Monthly Archives: May 2010

Them’s Fightin’ Words!

After several years of watching my mother’s physical condition deteriorate with no apparent help from her doctor, she finally went to a neurologist last week and came away with the diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. The name may not be on the tip of everyone’s tongue but the disease is out in the public eye – it’s what Muhammed Ali and Michael J. Fox have.  Parkinson’s is due to a deficiency of dopamine – a chemical used by the brain to control smooth muscle action and cognitive functions. The overt symptom of tremors is the lack of muscle control through the nervous system.

In a way, it was a relief to finally know what is wrong with her. Parkinson’s can be confused with other conditions which is why it’s so difficult to diagnose. It is degenerative and progressive and there is no cure – yet. This is one of those times where integrative medicine comes into play.  No herbal therapy that I am aware of will keep this condition at bay. However, synthetic medication combined with some herbs and other supplements, as well as some major lifestyle changes (for Mom, anyways), can prolong a decent quality of life for several, if not many years.

One of the symptoms of Parkinson’s, as well as one of the side effects of the medication prescribed for her is daytime sleepiness. While naps are always a nice thing, Gingko Biloba a couple of times a day may help alleviate some of her fatigue. It should certainly help with the blood circulation in her brain and since cognitive impairment is another symptom, she can use all the help she can get, there!

The medication she’s on is metabolized through the liver, so we want to help protect that organ. Therefore, Milk Thistle twice a day has been added to her regime. We added two to five cups of Green Tea to her daily diet – the polyphenols in Green Tea have a protective effect on nerves (it also has caffeine so we’ve reduced the amount of morning coffee). I added in a couple of other supplements for the antioxidant benefits as well.

The hard part for Mom: changing her diet. She grew up, as most of us did, as a meat eater. Unfortunately for her, animal protein interferes with the action of her medication so we’ve had to change her over to vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes and fish.  I’ve been wanting to change her diet for many years and now I have the perfect reason to do so. She wasn’t happy but accepted the change more-or-less gracefully.

The other hard part: exercise. Mom is lazy and the thought of “exercise” is abhorrent to her (hence my “wide butt” reference last week). However, it’s necessary to improve mobility, flexibility and her balance. It will also help with that daytime fatigue. Like us, she lives in the country where there are no sidewalks and a lot of people around but only uneven, mostly-deserted roads. Going for a walk outside by herself, especially with her gait and balance impaired, isn’t really an option. She owns a treadmill and we moved it into the living room where it will stare her in the face every day. As I’ve said before, just a little bit at a time will lead to more. I want her to eventually exercise (walking, stretching and some light weight training) for an hour, three to four times per week.

Mom and I are both fighters and now that we have a known “enemy”, we’ll put up one hell of a fight. Eventually her medication will stop working and she will continue to degenerate. Hopefully before that happens they’ll come up with something new – not necessarily a cure (although that would be nice) but at least a better mousetrap.

A Weighty Issue

I’m going to go on a little rant, here. It’s something that’s been bugging me for ages and it came at me again this past weekend in my booth at the Galactic Expo.

I get countless people asking me for an herb to “cure” this ill or that. They’re on prescription medication(s) but want to get off it/them. I don’t have to do any research to decide which herb would help – their problem is visibly apparent to me. Ninety percent of all these people are 50 to 100 pounds or more overweight!  There’s a commercial on TV for a weight-loss plan where one of the participants quotes her doctor as saying, “you need to lose weight or you will die“.  It’s not far off the truth.

No, no one is ever going to die from being overweight. It’s the complications from the stress you’re putting on your body that’ll get you.  Complications of obesity (from the Mayo Clinic) include cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

Let me give you some statistics: if you’re 30 pounds overweight, you’re 53 times more likely to develop diabetes and 30% more likely to develop high blood pressure, both of which can contribute to heart disease.  The stress the extra weight puts on your joints (especially knees and ankles) makes you up to five times as likely to develop osteoarthritis.

