if you can get them into the hole that is in your tooth. There are even temporary fillings that you can insert and keep out irritants until the dentist wakes up. Saltwater and aspirin and other treatments are rarely effective but try them anyway. The direct application of aspirin is generally a bad idea due to the damage it can involve but it has been spoken of very much. I have never had a bit of luck with it or clove oil.
An annoyance after swimming is the water in the ear problem. My favorite treatment is MORE WATER! I get mildly warm water and pour it right in the ear so that it mixes with the water in there and helps it drain out when I turn my ear down. Remember that you don't always need to spend money to feel better-just read and learn!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Our Little Known Friend, Salal

Salal(emphasis on the second syllable) is a plant that either you know fairly well or never heard of. It is used in the florist industry as a stage for the true stars-the flowers.The leaves are a medium green and it has no thorns, tears easily when the stem must be shortened, lasts as long as the flowers will, and doesn't wilt but dries in position should the arrangement sit for days. It is available year round for modest cost. The people struggling to live in the wetter and poorer regions of the Pacific Northwest can always pick salal and other forest products and make an okay if water-soaked living. Its Latin name is Gautheria shallon, and in England they call it shallon or Gaultheria. The leaves are astringent and the tea made thereof can ease mild inflammations of the mucus membranes, the digestive and urinary systems, and heartburn.
The reason I am writing of it is because I love the fruit and stuff myself with it every year when it ripens and there is so much of it around here that goes unnoticed, unpicked and wasted. Those who live where it isn't grown may be out of luck-if you come to the Seattle area or Alaska, British Columbia, Northern California or Oregon, be sure to look for it and enjoy the flavor and healthful benefits it affords. It has been carried elsewhere in the USA and overseas. Britain has some problems with too much of it and it can be found in Europe and the Orient.
It grows best at the edge of forests, and likes the acid soil and copious water we have here. It is planted in many sites that are developed as condos and office parks. It is sometimes planted in too sunny and dry locations which burns the leaves and they are too ugly, dry and holey to use for floral arrangements when this happens. The leaves of many stands have holes and this prevents them from being collected, but they make fine berries everywhere, those in sunny spots ripening earlier.
The plants grow in clusters, and once you learn the identification cues they can be seen everywhere. The leaves are about 21/2 to 4 inches in length, slightly darker than medium green when healthiest, with many brown and yellow edges and holes in drier and sunnier areas. They grow without thorns, and are oval in shape. The underside is lighter. The thin woody stems have a slight zigzag to them which is more pronounced in the flower stems. The flowers first appear in May but can be seen even into the fall in the lower elevations. The flower stems are up to about 4 inches long and the littles blossoms are at the joint of each zig and zag. So there will be from 4-9 little bells, white or pink, pendant(hanging), and each will be where the little stem changes direction to the next flower and the berries form in the same place of course. The berries are actually swollen sepals, but for all intents they are just berries. They are remarkably similar to blueberries(which are related) but darker, and slightly milder. I have seen blueberries that were more profusely covered but picking salal berries is much quicker, and they are vastly easier to find and exploit than blueberries. I find a ripe stand and pick the larger ones off in little stems of from 4-9 and then pick off the dried floral remnants and the occasional rotten or dried fruit or bug and then eat the good ones at one bite so a person can eat about a pound in twenty minutes from a good stand. The berries are just bursting with antioxidants from the dark juice inside, which will stain your tongue dark purple. The darker fruits carry more antioxidants than lighter colored fruits as the darker dyes are related to vitamins. A source mentioned that many pioneer families would mix them with Oregon grapes to make a more intensely flavored jam or jelly. I have never liked any of the Oregon grapes I have eaten fresh(too sour), but I have enjoyed the jelly from both plants. I will have to try making the combination jam next year!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Free Radicals and the Destruction they Cause

