Posts tagged: alternative medicine

Health Update: Brucellosis, Pneumonia, and More

By , March 2, 2014

Hello to all of you, and happy 2014! March already! And definitely time to get back to blogging — I’ve missed it — but first a health update, which is the main reason I’ve been away from my little blog for so long.

It’s been a bad phase these past several months. I’ll go into some detail because in the past I’ve appreciated reading about other peoples’ health experiences, so who knows — maybe this’ll be useful to someone out there.

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Over the summer I worked very hard on my health, putting much belief and many, many hours into a radionics machine developed in Germany that’s supposed to heal the body by transmitting specific wavelengths into it through a brass handplate and a mat that you sit against, thereby eliminating bacteria, viruses, parasites, etc. The health claims out there about bioresonance and radionics machines can be pretty fantastic, while the criticism is equally harsh. The person I was working with uses the machine differently than the way it was developed to be used, but the implication was that “this’ll cure what ails ya.”

Unfortunately it didn’t. And neither did the chiropractic care (better alignment really felt good though!) or months of acupuncture (though I really liked acupuncture and definitely felt its effects) or Xiao Chai Hu Tang Chinese herbal pills.

This past September, I was feeling like I truly needed to go back to a conventional Western doctor, distasteful as that thought was. In fact I’d rather clean toilets all day. And the idea of embarking on another diagnostic odyssey to find out What Else is wrong was overwhelming. Just figuring out the Brucellosis piece involved so many months of torturous doctor visits, tests, and bloodshed (144 vials of blood, and counting, drawn over the past 3 years that I’ve felt like crap) that I just wanted to turn away from it all…shut the door…and never have to face any of it ever, EVER again.

But what I hate even more than going to the doctor, is being sick.

So.

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After finishing 10 months of antibiotics in Sept. 2012 for the Brucellosis, I was 80-90% better — SO much better than I had been — but not 100%. The Colorado health department nurse had told me that even after finishing the treatment, I may still get some fevers, joint pain, fatigue, etc. for a while. And so I kept waiting for my body to come back up fully, but it never quite did.

The fatigue was still there and getting worse, and then the cough and chest heaviness and fevers returned, though not some of the other familiar brucellosis symptoms. So this September (2013) when I went back to the doctor, I said it felt like the chest infection that I got 3 years ago in Argentina in 2010 was still there, but that we should also do a repeat Brucella antibody test to see where we’re at with that, since I had the chest symptoms during the Brucellosis (and thought they might have been one in the same).

So we did a chest x-ray (read as normal), bloodwork (high neutrophils, a type of white blood cell), and repeat Brucella antibody test — which was finally negative!! After 4 positives over the past 2 years, seeing that negative result was an incredible relief because Brucellosis is a difficult bacteria to get rid of. It meant that the doxycycline and rifampin had done their job, but it also meant that I had another infection going on, which wasn’t gone yet.

A few days after the first visit back to the doctor, my lungs were having so much trouble that I called the clinic and they had me come in. But driving there, I started feeling very awful, like I was going to pass out behind the wheel and needed to either get there fast, or get out of traffic and pull over. I nearly rear-ended someone trying to get out of traffic, and by the time I pulled into the clinic parking lot, I was having a lot of trouble breathing, my hands were paralyzed and I couldn’t move my fingers, and my abdominal muscles and diaphragm were clenching up like a tight fist. It was the scariest thing I hope I ever have to experience. I flew through the front doors, cut everyone in line, and flopped onto the front desk and said “I NEED HELP.” Nurse STAT to the front desk was called over the intercom, and I was wheeled back to the urgent care area. It was dramatic and embarrassing.

They started an IV and did some quick bloodwork which showed that my potassium was critically low, which explained the muscle paralysis. Potassium is an extremely important electrolyte, because our vital functions (breathing and pumping blood) depend on muscle, and muscles must have adequate potassium. They gave me a double potassium cocktail to drink. My heart rate was very fast and the EKG showed some ‘ischemia’ (insufficient bloodflow) and I was still feeling really weird and my breathing wasn’t right, so the doctor decided to transfer me to the emergency room by ambulance. After 6 hours of monitoring there, and an IV of magnesium (helps with potassium absorption), I was stable enough and feeling strong enough to walk around and go home.

In the ER

They put me on supplemental potassium which has helped my body feel much more stable, but over the next weeks I was still having the difficult breathing and chest heaviness and the sense of a smoldering lung infection — the same as what I’d been experiencing for most of 2013 (and also much of 2011 before the anti-brucella antibiotics took care of the issue almost completely). And then one night in mid-October, after a big day of yard work, my usual low-grade fever went up to 102.5 and my body and joints and lymph nodes began to hurt at a level of intensity I’ve never felt before — far worse than with any flu I’ve ever had. The next night I passed out when I got up to go to the bathroom, and my lungs hurt too. Two days later I went back to the doctor. She ordered another chest x-ray and bloodwork; my white count was still high, this time with high band-neutrophils too, and the x-ray showed pneumonia. It was in a tricky part of my left lung (the lingula) which is harder to see on x-ray because our heart is in the way. The doctor said the pneumonia had probably been cooking for a while but was not pronounced enough to be seen on the x-ray taken 3 weeks prior — especially since my bloodwork from 3 weeks prior was showing a high white count.