The people I see in this condition do nothing but get PO’d at me for suggesting they lose weight. “You sound like my doctor,” they say.  For a change, I’m going to agree. Losing just 10 percent of body fat can lower blood pressure by the same percentage or more. Same goes with blood sugar levels. The other retort I get is “You’re skinny. You don’t understand.” These people have never seen my little mother with the wide butt and a couple of weight-related health issues. Someone I don’t want to look like when I get to be her age.

So, I’m going to continue to suggest that people quit eating unhealthily and get some exercise. Cutting just 100 calories a day from the diet or utilizing 100 more calories per day leads to a weight loss of 10 pounds in about a year. Changing from mostly meat to mostly vegetables (just rearrange portion sizes) helps. Eat 5-6 small meals a day instead of three huge ones.

I know it’s pretty difficult to move a lot of weight around (we have two obese cats – wish I could have this conversation with them) but just getting up off the couch and going for a 10 minute walk each day, or taking one flight of stairs once a day instead of the elevator is a start.  When we moved into our new house (that I designed), I cursed myself for putting my shop in the basement and my office in the loft.  Two flights of stairs between each and I make many trips each day. Although I’ve been fairly active my whole life, that was a lot of exercise! However, after a couple of weeks of being forced to take the stairs to work, I discovered my leg muscles had toned and I wasn’t quite as out of breath from each trip. I can now make the trip from office to shop and back easily. The same thing holds true for people who are overweight.  When the 10 minute walk becomes easy, make it 15. When the stairs once a day is no problem, do it twice.  Just a little bit leads to a little more.

Some herbs that can help with weight loss are noted here. However, you need to be aware that many of these herbs are diuretic or laxative in nature – do your research and think of the consequences before starting on any herbal therapy (talking with your doctor isn’t a bad idea, either). One that’s not mentioned is Hibiscus Hibiscus sabdariffa. A couple of research studies in the last few years have suggested that Hibiscus could indeed help with weight loss.  We already know it can help with high blood pressure.

So, instead of hating me for saying the same thing the doctor says, I wish these people would get off their rear ends, pay attention to their diet and start moving a little.  I think they’d be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Oh What a Beautiful Morning

“Oh, what a beautiful day.” Gordon MacRae’s voice from Oklahoma keeps running through my head. I woke this morning to bright sunshine, the twittering of birds and the chattering of squirrels.  As I was pouring my morning coffee, delicate pink blossoms smiled at me from the terrace.

This particular rose bush is a rescue. One of my accounting clients was re-doing her garden and decided she didn’t like the climbing rose up the garage wall. She had the gardening people uproot the bush and was going to throw it out!  Since I eventually want to have the terrace planted in roses, I brought it home with me and put it in the center of that terrace, hopefully to be joined by friends at some point (my list of things to plant is a mile long!).  It’s taken almost three years but it finally seems to be happy. I know it should be espaliered (it is a climber, after all) but to have the tall canes peeking over the top, giving me a glimpse of the flowers from the kitchen window is just too enjoyable.

The Rose has a long history in poetry, lore, herbalism, magic … you name it. It is the flower of love and if you do an Internet search, you’ll see that different colors of Rose have different meanings: Red for Love & Romance, Pink for Friendship, White for Purity …

Medicinally, Rose is most often associated with skin care. It is astringent, which means it tightens the pores.  It also has other chemical compounds which prevent the elastins in the skin from degrading, strengthen the capillaries (tiny blood vessels right under the top layer of skin), and help with hydration. This is probably one of the reasons Rose is associated with anti-aging.

Because of its aromatic properties, it is used frequently to calm tension headaches and in some treatments for depression.  It has been used for centuries in preparations for sore throats, stomachaches, and toothaches. (Maud Grieve devotes 11½ pages to Rose in her “A Modern Herbal” – more than any other herb in the two-volume set.)

Rose essential oil is the most expensive essential oil on the planet. Depending on the market, one ounce of good Rose essential oil will set you back around US$200.  There’s a reason. The volatile oil component of the flower is so delicate that it takes around 60,000 roses (about 180 pounds) to make that ounce. To take that stat a step further, how about 30 roses for one drop!

