This is the second month I am participating in the Foodie Pen Pal program. For those of you reading for the first time, see my post“Treats Are Mightier Than the Pen” from last month that describes what the program is and how you too can become a part of it.
This time around, the care package came from my side of the coastline from a blogger/food adventurer/grad student named Veronica based in Boston, whose blog is Foodie By Night . Leaving her wide open to choose whatever local treats she desired, she “modified” the box to include treats for the outside of my mouth as well as my taste buds. She also channeled my love for coffee without me having said anything of the sort to her.
Within my package were two homemade lip balms created by a Boston artisan. Her complete line of crazily flavored lip treats are available through her Etsy store and at BagLunchCo.com.
Also included were local vendor Sweet Lydia’s Raspberry S’more and Pomegranate molasses from her local farmer’s market. The s’more looked something like this PMS platter:
The molasses was more like a tart syrup than the thick sticky gooey-ness normally associated with the stuff. Nevertheless, it reminded me of the sour cherry syrups my aunt used to make in Greece to mix with cold water for drinking or to pour over ice-cream for us kids. It gave me ideas. Veronica also gave her own ideas on how to use it via the little card she included in the box. That, and the handwritten jarred date made it feel like it came from family.
By far the best part of the whole box was the coffee recipe Veronica hand-wrote and illustrated (so cute)…see below. A girl after my own heart.
A client came to me recently with a back that looked a lot like the above. Their intake form made no mention of any skin conditions or areas to avoid. Being that these growths were located in a not so visible area of the body, I wanted to probe the client further to see if (a) they were aware of the amount and irregular shape of these spots and (b) if they knew what they were. Massage protocol for many benign growths on the skin including moles and skin tags is to work around them, but with a back like the above, it would seem near impossible to avoid them. In the case of my client, the brown spots turned out to be what many doctors have dubbed “the barnacles of old age” also known as seborrheic keratosis.
This skin condition presents a lot like warts because the growths are slightly elevated off the upper layers of the skin and range in color from light to dark brown. But unlike warts the growths are not viral in origin. In fact, dermatologists are not sure what causes the condition to begin with. They can appear anywhere on the skin and often do so in middle-aged people and the elderly. They have a rough, textured hand feel, hence the “barnacles” nickname. However, because the irregular looking growths can resemble some types of melanoma, a skin biopsy is needed for a true diagnosis. See below for an extreme version.
This is why it is an important part of my job to say something when I see something. I can never assume the client is informed. I would much rather repeat something they already know, than for the sake of “spa etiquette” keep my mouth closed. The aforementioned “spa etiquette” is the hushed voice inside that says they paid to relax, not get a medical speech.
Now, assuming the dermatologist did a skin biopsy to rule out cancer, a person with seborrheic keratosis can choose to remove their growths if they are unsightly or aggravated by clothing/touch. They can be removed in the following ways:
Cryosurgery: This is where dermatologist applies liquid nitrogen to the growth with a cotton swab or spray gun. This freezes the growth. The growth tends to fall off within days. Sometimes a blister forms under it and dries into a scab-like crust. The crust will eventually fall off.
Electrosurgery and curettage: Electrosurgery (electrocautery) involves numbing the growth with an anesthetic and using an electric current to cauterize (burn) the growth. A scoop-shaped surgical instrument, a curette, is used to scrape off the treated growth. This is the curettage. The patient does not need stitches. There may be a small amount of bleeding. Sometimes the patient may only need one or the other; not necessarily both to remove the growth.
In both treatments, the skin may be lighter where the growth was removed. This usually fades with time, although it can be permanent. Most removed seborrheic keratosis do not return. However, a new one could occur elsewhere.
Since seborrheic keratosis is a local-contraindication for massage (this means to avoid the affected area), I wanted my client to get clearance from their dermatologist before applying any essential oils or lubricants onto their back. Worried that they might be disappointed (and they were at first) by not being able to have their back included in the massage, I assured them that they would still get a relaxing experience, especially when the head, neck and feet are such perfect little stress release valves. Fifteen minutes into the massage, they were out for the count and I felt that I had done my “mitzvah” (i.e good deed for mankind) for the day. Happy times.
Dr. Matthias Rath is a German born physician and researcher/developer of nutritional therapies and Cellular Medicine. The institute he heads up conducts basic research and clinical studies to scientifically document the health benefits of micronutrients in fighting a multitude of diseases. Micronutrients are minerals, trace elements and vitamins required by living organisms to sustain physiological functions on a daily basis, but which cannot be made by the organism. Applying this scientific knowledge in the fight against diseases, he and his research team have identified the following common health conditions as being primarily caused by chronic deficiencies of micronutrients:
Arteriosclerosis (the cause of coronary heart disease and stroke)
High Blood Pressure
Irregular Heart Beat
Diabetic circulatory problems
Many forms of cancer
Immune deficiencies as a precondition for a variety of infectious diseases, including AIDS
Dr. Rath is also an outspoken advocate for patient rights and for free access to natural healthcare worldwide. His advocacy continues to be instrumental in preventing a global ban on natural health therapies on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry, who would like nothing better than to block the public’s knowledge of alternative therapies which would steal from their billion dollar money pot.
