Tag: retired

Maximizing nutrient absorption from foods

Don’t know about you, but I really dislike most salads and cooked greens. I ate vegetarian for a couple of years when I was living in a Buddhist household in Milwaukee. I don’t recall problems cooking or eating, but I do remember we ate a whole lot of salads. Nutrition wasn’t something I thought about a whole lot.

At that time, I was going to the Milwaukee School of Engineering to get my bachelor’s in nursing and Eric (Ric) and I were separated. Corey (Corinna, our daughter) was away in her first year at The Citadel. I was attending class, full-time, all day and then I worked the overnight shift (7 pm to 7 am) at a local hospital on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights.

But enough background for right now. I figured out that the only way I was going to eat enough greens to satisfy my recovering body’s need for good nutrition was to do smoothies in my old  Vitamix blender. I bought it in 1995 when I had severe TMJ and whiplash and could open my mouth only far enough to slip through a straw. Everything I ate for several weeks was thrown into the V-M and whirled to become liquid.

Diet and nutrition are proven to reverse diseases

Another important aside: Were you aware there are proven diets to reverse heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and hypertension (high blood pressure)? Unfortunately, doctors get only a tiny bit of nutrition education in medical school and often do not know about the importance of diet/nutrition in keeping us healthy. So instead of encouraging us to eat a sensible, whole food diet, we are given pills that suppress the symptoms but never touch the cause. Nurse Practitioner education is not much better. I’ve never looked at a syllabus for Physician Assistant education, but I bet it has very little on nutrition, too.

A huge part of our nation’s growing problem with obesity and diabetes is that people who begin to investigate about nutrition and diet run into a deluge of conflicting and confusing advice. What to do? When I want evidence-based information about nutrition I go to two sources.

The first is Nutrition Facts.  This site is a non-commercial, science-based public service provided by Dr. Michael Greger that relies on individual donors to keep the site alive. There are more than a thousand videos on nearly every aspect of healthy eating, with new videos and articles uploaded every day. Best of all everything is free of charge and evidence-based.

The second site I use is called GreenMedInfo. Sayer Ji, the site’s founder, has a robust natural medicine database with over 10,000 health topics. Searching for ME/CFS brings up 30 entries with the first one being the book Plague, about the retrovirus controversy from five years ago. Querying with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome brings up 45 abstracts of published papers, 19 substances (adaptogens, curcumin) that are used for treatment, six “problem” substances (breast implants, aluminum hydroxide), six therapeutic modalities (yoga, acupuncture) and two problematic actions–vaccinations in general and Hepatitis B vaccine in particular. There is a monthly/annual fee for accessing the database, but there is an informative, free newsletter.

Maximizing nutrients

Back to maximizing nutrition.  Phytonutrients, like beta-carotene and lycopene, can exist as microscopic crystals trapped inside the cell walls of fruits and vegetables. They’re only released when the cells are disrupted, which is why my mother was right–we have to chew our food really well.  Food particle size ideally would be reduced to smaller than the width of individual plant cells. Most vegetable particles end up greater than two millimeters when you chew them, but when we break open all the cells in a blender (especially Vitamix and Blendtec), we release much more nutrition.

kale in store
Green vegetables, like kale, are very healthy and good nutrition.

So, my veggie and fruit smoothies are the perfect way to get all your nutrients without eating all those yucky greens. Here’s a basic recipe with the products I use as links:

  • 1 frozen banana (take the peel off before freezing)
  • 2 raw pastured eggs (because of concerns for salmonella, do not use raw eggs unless you have visited the farm or they are labeled salmonella-free)
  • 1 cup blueberries (I pick my own and freeze them)
  • 1 cup frozen organic strawberries (strawberries are on the Dirty Dozen list so must be organic)
  • 1 serving broccoli or kale (optional)
  • 1 heaping scoop of Green Superfood
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of brewer’s yeast (also called nutritional yeast–not what is used to make bread) for all the B vitamins that are needed for adrenal health
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process) for antioxidants
  • enough kefir, kombucha, coconut water, or filtered water to come up to the top of the ingredients in the container, usually 8-10 oz.

You’ll want to mix this very well so there are no remaining lumps from frozen berries. With my old VM, I have to stop every now and then to pound the container on the counter to let the thick mixture settle into the air pockets introduced by blending. You can add more liquid if this occurs, but I prefer my smoothie to be almost the consistency of soft serve ice cream.