So, most of us paupers content ourselves with using Rose Hydrosol. A hydrosol is what is more commonly known as “flower water”. It is a byproduct of the distilling process that produces the essential oil and while Rose isn’t cheap compared to some, is considerably less expensive than the essential oil. It makes a great ingredient in your homemade lotions or creams, or you can use it directly on your skin as a facial toner after cleansing.

Magically, Rose has plenty of applications. I know everyone knows it can be used in spells to attract love. However, it’s also a good addition to your healing and protection spells (think of the thorns). If there’s been an argument in your house, sprinkle rose petals around to calm all the agitated energy that’s built up.

“That which we call a Rose/ By any other word would smell as sweet.”  Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, Act II, Scene 2.

And now for the commercials (as Pat Sajak says on Wheel of Fortune, “we’ve gotta pay for all this”):

I’d like to thank Tammi Rager for having me on her radio show Living in the Now Age last night. It was a blast! We talked about all sorts of herbs and herbal applications. I just looked and they don’t yet have the show posted in the archives but if you missed it, check back in a couple of days – it should be there.

And, if you’re going to be anywhere near Nashville, TN this weekend, join me in booth #82 at the Galactic Expo. Yes, Nashville has been devastated by floods but the fairgrounds are just fine. I assume Katherine will have a collection box at the door to help the flood victims, as well.

And now I think I’ll go pour another cup of coffee just to look out the kitchen window at the Rose.

Luscious Lips

Now that the weather is warming up and we’re all starting to wear a little less clothing, I know most are paying closer attention to their skin. Folks are tanning, moisturizing, exfoliating, the whole nine. But are you paying attention to your lips? They are exposed to the same sunlight as your face, yet are made of more delicate skin.

The latest issue of Herb Quarterly has a wonderful article on how to take care of your lips and includes some recipes for do-it-yourself lip balms. One caveat: “natural” balms don’t include anything that is a sunscreen. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, use a commercial balm that includes sunscreen. Your lips can develop cancer from overexposure to UV rays. (I have two tubes of balm – one I purchased containing a sunscreen for when I’m working in the garden and one for the rest of the time that I made.)

To keep your lips luscious, exfoliate them.  As with all delicate or sensitive skin you don’t want to scrub but rub them lightly with your washcloth when you’re washing your face or, coat your lips with a thin layer of oil and then use a very soft toothbrush. Apply balm immediately afterward.

Licking your lips only dries them out so try to avoid that, especially when you’re outside. The moisture from your saliva will evaporate and leave them drier than ever. When you feel the need to lick, grab your balm instead.

If you are prone to cold sores (caused by the herpes simplex virus), use balms that contain Peppermint or Eucalyptus, which are antimicrobial. Better yet, find or make some that contains Lemon Balm (Melissa), which is specific to fighting the herpes simplex virus.

Commercial balms are fairly inexpensive but one of the problems I have is that they usually contain wax made from petroleum. This is why I make my own – I use beeswax as a thickening agent. Truthfully, better for your lips and smells better, too. A very simple recipe to make your own (courtesy of that article in Herb Quarterly) is:

1 tsp cocoanut oil

1 tsp almond oil

1/2 tsp beeswax

Heat all ingredients together just until the beeswax completely melts (either stovetop or 1-2 minutes in your microwave), pour into a container and allow to cool completely. If you want to add essential oils, do so as soon as you remove it from heat.  One or two drops only should do it. I absolutely love the smell and feel of cocoa butter so I’d substitute one teaspoon of that for the cocoanut oil.

If you like a little color, add a very small amount (no more than 1/2 teaspoon) of berry juice or beet root juice or powder (beet root powder can be found in most health food stores). If you use a juice, you may have to add just a wee bit more beeswax to get the balm solidified.

Do as I do and recycle your lipstick and lip balm tubes. Be sure to wash them in very hot water to get rid of all the prior product and allow to thoroughly dry before using them. I like tubes as they’re quick and easy and I don’t have to find something to wipe my finger on after applying (although my pant leg seems to work just fine!).

Make your kisser kissable!