She said “I’m pullin’ out the big gun” and gave me Levaquin and said my fever should be going down within 24 hours. 24 hours later, my fever had gone up over 103, but by day 3 or 4 it was finally down. Those were miserable days.

I’ve had six of these in the past five months…

…not counting the multiple failed IV attempts, leaving me looking rather battered with ouchy bruises that last for weeks!

And the maddening, exhausting journey continues. More doctor visits regarding both wacky lungs and wacky electrolytes, trying to figure out if they’re related and how. Another chest x-ray a month later showed that the pneumonia infiltrate was still there, so I had another round of a combination of antibiotics. My long-awaited referral to see a pulmonologist turned out to be a complete waste of money, and I was hitting dead ends left and right. Doctors often hold the keys to finding out what’s wrong with you because of the world of tests and procedures they have access to. But when they won’t listen and don’t feel like digging in to help figure out what’s wrong, and they only have 15 minutes before they have to move onto the next patient, then they become the obstacle. Your health suffers because of the doctor. This became the situation.

One thing that went very right during all of this was our new Obamacare took effect. All I can say is, THANK YOU OBAMA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!

Because of Obamacare, I was able to take the opportunity to say good bye (and very good riddance) to Kaiser. When I began Kaiser 7 years ago, I was determined to make up my own mind about them and not be swayed by others’ opinions. Well, 7 years later, I can say that I’ve gotten some good care from them, and also some very negligent care. Looking back, I am angry at what I see. Very angry, actually. You couldn’t pay me to go back to Kaiser. Thank goodness F. encouraged me to explore other options and look elsewhere for insurance, and thanks to him, I got myself into a much better insurance situation at a much better hospital and I’m getting far better care at a much faster pace. At this new hospital, I’ve had more testing and procedures and specialist visits in the past 6 weeks than Kaiser ever would have coughed up. I’m sure Kaiser is good for the simpler things that can go wrong, but if you have something complex and unusual going on, get thee the heck out of the ‘local Kaiser family medicine’ sphere, and up to the regionally or nationally recognized, University-type or similar, health care level. Somewhere that actually has a reputation, where they have smart doctors who will spend an hour or two with you on multiple occasions to really dig in and do some testing and partner with you to figure out what’s wrong.

I am blessed and feeling infinitely grateful to be receiving care at this level. There is a huge difference. I’m seeing that now.

Anyway, as part of the wacky-electrolyte investigations, an incredibly painful blood test called Arterial Blood Gases was done, where they dig around with a needle deep inside your wrist to find the artery, and then draw blood from it. Jeezus it was painful. From this test they could tell that my blood pH was too high — a respiratory alkalosis. Our blood pH is very tightly regulated to stay right around 7.40, and when it sways too far toward either acid or base, major things can go wrong with body chemistry, with major implications. One theory is that my lung issue and chest heaviness and difficult breathing causes me to breathe differently which causes my CO2 to fall too low, thereby raising my blood pH and throwing off other elements of my body chemistry like potassium and some other stuff. The results of a couple other tests indicate that there may be another electrolyte issue going on that adds to the effect of this, and that’s something we’re still investigating.

After getting arterial blood gases drawn. A nerve got nicked in the process, causing excruciating pain for a while. It’s all better now though. I also had a Home CAT Scan done, which you can see in the background. That scan determined that everything would be A-OK, giving me great peace of mind.

And so where does it all stand now?

This new hospital is doing some very good, thorough investigating which has enabled us to begin ruling stuff out, and also to pick up important clues.

A repeat chest x-ray showed thickened airways, but that the pneumonia infiltrate is gone. However I’m still feeling symptoms of an ongoing smoldering lung infection, and my neutrophils and bands are still high, with lymphocytes low. A chest CT scan showed bronchiectasis (permanent lung damage), a few nodules, and a calcified granuloma (from brucellosis maybe? Or from what’s going on now, maybe?). Other tests are pending, and I have been submitting some sputum samples for culture. My ANA has come back twice as being mildly positive at 1:160, which is new since it’s always been negative in the past. But since all other autoimmune tests have come back negative, it could be from infection, or nothing at all.

Because of the bronchiectasis, they gave me an ingenious little device called an Aerobika. It’s a simple mechanical thing, no medication involved, which you exhale into repeatedly for about an hour a day total. It has really helped to loosen some of the gunk in my lungs, making it easier to breathe and relieving some of the chest heaviness. And when I’m breathing better, I’m sleeping better. And that is a HUGE thing.