Absorption of nutrients is the next step in maximizing our nutritional intake from real foods. Real food is anything that does not come in a box, is a single entity (a potato), contains no refined grains, such as enriched white flour or any type of white rice, and no added sugar–real or sugar substitutes, like high fructose corn syrup or Splenda(R). More about nutrition and cooking later.

Other posts related to this one:

How I Conquered Low-Energy and Digestive Chronic Conditions

Sugar is soooo bad for you and so is the sugar industry

My Recovery Started With Buddhism and My Cells

What Have We Done to the Earth

IF my memory serves, this was a line from a Doors song. I was the first Earth Day (April 22, 1970) coordinator at my high school and used The Doors as a soundtrack to illustrate a slide show of pollution throughout my hometown, Eau Claire, Wisconsin. My interest in all things environmental began then and continues to this day.

That’s why I was very interested in an article written by Patricia Espinosa and Richard Horton and published on October 31, 2017, by TIME magazine: Study: Climate Change is Damaging the Health of Millions of PeopleEspinosa is the executive secretary of UN Climate Change and Horton is editor-in-chief of The Lancet, the widely respected British medical journal.  Going to the primary sourceThe Lancet Countdown: tracking progress on health and climate change, brings up 14 dense pages of commentary and facts on how climate change is impacting every living being on Earth. It’s sobering reading, my friends.

Climate change is adversely affecting the health of millions worldwide through drought, Photo by Alex Gindin on Unsplashwildfires, flooding, extreme heat waves and extreme cold. We have seen how that impacts people and animals in our own country through coverage of flooding from Texas through Florida, and the many wildfires in the far West. Other nations are also hit hard by climate change, but we don’t usually hear about them from US-centric media.

Many other climate-related effects are potentially lethal, too. Changing weather patterns also spread disease as mosquitoes and ticks expand their habitat farther and farther north. Allergies are more common, severe and last longer than when I was young. Unpredictable weather patterns–too much or too little precipitation and heat waves–reduce crop yields across the world, leading to nutritional deficiencies and famines. As always, the greatest burden falls on the sick, the elderly and children.

I must say that I’m feeling pretty good about where I live right now. (OK, maybe a bit smug.) Major storm tracks that tear from the Rockies through the Great Plains miss us by hundreds of miles. We are far away from potential earthquakes and massive flooding. Summers are warmer for longer periods than when I was young; the gardener in me loves that I harvest tomatoes into October. However, northern Wisconsin gets caught in a cold dip in upper air currents coming down from Canada that keep us chillier than most of the country in winter, so it evens out.

We all know what needs to be done to keep our tiny blue marble in space hospitable so our grandchildren can thrive–reduce fossil fuel use and reuse/recycle everything we can, among others. That reuse/recycle thing can be problematic if your chronic illness involves something that has to be landfilled, though. Anyone have uses for my hubby’s discarded oxygen tubing? (Don’t get me started on how much plastic, one-use medical waste goes into landfills.)

Perhaps you are too sick or disabled to do much at all. Remember growing a bean, sprouting a sweet potato or growing an avocado in a plastic cup when you were in elementary school? You can do it again, no matter how sick you are. Send your caregiver (so what if you are your caregiver) to a big box store and buy a small indoor plant. Start a garden next spring, even if it is just one tiny tomato in a pot on your fire escape. Healing happens when connecting to nature, no matter how tiny your effort.

 

My Recovery Started With Buddhism and My Cells

There was a whole lot of sturm and drang associated with having to quit working as an NP about 18 months after I was diagnosed with ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome):

  • Seeing my income drop precipitously
  • Being unable to afford COBRA insurance and so being without coverage until Medicare would begin two years after official disability determination (don’t get me started on how colossally stupid it is to grant disability and then make us pay out of pocket for healthcare)
  • Self-image issues related to being chronically ill and yet not looking “sick enough” that drove me into endless cycles of pushing myself to act normal and then crashing/relapsing for days or weeks afterward
  • Self-esteem issues associated with no longer being able to do what I loved and friends and family doubting I was really as sick as I claimed
  • Almost losing my home to foreclosure before I could get it refinanced with the help of my former husband and still good friend (we’ve since remarried)

Reflecting on it while composing this post, I realize my journey back to being as healthy as I could be with a fatal, chronic illness started with the foundational Tibetan Buddhist practices known as ngondro (NUUN-DRO), during which practitioners perform 100,000 repetitions of what is called the preliminary practices:

  1. repeating Refuge and Bodhicitta prayers while prostrating the body full out on the floor with arms above the head
  2. purifying karma through visualization and repetition of a 100-syllable mantra
  3. constructing mandalas to purify attachment
  4. purifying delusion through visualization and prayer

I lived alone the whole time (3.5 years) I was doing ngondro. I did an evening practice to eliminate obstacles, too. It worked for me as Dharma teachings Buddha & lotus budpromised it would. Like most, if not all, Buddhists who complete the preliminaries, I was changed inside and out. Most evident on my face, which even on a good day looks like I’m grumpy and dissatisfied, my features softened and I even looked more peaceful. I no longer felt self-pity, unfocused anger, disappointment and recrimination (what did I do that gave me ME?).