Dr. Rath’s area of cancer research is especially intriguing to me, being that my father has chosen to cease chemo now and start building his system back up in more “natural” ways. The basis of chemotherapy and radiation treatment is the destruction of all rapidly dividing cells, which is not limited to just the cancer cells. As the treatments do not discriminate between healthy and abnormal (cancer) cells, they damage cells in healthy organs that have a high renewal rate and are frequently dividing, such as the cells of bone marrow, skin, the intestinal lining and many other organs. Patients end up suffering from anemia and a further weakened immune system, making the elimination of cancer cells all that more difficult. In cases where the cancer cells have built a resistance to the drugs, the damage of healthy tissue really puts the patient at a bigger disadvantage in their fight. Intestinal bleeding triggered by these therapies impairs the absorption of nutrients and contributes to diminishing the body’s natural ability to fight cancer. There is also a risk of damage to the genetic machinery of the cells, the DNA, which could lead to the development of new cancers. This is how cancer does its dirty work.
Cancer develops when cells in one part of an organ in the body escape growth control. Normal body cells grow, divide, and die in a systematic way. While we are still growing, normal cells divide much more frequently. Upon reaching adulthood, the cells in most organs of the body divide only to replace dysfunctional or dying cells and to repair injuries. In the case of cancer cells, the genetic program that regulates the cell growth cycle becomes interrupted, causing the cells to become immortal and to constantly divide. Cancer cell growth never stops. Growing cells expand in a tissue by digesting the surrounding collagen and connective tissue barrier with specific enzymes, the most prominent are matrix metalloproteinasesor MMPs. This cell growth results in the formation of a tumor mass. The same process of collagen digestion is used by cancer cells to spread to other organs (metastasis). Uncontrolled collagen dissolving accompanies other pathologies, such as chronic inflammation (arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis), infections (destruction of connective tissue facilitates spread of microbial agents) and in many other conditions. To stop cancer metastasis, the activity of MMPs must be inhibited. Here’s where Dr. Rath and his team of researchers at his Institute identified a specific combination of nutrients that can inhibit the activity of MMPs and stop the spread of cancer cells. This nutrient combination, includes vitamin C, the amino acids L-lysine and L-proline , a green tea extract known as Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG), and other micronutrients which work together to achieve this goal. Their extensive research conducted on more than two dozen cancer cell types have shown that this nutrient combination is effective in controlling cancer in multiple ways: stopping its growth, spread, formation of new blood vessels in tumors (angiogenesis) and inducing natural cancer cell death (apoptosis).
Unlike chemotherapy toxins, radiation and various pharmaceutical drugs, nutrients are safe even in higher doses. Moreover, they are needed by all cells in the body, immune system cells, thereby supporting the entire body’s ability to fight cancer. There have been numerous studies conducted on this nutrient therapy’s efficacy that are available via Dr. Rath’s site and/or a simple search of scholarly papers and medical journals via Google.
Having experienced first hand numerous medical professionals advising on treatment options for my father, I am keenly aware what a business Cancer is to the pharmaceutical industry. These medications, even with some insurance companies covering 80% of the cost, are still incredibly expensive. Even more so in my father’s case, where it was more of a preventative measure, yet still administered bi-weekly. Having the right to choose what is best for HIS health was integral to his recovery process. The refusal of chemical treatment gave him back his voice, which had been silenced by all those professional opinions and fears. Dr. Rath is one medical professional who is listening.
The practice of Haruspicy is common amongst African tribes. It is the practice of studying the entrails of a freshly sacrificed animal to tell the future – wealth, health and many cattle being the optimal reading. Of course, when it comes to Western society, all matters of the intestinal kind are barely discussed unless within the framework of a crude joke or when pressed by one’s gastroenterologist. Forget about looking into the toilet after the deed is done. All we want to do is flush.
Thankfully, in my family, all we ever did was examine and discuss. There is a saying in Greek that a person either dies by way of their head (i.e. mind) or their ass (i.e. intestines). Hence, the daily dose of TMI over breakfast and/or dinner. Based on my experiences and research, here are some of the things you should ask of your bowels followed by a cautionary tale.
Did you go today?
A human being should defecate at least once a day, but if your track record is less than 3 movements per week, you are officially constipated. Since the bulk of water absorption happens in the large intestine, the longer your poop stays in there the more water gets absorbed out of it and the tougher it will be to pass. Dietary issues that may cause constipation can include inadequate water intake; inadequate fiber intake; overuse of coffee, tea, or alcohol; a recent change in your diet; and ignoring the urge to defecate. Reduced levels of exercise may play a role as well. Other factors to consider are psychological issues such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders as well as medications whose side effects mess with the natural flow of things.
What should it look like?
Reference the amazing Bristol Stool Chart, a medical aid created by a doctor at the University of Bristol, England to classify human poop into 7 types. Types 1 through 3 indicate constipation. Normal poops are classified as Type 4 and 5. Types 6 and 7 indicate diarrhea and its precursor, respectively.