It’s my Respiratory Toy!

Last week I called the doctor though, because the tricks I’ve discovered to keep my lungs light enough to get some sleep (the Aerobika partnered with coughing as hard as I can, as often as I can throughout the day) weren’t cutting it and I was wondering about a saline nebulizer attachment for the Aerobika that the respiratory therapist had told me about. But the doctor said before we do that, I should drop off another sputum sample and come in for an appointment. And although none of the sputum cultures are finalized yet (that takes 6 weeks), it turns out that so far they’re growing E. coli, which is not a bacteria that belongs in your lungs.

So we’re going to do a sorta-urgent bronchoscopy, scheduled for the day after tomorrow, to go into my lungs with a fiberoptic scope and get more of an idea of what’s cooking in there. They’ll go into the damaged area and do a lavage (a “wash” — meaning they inject saline and suck it back out, and send it to the lab for culture and analysis), as well as snip out some biopsy samples for the lab to look at, and if they see mucus they’ll suck some of that out and culture it.

And right after the bronchoscopy is done, I can begin antibiotics. Sensitivity testing showed that luckily this particular E. coli bugger is susceptible to the antibiotic TMP-SMZ. At this point it’s unclear whether E. coli is the main culprit for the lung damage that’s been done, or if it’s only part of the problem. The bronchoscopy may shed more light.

They’re huge!

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My body doesn’t give up its secrets easily. I am otherwise very healthy… I always have been and there was never any major health drama growing up. I eat very nutritiously and do so many of the right things for my body. And so my body is strong and resilient. I have youth on my side too, but my body amazes me with its strength. But one downside to that, I believe, is that it’s able to keep things like infections tamped down lower than maybe someone with poorer health (yes that can be a downside!). Something’s wrong and the clues are there, but they’re just more subtle, and looking at me you would never guess my body has felt like it’s been sick with a never-ending flu for the past 1,500 days. When you’re trying to get the medical care you need, looking the picture of health isn’t necessarily helpful! What I hope is that we will be able to identify and get rid of all the bacterial crud that’s dragging my body down and preventing it from regaining its full, radiant health that I know it’s capable of.

And what an eye-opening education this all has been these past several years. As a by-product, I’m getting a full tour of the best and worst of both Western and Alternative medicine. And I have changed my opinions about them both. I used to think I didn’t believe in Western medicine. It certainly has its problems, but before I got sick, it was easy to sit perched in my healthy body and declare that Alternative Medicine was the only way to go. Well. That has changed. The two systems can, and probably should, coexist. But I have a very different, humbler, and wiser, view of it now.

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Living day-to-day life with this multi-layered illness — whose duration has now reached Biblical proportions — can be incredibly dispiriting. But it’s okay because it has to be okay or else I will suffer immeasurably and my life would be a living hell. Humans are incredibly adaptable. And even while you endure the un-endurable, you can still feel like Life Is Good. I sure do have my moments, hoooooo boy, but there’s a lot of beauty to appreciate, things to laugh at, people who love me dearly, and good stuff to enjoy out there beyond the boundaries of Sick. One could slither along endlessly through the depressions, sorrows, and injustices of life, feeding on joyless fodder forevermore. But to choose to let go of all that… at least most of the time… and rise up above it all, is the challenge — and also the only way to survive.

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(Minor health updates in these posts: April 2014 and November 2014)

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The Magical Bee Sting Cure

By , July 16, 2012

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Lavender essential oil!

It’s a shame this isn’t more common knowledge. Maybe you already know about it but if not, I want to tell you that lavender essential oil is the most magical treatment for a bee sting (or wasp, etc.). I’ve been treating stings this way for many years and it’s truly incredible. The pain disappears! As do the redness and swelling. Very soon your sting is a distant memory. Every single time I use this remedy I am completely blown away by its efficacy.

Just apply some lavender essential oil, neat (undiluted), to the bee sting. Lavender oil is gentle enough to be used neat for most folks, unlike some other essential oils.

Lavender oil is a great thing to keep in your first aid kit, if only for this reason alone.

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Do you know of other magical uses for lavender oil? Do share!

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Nettles!!

By , May 1, 2012

As I mentioned in this post, I found nettles! This was really very exciting because now I can collect my own instead of continuing to purchase my usual dried nettles for tea. And for the very first time, I had freshly cooked nettles and they’re amazing! A mild and pleasing taste. I cooked them in some salted water, and ended up drinking every last drop of the broth too — it was thick and delicious — almost meaty. They’re so good for you, too. High in protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Cooked nettles

Nettles & white beans

And I love nettles tea because it works better than an antihistamine pill for me. This was an accidental discovery; I’m allergic to bee stings, and I get honeybee and ‘mixed vespids’ venom immunotherapy shots every 6 weeks so that my body gets desensitized to the venom. Normally I get a big, itchy 3″ wide welt on each arm where I get the shot, and I take a Claritin pill the morning of the shots to help counteract that. However one day I had some strong nettles tea before my shots, along with the pill. No welt! No redness! No itchy! At first I didn’t realize it was the nettles, until another time when I’d forgotten to take the antihistamine pill and only had nettles tea, and same thing! No welt. Finally I realized it was the nettles tea, and the pill wasn’t even really necessary. So now I make sure to have nettles tea before my shot, and every day for at least about a week afterward. It’s quite magical. If you have seasonal allergies (mercifully, I don’t), you might try nettles tea!