With little time to do much online research while doing ngondro, I dove back into it when my Buddhist practice no longer took all day. One of the first places I found a spark of hope was Donna Schenck’s blog at http://www.culturedfoodlife.com/ Donna became quite ill with her last pregnancy and found her body repaired itself when she began fermenting, or culturing, food.

Like Donna, I started with dairy kefir (KEFF-er or KEY-fur), essentially milk that uses beneficial bacteria to consume at the lactose (milk sugar) and turn the result into a delicious, tart beverage. Then it was on to a fermented tea called kombucha (COM-BOO-CHA), fermented carrots, dill pickles, sauerkraut, radishes, and garlic, among other veggies. I found I wasn’t a huge fan of fermented veg (if you have a prize recipe, send it to me and I’ll try it).

I reasoned the body makes new cells all the time and these new cells would be healthier and stronger because of the beneficial bacteria I was consuming. I felt better drinking kefir and kombucha. This drove me to learn more about cultured foods. At the same time, I started buying vegetables at the local Farmers Market and signing up for lots of food blogs. Ultimately, I became a member of a site started by a young woman named Wardeh (WAR-DEE) who showed how she uses traditional ways of preparing foods that are seasonal and more nutritious than conventional, processed food. Here’s the website: https://traditionalcookingschool.com/

Something else was going on at the same time. I began working with the ANS Rewired program. This proved to be as good for me mentally and physically as meditation and cultured foods. More on that in the next post.

If you found this article interesting, you may want to look at:

This program made all the difference in my ME/CFS recovery

How I Conquered Low-Energy and Digestive Chronic Conditions

Challenges in Aging

Getting old is not for sissies.”

  Don’t know how many times I heard or thought this in my many years on Earth, but the sentiment really hit home after I moved into my sixth decade. Lately, it seems like everyone I meet–even younger folk–has some sort of chronic medical issue. The conditions range along a continuum from “just annoying” post-nasal drip/frequent sinusitis to major inconvenience (broken bones) and on to life-altering situations like cancers, loss of a limb or sense (vision, hearing, taste, smell, balance), organ failure (kidney, liver, pancreas) or an autoimmune disease (multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma).

  Think about what will have to change if your signs (observable) and symptoms (subjective) are are confirmed to be what you Googled in the wee hours of the morning when you couldn’t sleep. This bogeyman disease could be anything:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • metabolic syndrome (my mom said she was too short for her weight)
  • osteoarthritis
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure/hypertension
  • urinary and/or bowel leakage (male and female)
  • abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • cataracts
  • autoimmune diseases: (MS, RA, lupus, scleroderma)
  • cancers of all types
  • hernias
  • chronic Lyme disease
  • ME/CFS
  • fibromyalgia

  The practitioner (MD/NP/PA) knows you will won’t be able to absorb much of anything after hearing, “The tests came back and you have…….” But he or she prescribes new medications and educates you about how and when to take them. Knowing most of all that is said today will go right over your head, but wanting to soften the blow, he/she  quickly adds a few words about modifying the disease with life style changes.

  There is no way a practitioner in today’s world of medicine has enough time in the 10-15 minutes allotted to your needs to do a thorough job. If you are fortunate and can pay for it out of pocket, the practice has an RN or a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) whose job it is to educate newly diagnosed patients and then follow up (case management) at intervals to keep you on track.

  Unfortunately, those practices are usually located in metropolitan areas along the coasts where the money is. Most patients will not receive this high level of support from their health care providers. We, the 99%, have to bumble along as best we can, making do with the internet, popular medical TV shows and friends/family.

  When I was enticed by a headhunter to move from Colorado Springs back to my hometown, she described what for me was the perfect medical model. As a nurse practitioner, I would do a complete history and physical on new patients, revisit them in their homes every six months and also make urgent visits, as needed. I would be expected to accompany high-risk or problematic patients to their medical appointments and work closely with their MD/NP/PA to develop a plan of care. The NP would be supported by a social worker and a registered nurse who saw the same patient every month and met weekly with the NP to review how patients were doing.