Frequent bouts of constipation and/or diarrhea can be a warning sign/symptom of a number of conditions, such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and Celiac Disease. If diarrhea lasts for more than a week, it can cause an electrolyte imbalance due to all the potassium and sodium loss. If not treated properly, that imbalance can lead to death. Listen to your poop and see your general practitioner if any of the above is the case.
What color is it?
The stool color spectrum is even more informative than the Bristol Chart. Heaps of information on one’s health habits can be gleaned from the color of their poop. Here are the notable ones.
Brown = Normal
You want your poop to be within the middle of the brown shade spectrum. This normal shade comes from bilirubin, the yellow biproduct of broken down blood cells, that enters the intestine by way of the liver and helps color the poop. It also makes our pee yellow in color. Darker brown poops can be a result of excess salt in one’s diet or from constipation.
Black and Tarry, better safe than sorry! Blood, when digested, looks black and has the consistency of tar. The bleeding could be an indication of a stomach ulcer, a bleed somewhere in the upper GI tract or even cancer. Certain ingredients in medications and vitamins containing heavy doses of iron can also produce such poops. Best to visit your MD as soon as you become aware of this ominous color.
The Anemic Poop
If your movement is very light, almost grey in color and you didn’t just have a colonoscopy, then you may be experiencing some kind of blockage of a bile duct, gall bladder dysfunction and/or even liver disease.
Yellow like a newborn babe
Newborn babies that are breast feeding tend to have frequent poops that are yellow and slick in color because their bowel system is so fast and the content of their meal so fatty. Poop of this color and nature in adults can mean a few things. Assuming you haven’t consumed a whole lot of beta carotene rich foods or candy dyed with artificial yellow coloring, it could mean fat is not being properly absorbed and therefore, is getting excreted through the bowel. The poop will also stink to high heaven and float on the water’s surface like an oil slick. If you have recently traveled to a developing area of the world, it can also signify an infection known as Giardiasis, caused by a parasite that gives you yellow diarrhea. Another condition that causes poop to come out yellow is Gilbert’s Syndrome which is an excess of bilirubin, also making the person look jaundiced.
If you are a person who loves their leafy vegetables, your poops will obviously represent that. But if your body is moving food too quickly through your system, as in the case when you have diarrhea, bile does not have sufficient time to breakdown and stays in the poop, dying it green. Also iron supplements can stain poop green (in higher concentrations, black) too. If you are going green consistently, you may want to get your liver/gallbladder checked out.
Now where things get a little serious…A Cautionary Tale of Colon Cancer:
For years my father dealt with bouts of constipation stemming from what he self diagnosed as a “bad stomach.” In his youth, he had very poor nutrition, as his family lived in abject poverty. Upon his 12th birthday, he left to work on the cargo ships where he ate whatever was canned and salted amidst dank conditions and constant stress. In his early twenties, he came to the U.S. and ate one meal a day while working 12 hour shifts at a restaurant. He worked like an animal going from dishwasher, to busboy, to food runner, to line cook and finally, head cook of a high end Greek eatery. Then he bought his own restaurant along with two other friends. The workload should have been divided by three, but my dad ended up working 24 hours shifts. He lived on black coffee and inhaled meals on the go. When he got married to my mom, issues with his partners ended up forcing him to carry the restaurant himself. He had to be everywhere at one time. He was always under slept, stressed and constipated. When he did poop, it would be very hard to pass or would come out in ribbon like pieces. He dropped to 125 lbs. He looked scary. Solution: my parents sold the business and moved to Greece. He ate well. He basked in the sun. He gained weight and pooped like clockwork. Everything was great, except for one detail. Island life in Greece circa 1980 was something my mother could not handle with two babies. There was only one phone in each village, no indoor plumbing and limited access to the things needed to take care of us. She wanted to go back. My father listened. In the years that followed, my father worked from scratch again, since the restaurant was sold before we moved. He learned he had an ulcer in his stomach. He had kidney stones. He was constipated. He put himself on special “diets” to cleanse his bowels and calm his sour stomach. He was angry and stressed all the time. Life was not pleasant. Then he retired from all work when he turned 50. Despite the lack of work related stress, he was still angry and preoccupied. The patterns of constipation continued throughout the rest of the 90’s and in the first decade of 2000’s. This past December, after experiencing some intense pain on his left side and being unable to eat, he went for his first colonoscopy. It indicated adenocarcinoma, the cancer that typically occurs in the colon. Thankfully, it was still in stage 2 and operable. He is now doing chemo, eating super well, and gaining back weight and energy. The doctors feel optimistic that he beat it. My point of outlining his whole story is that had he paid attention to what his colon was telling him all along with the bouts of constipation and digestive issues, he would have changed his lifestyle and eating habits for the better. He is lucky. Had he refused, as many old school European types tend to do, to go for that colonoscopy, he probably would have been well into stage 4 before it was detected. It would have been too late.