My favorite nettles tea:

2-3 Tbsp dried nettles

~1/2 Tbsp dried mint

~1/2 Tbsp dried lemongrass

In a mug, pour 8-12 ounces boiling water over herbs, cover, and steep about 15 minutes.

So anyway, back to the fresh nettles. I couldn’t believe my luck with finding patch after patch of them, and while I often travel with an empty plastic bag (you never know what you’ll need it for!), I didn’t have one with me on the walk. However my mom had packed snacks in a bag, and thank goodness she had! Precious, precious bag. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to collect any. Disappointing!

I had an empty little sandwich baggie which I used as a glove to pick them, though still got plenty of stings on my wrists. (The stinging compounds are easily neutralized once the nettles are either boiled or dried to a crisp.) I stuffed the bag full, and also took some plants with roots and have planted those in pots outside, hoping they’ll decide it’s a satisfactory location to grow. I’ve read that nettles are particular about where they grow; you might think you have the ideal location for them — but they have the last word.

Do you cultivate your own nettles? Have any growing tips?

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As you can see, the living room was full of nettles for a while. I ended up getting about 3 gallons, dried.

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Philosophy Friday: Doing Our Best In a Complex Situation

By , September 17, 2011

Hope you’ve all had a good week… I can’t believe how quickly it went! For me this week has been full of emotion, some very low points, and a fair bit of hand-wringing. I haven’t been feeling well…I’ve been definitely-not-right for a year and a half, but especially sick for the past 5 months with fevers almost every day, painful lymph nodes in every corner of my body, and running at only 25% (or sometimes 5%) of my usual energy — plus so much other stuff too. Sometimes I’m so incredibly sick I can hardly open my eyes, and ‘whatever it is’ has slowly been progressing, affecting new parts of my body in creative & alarming ways. Watching my previously excellent health pretty much fall apart has been (and is) a scary, unsettling experience. And even after lots of tests done on (so far) 26 vials of blood, it’s still a mystery because it’s unclear whether there are two separate things going on, or if it’s all part of the same issue.

My head has been over and under and around ‘this thing’ so many times…churning on it, studying it, considering what to do about it, weighing western approach against eastern approach…and ultimately feeling paralyzed and unable to see how best to address it. We each have our values, don’t we… the values we create during times of wellness & happiness. I value alternative medicine…and prefer & feel most comfortable in that arena. Though, I pick and choose carefully in that area…having observed that there are indeed diamonds out there, but there’s also a lot of rubbish.

But desperate times call for desperate measures, and I’ve had to compromise my preference for natural-only. Or…is it a compromise? Maybe it’s just a value adjustment, based upon the new information I’m gathering as I’m navigating this new territory — because I’ve never been this sick before. And I find myself glad to have the technology of western medicine to (hopefully) find out what’s up (or at least rule out what’s not up) — and at the same time, repeatedly hoping that I’m doing the right thing by following this particular route at this particular time.

It’s a complex situation. And I’ve finally decided that in this case, what I feel best with is a combination of western & eastern. Western, because I feel like that’s what’s called for in this extenuating circumstance. And eastern as a supplement — to support my body in the best way I can while it’s trying its hardest under these less-than-ideal conditions. (Excellent nutrition is a big part of this!)

And so today I had a full-body CT scan — from mid-head to pelvis. It’s the next step in trying to suss out what’s causing all this. I’ve been having trouble settling it in my mind…knowing it’s a lot of radiation on my sensitive body. But also knowing full well that it’s a risk-benefit thing — and the benefit outweighs the risk right now. Part of the CT experience was drinking 32 ounces of barium, as well as receiving two separate doses of contrast dye through an IV during the scan. And a week prior, I had an MRI with gadolinium contrast through an IV. Gadolinium is on the Periodic Table… and is not something I want in my body for any longer than necessary!

Readi-Cat, drinkable barium. Cute name & I actually liked the taste! But it made me nauseous.

The assortment of heavy metals and dyes also make me feel quite ill for the rest of the day after receiving them, so the best thing I can do for my body is help it get that stuff flushed right out. So today, I came home and started chugging water with fresh lemon juice…and 8 hours later now I’m finally starting to feel less yucky. I also juiced a ton of cilantro (and have been eating heaps of cilantro lately anyway) along with parsley and garden celery, since it’s been found that fresh cilantro binds really well to heavy metals in your body and carries them safely out. I’ve also been drinking my beet kvass tonight, since that’s a great blood purifier…in addition to eating my everyday fare of lots of fresh, organic fruits & veggies, which is pretty much all my body wants & can tolerate right now. (Oh and some chocolate too, ya know…for medicinal purposes only, of course!)