It is hard to believe how much damage can be caused by one class of chemicals. If you smoke cigarettes, or get sunburned or eat burnt meat, or get injured by a host of other agents, the harm follows because it involves the introduction of 'free radicals' into your body. These are molecules which have a plus or minus sign at the top right hand side when written out. The sign represents the polarity of the electric charge they carry. The harm comes because they want to find and combine with chemicals carrying the opposite sign.
The way to combat them is to ingest 'antioxidants' which add the necessary positive or negative signed molecules to render the radicals innocuous. This is somewhat of a simplification but it is enough to remember this and to use these antioxidants to protect yourself from all the environmental poisons that attack you by this route. It is easy to get these antioxidants, especially in our modern age; it may be somewhat more problematic to avoid ingesting the free radicals if you are prone to wild behavior.
Let's look at a typical lifestyle and see where the person involved is getting these free radicals and antioxidants. Our subject wakes up on a typical morning and lights up a cigarette to replenish the nicotine he has lost overnight. The nicotine has some free radicals which burn the nerve endings where it does its job of replacing the body's 'neurotransmitters'. These natural neurotransmitters are not harmful to the nerve endings as is nicotine. The smoke which carries the nicotine also carries into the lungs a host of other chemicals such as furanes, tars, and other hydrocarbons, which can lodge in the lungs and irradiate them with the same 'ionizing' radiation that we get from x-rays(gamma radiation) and uranium(alpha and beta radiation). These three forms of radiation along with the tars and nicotine, all generate free radicals by breaking molecules into the signed, incomplete molecules.
After a cigarette he begins to shower, and the warm water feels good but it has a lot of chlorine 'outgassing'. In some districts the added fluorine also comes out. These are oxidizers, which are a type of free radical. Then he goes to the kitchen and fries up some bacon and eggs and brews coffee. The bacon is cured with sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate, (which are in many cigarettes too) and the THESE cause more free radicals in his body. Meat is especially dangerous if it is smoked(all smoke and smoke flavorings are full of free radicals) and if it is grilled until it chars. Boiled meat involves almost no added free radicals if it isn't cured.
The coffee has been roasted and has a share of these too. The saving thing is the tomato or orange juice, both of which are full of antioxidants and these counteract the radicals to a degree. The butter has been sitting around and getting oxidized forming butyric acid which is really dangerous, besides the clogging from high-melting point fats that line the arteries. The free radicals act to increase this arteriosclerosis, antioxidants help to slow it. The next few minutes see our friend on the road, where vehicles spew toxic gases right into Gus's body and THEY are full of these gems too.
All day the environment supplies many free radicals but few antioxidants. It is quite simple to fight these. First-avoid smoke, of all types, by quitting tobacco and pot, and eating better by avoiding charred meat and anything containing nitrates and nitrites. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. The antioxidants that help us overcome these are in vitamins, and the related chemicals called carotenes, and in BHT and BHA, and elswhere. The more you take the better though some vitamins can cause their own problems. Vitamin C is very effective while presenting the least toxicity.
In a nutshell-fewer exposures and regular intakes of antioxidants equal longer and healthier lives. V-8 juice is absolutely brimming with antioxidants, though some must avoid the sodium it contains.

To Your Health

This is my new blog, whose subject is Natural Medicine and Healing. I will be illuminating the use of herbs and other non-mainstream therapies-but I am not going to limit the scope by denying the great advances made by the medicine we encounter in our doctor's office or in hospital. These are very competent people and the results of our medical system are as good as it is politically feasible to be. The individual is responsible for his own health, as he is responsible for all his actions and decisions; I am here to inform and lead those who seek knowledge and guidance.
The only thing political I wish to establish herein is that the absolute Free Market, wherein EACH individual is free to accept or reject ANY exchange-whether information or treatment or product or employment-is the highest and best ideal, and the most available to more people for less money than ANY other alternative. I therefore reject categorically, any attempt to limit medicine to some collectivist scheme whether it be called socialized medicine, one payer, or any other euphemism for state owned and controlled. Since the state is but a collection of individuals who are allowed force in the resolution of disputes; and the collectivist model requires that the state employ all the doctors and nurses, they are thereby reduced to the status of slaves and I refuse to believe any slavery is good. Towards this end, of informing people of the uses and alternatives of various therapies, I will assume throughout that I am dealing with people who are intelligent and capable of making their own decisions and carrying out the therapies they see as their best alternatives, regardless of the state or medical societies' desires to limit access to information or drugs or therapy.
I therefor see, from time to time, a need to lance the boil of statist orthodoxy, so be prepared to read things that will not be 'approved' by the alleged leaders and experts and other power brokers that now prevent progress and freedom of action. The price of medicine is increasing dramatically, from a well-received(by the providers but not the patients) system that is labeled 'third party payer' by economists. The patient and doctor have no direct concern when insurers or the state or grants pay the bill so there is no method that can limit the price rises as in almost every other market. The field of education has the same lack of control and the same high rises in price. Almost every other market is subject to the laws of supply and demand and the prices of the goods and services involved cannot rise without the buyer changing his use patterns or suppliers or even foregoing the product altogether. The re-institution of competition in medicine by the end of protective laws would allow MORE universities teaching MORE doctors who would be able to compete by LOWERING fees to attract customers. The end of prohibitions against the possession and use of all drugs would permit us as human beings to buy, for the LOWEST prices commensurate with production processes, the medicines we need. This lowering of prices will never occur while the state jails people for possession of various popular substances. NEVER.