  I loved seeing my people at home because they couldn’t pretend. Working with a poor and homeless population in Charleston, SC and veterans who qualified for VA care in Colorado, I knew some people would dress up and make like everything was fine, but often I couldn’t get past their facade to really help them. Coming back to my hometown in northwest Wisconsin would be worth it (I really hate winter), if my patient visits took place where they lived.

  And so it was the perfect position for me…until I got sick myself. Much more about that later.

 

Why me?

So why should you want to stick around with me?  

I’m disabled, retired and living in gardening zone 4a in northwestern Wisconsin, about 90 minutes south of Lake Superior and 90 minutes east of the Twin Cities. I have a chronic disease, ME/CFS, a chronic illness, fibromyalgia, and several chronic conditions, such as neuropathic pain. My active diagnoses also include other things most people my age suffer from, like osteoarthritis and hypertension. I’m going to lump all my diagnoses together for the sake of clarity and call it chronic conditions.

On my back porch
On my back porch

I have a long-suffering husband (50 years together in 2020), a daughter doing public affairs for the Army, two smart and sassy granddaughters and a wonderful son-in-law who graciously puts up with being the only male Army spouse in the room. And, there is my constant companion, a German Shepherd service dog, The Divine Miss Em. (Apologies and homage to Bette Midler.)

My chronic conditions meant I spent years in bed, sometimes sleeping for 50 hours or more with only bathroom breaks. I once had a Mensa-quality brain, but sometimes I couldn’t do simple math or recall my thoughts or memories. Often, I couldn’t retain what I read or find the word I wanted to describe something. I dragged myself around on bone-tired legs with painful muscles and joints for years and years, trying this treatment or those supplements. I scoured blogs and medical research publications for anything that could improve my significantly constrained and admittedly lousy existence. The whole time I was attempting to act as “normal” as I could.

My chronic disease is ME

My disability is a neuro-immune disease called myalgic encephalomyelitis, ME for short. It still is known in the US as chronic fatigue syndrome. (PwME) people with ME are slowly, and (im)patiently, working to educate that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)and ME are different entities. However, you will still often see it referred to as ME/CFS. The major symptoms of ME are:

  • profound, zombie-like, down-in-your bones-fatigue that worsens with physical or mental exertion
  • joint and muscle pain
  • unrefreshing sleep
  • relapse lasting days, weeks or even months after exertion

This last bullet point is what separates ME from CFS. 

How I healed my chronic disease

This chronic disease forced me to learn how to make myself healthier. After years of simply existing with no hope of a cure, contemplating suicide at times, I realized my entire lifestyle would have to change if I wanted to see any real, long-lasting improvement in my disease. 

Research was the first step. I quickly understood how food could both be a cause of my poor health and a help in returning to homeostasis, a neutral balance point. I learned how to be a successful organic gardener, as well as traditional ways of preparing and cooking that improved nutrition, digestion and assimilation. My sourdough starter originally came with settlers on the Oregon Trail. I mastered how to culture and make cheese, garlic pickles, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha. I returned to a regular yoga session, even if it was limited to one pose a day, and stretching my muscles in bed. I was a Buddhist before becoming chronically ill, but I rededicated myself to a regular meditation practice.

Formal nursing education

Think it’s strange a nurse practitioner had to learn about becoming healthy only after getting a chronic disease and being too sick to work? My BSN nursing program incorporated disease prevention, but NPs are primary care providers. We learn how to treat disease and trauma. I worked primarily with chronic disease, chronic illness and chronic conditions in a geriatric and disabled population living in nursing homes, hospices and patients’ homes. Before returning to school in my mid-40s to get a nursing degree, I was an account group supervisor at marketing communications agencies responsible for designing public relations and advertising campaigns for Fortune 500 companies. My career prior to that was a reporter and my first job out of college was show dog kennel manager and trainer.

I quit working near the end of 2008 when mental exhaustion became dangerous to my patients. With the horrendous drop in the markets during The Great Recession, I lost about two-thirds of my nest egg and ended up underwater on the fixer-upper house I’d recently bought. Almost all my remaining retirement funds were invested in weatherizing, installing new windows, a new furnace, remodeling to be more handicapped accessible and otherwise making improvements. I knew I needed a comfortable home with minimal maintenance because there is no cure for ME.

Goals for this blog 

By writing and publishing this blog, I want to share the things I use to remain as well as I can be with a chronic illness, chronic diseases and chronic conditions. I will bring all the education, skills and life-knowledge I’ve acquired to this blog in the hope that I can make someone else’s path a bit easier.