Cilantro, parsley, & celery juice

And for the radiation, I’m thankful to have my kit of Australian Bush Flower Essences because I mixed up the Electro essence blend right when I got home. Interestingly, this blend was used in a clinical trial of bodily radiation levels in children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Radiation levels were measured before and after 2 weeks in a control group, plus a group that received spirulina, and in a group that received the Electro flower essence blend. After 2 weeks, the radiation level in the control group decreased 3.5% and the spirulina group decreased 25.3%, while the radiation level in the Electro group decreased 43%!

Anyway, I guess it’s all a big learning experience (like everything else!), resulting in a constant stream of adjustments being made to our inner selves along the way…forcing us to re-evaluate ourselves and our values and the things we previously thought we had “all figured out.”  And ultimately we gain compassion and perspective and first-hand experience, along with plenty of opportunities to practice surrender and acceptance. And we find out, again, that things are never really black-and-white once you’ve actually experienced them and put your previously-perceived values to the test.

This is an intense one…and I have to wonder what the ultimate purpose of it will be. My fear is that I’ll feel like this forevermore. I probably won’t, but at least I hope there’s a higher purpose to it all!

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How to Make Beet Kvass

By , May 21, 2011

Beet kvass is a favorite at our house! It’s so easy to make and so good for your body, and we love the taste — salty, sour, very refreshing.

Beets are extremely nutrient rich and have long been valued as a blood tonic (and their doctrine of signatures would suggest this — they make everything look bloody after you’ve cut into them!). They are rich in iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, carotene, B complex, copper, and vitamin C. Beets and their greens contain special substances that protect the liver and stimulate the flow of bile (Nourishing Traditions, p. 373). And drinking beet kvass is especially beneficial to digestion because it’s lacto-fermented and therefore contains beneficial enzymes and bacteria for your digestive tract. It’s an all-around health tonic, and according to p. 610 of Nourishing Traditions, beet kvass promotes regular elimination, aids digestion, alkalinizes the blood, cleanses the liver, and is a good treatment for kidney stones and other ailments.

Well, all I know is that it tastes good!

The recipe in Nourishing Traditions describes letting your beet kvass ferment for 2 days on the counter and then refrigerating it. However, I find it usually needs to ferment a lot longer than that. I let mine go a week or two on the counter, until the kvass is completely opaque — a deep, thick red that you can’t see through. I give it a taste, and if it’s sour with no hint of sweetness left, I know it’s done (though some may like to have that hint of sweetness). As with all fermentations, let it go until it tastes good to you, regardless of what the directions say.

Here’s my recipe:

Beet Kvass

8 – 10 ounces organic beets, scrubbed & coarsely chopped (I don’t bother to peel them)

1/4 cup whey* (optional)

1 Tbsp sea salt (I like unrefined sea salt because the minerals haven’t been taken out)

water

Place the salt into a 2-quart glass jar. Pour in a little warm water to dissolve the salt, and then add the beets and whey (if using). Fill the jar to the top with water. Stir and cover. Let sit at room temperature until the kvass tastes good to you — several days to a couple weeks, depending on your kitchen temperature and your tastes. Transfer to the fridge. If the kvass isn’t delicious, it may need a few weeks to “do its thing” in the fridge. I always find that my ferments taste even better when they’ve been shoved to the back of the fridge for a few weeks (or…er…months!).

And I have found that the whey is an optional ingredient, even though it isn’t listed as such in Nourishing Traditions. Feel free to leave it out; your kvass will take a little longer to ferment, but will be just as delicious!

When the liquid is nearly gone from your jar, you can fill it halfway again with water (no extra salt) and let it re-ferment if you want. Or you can save some kvass to add to your new batch as an innoculant, or you can juice your spent beet chunks! Or all of the above.

Starting a new batch of beet kvass

Beet kvass, finished and ready to drink

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*Whey: a clear yellowish liquid that can be drained off a fermented milk product like yogurt, buttermilk, or kefir. Whey will actually last for a couple months in your fridge. There are several ways to collect it:

– Easiest way: make kefir and let it over-ferment until curds and whey have separated. Spoon off the curds, and strain the whey through a fine mesh seive.

– Another way: Place a colander or seive over a bowl. Line the colander with a clean, damp tea towel, and pour yogurt into that. Leave for a day or two in your fridge to drain. You’ll then be left with whey in the bowl and “Greek yogurt” (or “yogurt cheese” if it’s really thick) in the colander. Both are great for making dips.

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Troubleshooting:

My ferments, including my kvass, sometimes get a white film (kahm yeast) on top during fermentation. It looks like this:

Kahm yeast is harmless, but you’ll want to try to keep it scraped off so it doesn’t affect the flavor of the kvass too much. I do find that my kvass gains a depth of flavor when it’s had this film on it, but if you let it go uncontrolled, it can make your kvass taste weird. Try to scrape as much of it off each day as you can.

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Use Caution With Bee Pollen Supplements

By , July 5, 2010

Bee Pollen

Unfortunately, this post is the result of quite an interesting week — I had 3 anaphylactic reactions in 48 hours, due to some bee pollen I ate! Bee pollen is considered to be a super food because it contains high-quality protein (meaning it has all the essential amino acids plus quite a few more), plus it’s rich in minerals and Vitamins A, C, E, as well as most of the B vitamins including folic acid, and it contains over 5,000 enzymes and thousands of phytonutrients. Bee pollen also contains plant nectar and bee saliva. It’s been used as a health food supplement in China for hundreds of years. But if you have – or even suspect you have – an allergy to bee stings, honey, royal jelly, or any other bee products, I want to pass on a word of caution about bee pollen supplements. While bee products are obviously not the same as a bee sting, they are related enough to cause cross reactions (Allergy. 1992 Feb;47(1):41-9). Also, if you have a severe allergy to pollen, I would also steer clear of bee pollen (Annals of Allergy. 1981 Sep;47(3):154-6).

This article states that “Bee pollen may actually set off allergies in those who are particularly sensitive, especially those allergic to bee venom and ragweed.”

Now, I’ve had quite a few bee stings in my life, with no evidence of an allergy until my most recent sting 3 years ago: Immediately after being stung, I almost passed out, and then got quite sick for about 24 hours. That wasn’t a normal reaction for me, and a coworker suggested that I may have developed a bee sting allergy. I later learned that a bee sting allergy can develop at any time, and the more times you’ve been stung, the higher your chance of becoming allergic.

But back to the bee pollen. Having read how nourishing it is, I recently bought some from the health food store. The label recommended eating just a few grains at first, in case of an allergic reaction, but mentioned nothing about avoiding the product if you have allergies to bee venom, other bee products, or to pollen. Perhaps the label could have been more specific…perhaps it was daft of me not to make the bee-sting/bee-pollen connection in my head. In any case, I ate a few grains with no problem. The next day I ate more of the pollen – probably between 1 and 2 Tbsp, and was fine. But the next day, within about 10 minutes of eating between 1 and 2 Tbsp of pollen, my entire face began to swell up — especially around my mouth — and I developed a burning red rash that quickly spread from my face to my neck, back, arms, and legs. I got lightheaded and my heart was racing and pounding. This was certainly something I’d never experienced before. Hubby and I decided I needed to get the pollen out of my body, so I did a…uhh…”barf induction.” Yuk. The reaction subsided, though I definitely didn’t feel very well.

The next morning I still felt weak, shaky, unwell, and strangely ‘out of it.’ Right as we were about to walk out the door for a bike ride, I started feeling really sick and lightheaded, like I was going to throw up and pass out. The rash immediately returned, starting on my face and spreading to the rest of my body. Evidently, anaphylaxis can be biphasic, meaning it can occur again within 72 hours, without any further exposure to the allergen. And then again the next day, I had a third reaction with the same quickly-spreading red rash, sick feeling, pounding heart, and lightheadedness as before; however, that time my throat swelled up, which was really scary, and I ended up in the ER. It was not a fun night.

A few days later, I then accidentally confirmed my bee pollen allergy by eating granola bars that I had made with Really Raw brand of honey, which contains small amounts of bee pollen. Before my three anaphylactic reactions, I had eaten the granola bars with no problem. But ever since the anaphylaxis, I’m no longer able to eat even the minute amounts of pollen contained in my granola bars without having a reaction.

The doctor said it sounds like I’m allergic to bee stings in addition to the bee pollen, so I now carry an Epi-Pen, prednisone, and benadryl with me at all times.

And so the moral of my story is: Bee pollen has been used as a natural, nourishing super food for centuries. However, if you have an allergy to bee stings or are highly sensitive to pollens, do approach bee pollen with caution. If you do decide to take it, I would highly recommend starting out with just a few grains at first and then increasing your dosage slowly!

Post-Surgery Update

By , March 6, 2010

I’m back! My surgery went fine, and recovery is going well! The first week was rough because of the way my body reacted to the strong narcotics I was taking for pain. My poor body really gets the runaround with any kind of medicine; it’s very sensitive and doesn’t tolerate much more than Tylenol or ibuprofen! The reaction scared me enough to swear off any and all meds, so the pain was pretty yucky for a day or two, but then calmed down. It sure has helped that I’ve gone through this same surgery once already, since I was able to immediately put into action all the tricks I learned last time — a couple of which go against my post-op instructions. (As a side note, I’ve learned that doing what works for my own body will always trump the post-op instructions!)  So I’ve had my foot on ice packs, out of the black air cast, and elevated above my heart for almost every single minute of the last 11 days. It has made for a smoother recovery than last time, by far!

I’m definitely getting cabin fever though…oh my gosh. Last week, winter broke and today is the first day since October that we’ve had all our windows open. Last week on a 60-degree-day my mom took me over to their house so that I could lie outside in the sun in the backyard and get a nice dose of Vitamin D. How glorious it was! I wish I could just go outside for a nice long walk, but that will come soon enough; I just have to be patient. I still have another month on crutches, and then 6 weeks after that with a walking cast. I can’t wait till I’m all healed!

So this weekend I need to plan the vegetable garden and start my tomato seeds inside. Admittedly, I don’t really enjoy planning the garden. I don’t enjoy planting seeds, either. I live for the harvest! 😉 Anyway, here’s a picture of my stitched, swollen, and bruised “Franken-Foot,” 10 days post-op. Doesn’t look too horrible, does it!

Healing From Surgery, Part 4: Nourishing Foods

By , February 21, 2010

Welcome to another installment in my Healing From Surgery series!

For an introduction to the series, and the pre-/post-surgery homeopathic regimen I created, visit Part 1: Homeopathy.

For instructions on how to make your own Antiseptic Herbal Wash and Herbal Wound-Healing Oil, visit Part 2: Herbal Wound Remedies.

For my recommended skin-healing remedies, visit Part 3: Topical Skin-Healing Remedies.

Part 4: Nourishing Foods

Today for Part 4, I will be talking about foods that are especially nourishing for both before and after surgery. My second surgery is the day after tomorrow, so I have been trying to eat an extra-nourishing diet with emphasis on calcium-rich foods since the surgery involves lots of bone trauma (cutting down one part of a bone in my foot, breaking the bone in another spot, putting in a bone graft, installing a metal plate and 4 screws, and then cutting some muscles through another incision).

Last time, I had prepared lots of lovely, nourishing foods for myself to eat after the surgery. However, I was so nauseated from the anesthesia and pain medication that all I felt like eating was stuff made with sugar or white flour — ginger ale, popsicles, seltzer water, pretzels, saltine crackers. Anything with fats or whole grains was totally unappetizing to me. This was a little distressing because I knew that my body needed nourishing foods more than ever, but I couldn’t even think about eating them. So for this surgery, I am really focusing on nourishing foods beforehand. Plus, since I’m not allowed any vitamins, herbs, or other supplements for 14 days before surgery, it’s a great time to focus on eating nutrient-dense foods (which I feel are better than supplements anyway).

Here’s what I’ve been eating and why:

  • Kefir & Yogurt – rich in calcium & a wonderful probiotic (especially good after the course of antibiotics given during surgery)
  • Dark leafy greens like kale – rich in calcium & other goodies (cooked with bacon because the fat facilitates nutrient absorption)
  • Soups made with Bone Broth – rich in calcium and other minerals (recipe forthcoming)
  • Cooked bones – after making bone broth, the ends of many bones are soft enough to eat! An excellent source of calcium.
  • Coconut water (a.k.a. coconut juice) – for these 3 days before surgery, I’m drinking coconut water (different from coconut milk) to keep myself nice and hydrated. Coconut water is like nature’s Gatorade. In tropical areas, it’s used for dehydration, and for young children and the elderly who are convalescing.
  • Liver pate – extremely rich in nutrients like Vitamin A, B vitamins, iron, protein, trace minerals, etc. Liver is so good for you!
  • Eggs – all-around good nutrient-dense food
  • Canned fish w/ bones, like sardines or smoked herring – rich in calcium and just all-around good for you. Fish bones turn very soft in the can, and are eaten right along with the fish. Sounds gross, but I love the crunchy vertebrae in canned salmon!
  • Lots of fresh fruits & vegetables. My current favorites are mandarin oranges (clementines) and lunch salads made with lettuce, tomato, fresh parsley, fresh dill, diced avocado, bits of chopped ham, and a buttermilk ranch dressing (OMG yum!).
  • Sunshine! Vitamin D is very important for bones. During the winter it’s hard to get enough Vitamin D from the sun, so I like to supplement with Fermented Cod Liver Oil & Butter Oil.

Knowing what I do now, I bought myself the foods that I know I’ll feel like eating (photo below). Even though they’re not ideal foods, I feel that my diet is good enough that it can “forgive” a couple weeks of not-so-nourishing stuff. And when I feel up to it, I’ll be drinking lots of water with fresh lemon or lime juice added; lemon & lime are very nice for flushing out the liver…and I’d like to get as much of the anesthesia out of my body as I can. An even better post-surgery tonic would be coconut water with fresh lime juice added.

Nausea-friendly, post-surgery food: Ginger Ale, Coconut Water, Applesauce, Trader Joe's Fruit Jelly Candy, Animal Crackers, Oyster Crackers, Seltzer Water, Candied Ginger, Pretzels

Since I craved lime popsicles last time, I decided to make my own this time, with better ingredients than the store-bought ones.

I dissolved some raw honey into warm water, then added freshly-squeezed lime juice and some lime zest. Since I don’t have any reusable popsicle molds, I just poured the sweetened lime water into my handy Mickey Mouse Ice Cube Tray (a Disney World souvenir! :-)). They’re the perfect size to pop into my mouth. If you don’t happen to have your own Mickey Mouse Ice Cube Tray, you could use a regular ice cube tray and only fill the cells half way (so that the cubes are small enough to fit into your mouth).

Mini Lime "Popsicles"

Healing From Surgery, Part 3: Topical Skin-Healing Remedies

By , November 9, 2009
Natural Skin-Healing Remedies

From left: Tea Tree Oil, Goldenseal extract, Homeopathic Bone Strengthener, Homeopathic Arnica Gel, Homemade Herbal Wound-Healing Oil, & Virgin Coconut Oil

Time for another installment in the series!

For an introduction to the series, and the pre-/post-surgery homeopathic regimen I created, visit Part 1: Homeopathy.

For instructions on how to make your own Antiseptic Herbal Wash and Herbal Wound-Healing Oil, visit Part 2: Herbal Wound Remedies.

Part 3: Topical Skin-Healing Remedies

After the bandage was removed, I didn’t really put anything onto the actual incision sites (except my Antiseptic Herbal Wash) until they were more healed (therefore, less risk of sealing in any infection).

I kept my incisions clean by washing them with gentle (castile) soap and water; the nurse I talked to urged me not to use either hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol to clean or “sterilize” my wounds; they’re too caustic and harsh on the new tissue that’s forming.

If a wound looks like it’s getting infected (pain, heat, swelling, oozing/draining, and/or bright red color around incision), the essential oils of Tea Tree, Manuka, and/or Lavender can be used neat (full strength) right on the wound (or diluted, if you prefer). I used them a few times on my wounds just to help prevent infection. You can also use a thin layer of regular ol’ triple antibiotic ointment; in my experience, that stuff really does work. However, you don’t want to totally slather it on, because it might trap moisture inside the wound.

As a side note, I also exposed my wounds to direct sunshine when I could; MRSA (drug-resistant Staph) is killed by sunlight. You can read an article with similar implications here: CBS News: Blue Light Kills MRSA. (Though, the sunlight method isn’t totally foolproof since MRSA bacteria can cluster together and form a protective cover over itself called a biofilm, sheltering it from its environment.)

(Obviously, when in doubt, have your incision looked at by your doctor, since infections aren’t to be taken lightly.)

Goldenseal extract is another good topical remedy for infections. It has broad-spectrum antibacterial properties, but keep in mind that Goldenseal is not a systemic antibiotic. In other words, Goldenseal does not course its way through your blood, killing bacteria in its path. Rather, it acts as a contact disinfectant — killing bacteria, fungi, parasites, and protozoa that it comes into direct contact with in the mouth, GI tract, urinary tract, and on the skin.

Also, Goldenseal is one of the most over-harvested and endangered wild medicinal plants in North America. Even so, many (most!) of the Goldenseal that is sold is “wild harvested” or “wildcrafted.” While these terms sound enticing, do avoid them! Instead, only purchase Goldenseal that is “certified organic” or “cultivated.” Herb Pharm puts out a nice, certified organic Goldenseal extract that does not contribute to the demise of this precious healing plant.

Fortunately, Oregon Grape is a more abundant plant, with very similar properties. Oregon Grape root is a great replacement for Goldenseal root!

Anyway. Twice a day for a month or more after the bandage was removed, I put homeopathic arnica gel and virgin coconut oil (which is great for skin) all over my foot, avoiding the incision sites. The arnica gel definitely reduced the bruising discoloration, although my foot still felt bruised to the touch. The coconut oil was great for moisturizing. I noticed that since my foot was swollen, it would get very dry and itchy (like, scratch-it-with-a-steak-knife itchy) unless I was careful to keep it moisturized twice a day.

Once the incisions healed more, I began spraying my Homeopathic Bone Strengthener spray directly onto the skin over the bones that were healing. I also continued to take the spray under my tongue.

And lastly, I began using my homemade Herbal Wound-Healing Oil on the incision sites, and continue to use it daily. I also massage Vitamin E oil (from a punctured capsule) onto the scars.

All in all, my foot looks great! It’s not swelling too much, it’s not visibly bruised at all (though as I said above, it does still feel bruised to the touch…for me, arnica takes away the ugly color, but not the pain), and the scars are healing quite well. Of course, I’m not sure what my foot would have looked like without all these remedies. But since the incisions are healing so well, I definitely feel that they’ve helped.

Do you have a favorite natural skin-healing remedy? I’d love to know!

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