Category Archives: Health

Tickle and Control

FeatherFor the last two days my son lost access to some internet sites on his phone. He insisted it was due to the router restrictions I had put in place. But I had not changed those settings recently and so I told him that his problem was probably due to some new app he probably had put on his phone. We argued back and forth — needing to walk away from each other for an hour. After collecting ourselves, we experimented with the router — but no help. Then my son realized he just recently put an ad blocker on his phone. He removed it and all the problems went away.

He was terribly apologetic — both for his emotions (he is 14 years-old) and for the things he said. Being a sensitive fellow, I knew he’d feel guilty for a long time if I didn’t offer him a way out. So I said, “Look, massage my feet and I will forgive you.”

Hand ReflexologyHe rejoiced receiving a penance method and proceeded to massage my feet. He did a pretty good job actually, but I said, “Son, if you’d like, I can teach you to massage better — it may come in handy when you are older.” He laughed and the shyly asked to be instructed.

I tried to instruct him using his foot but he was unbelievably ticklish. I showed him how ticklishness is psychological by telling him to try to tickle himself. He was amazed. Then I said, “Look, you are in control of your mind, aren’t you? So just tell yourself not to be ticklish.” He tried but of course it only got worse. We experimented with me wearing gloves, then he putting on socks — nothing worked. The lesson: we are in far less control of our minds than we imagine.

Well, I was able to teach him hand massage techniques — hands aren’t ticklish usually. The principles of hand massage are the same as foot, so at least I knew I left my son with one valuable skill tonight.

  • Image credits: Feather, Hand Reflexology (true or false, it helps in the massage and I included it in my lecture to my son).  By the way, my son read this post and agreed to the posting.

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Grocery Shopping Paths

Above is the usual grocery shopping route of a person on the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.).  The grocery store is laid out to guide the shopper past all their wants and desires:  cases of Coke or Pepsi, canned food, frozen dinners, frozen pizza, crackers, corn and canola oil, sweat cereals, donuts, syrup, sweet baked beans,  and maybe a celebrity magazine as you check out.  “Oh, wait,” the SAD shopper may say while standing in line reading the most recent scandal, “I forgot some hot dogs and marshmallows for the cook out tomorrow” and then leave their cart parked to run back for the final ingredients in their balanced weekly diet.

The above diagram illustrates how much easier my shopping route is than the route of the average S.A.D. shopper.  I zip around the shop’s periphery and I’m done.   See this post illustrating my family’s food habits to understand how such simpler shopping path is possible.

Actually, I exaggerated.  My family’s food supply is a bit more complicated: we buy whole animals for our freezer from 2 0r 3 different local farms, and we get some local vegetables through a community co-op delivered to a neighbor’s home.  We also raise chickens and have vegetable gardens. Best of all (for me), the above happens magically through the industrious and loving hands of my ethnically-Polish farm wife.  I only need to help out occasionally but at those times, I am happy for our short shopping route.

That’s my American food-shopping life.  But for many years shopping was much different for me.  In Kyoto, Japan, my neighborhood had a traditional market district.  That market consisted of one long street with dozens of open-faced shops where I could buy all my weekly foods.  In India and China I shopped in less elegant, though more colorful markets where produce were laid out on blankets and I haggled prices with sellers as I watched skeptically as they weighed and counted out each item.  It was time-consuming but memorable.

I remember coming back to the USA after 11 years abroad and being overwhelmed by the choices in the convenient US grocery stores.  But amidst the huge variety of canned, boxed and processed foods, my family has voluntarily limited our choices to make life more sane and healthy.

Question for Readers:  Do you have any unusual shopping habits?

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A Diet Taxonomy: Free vs. Restrictive


Above is a diagram I dreamed up to show diets in terms of what their followers DON’T eat.  Over the years, driven by my impulsive, neurotic, experimental temperament,  I have experimented with all of these diets, except cannibalism.  Hope you enjoy my illustration and that it is not too busy.

Questions to readers: Does the diagram help?  How? What have you tried any of these, and what have you learned?

Note: Animal Products = milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, etc …

For those unfamiliar with a particular diet, I offer the links below:

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Alternative Medicine & Weirdos

I graduated from a 3-year Oriental Medical College in Japan and passed the national certification boards.  After that training I did a 1-year graduate course in herbal medicine.  I worked at two famous Oriental Medical Clinics in Kyoto and Osaka and worked part-time at a National Hospital which had a wing dedicated to combining both Oriental medical and Occidental medical treatments.  I also ran my own clinic out of my house in Kyoto where I treated my patients with acupuncture, moxibustion, shiatsu and herbal medicine supplied by a local pharmacist.  My clinic was called the “Integrative Medical Clinic”.

But my medicine was far from integrative and I decided to study modern medicine to make “integrative” mean something.  So I returned to America with ambitions of combining Oriental Medicine and Western Medicine.  I entered Duke University’s  Physician Assistant program with hopes of eventually finding a physician group to pair up with to forge this alliance of two medicines.

My training in Japan showed me that many herbal formulas are helpful for autoimmune diseases. So I bought about $4,000 worth of herbs and set up relations with Japanese pharmacies to get ready to import and export.  But over the next three years I could not find anyone who was interested in taking Japanese herbs.  People who tried them complained that they were too bitter or too much effort to prepare.  Also, the people who were drawn to having acupuncture were very strange.  People who were interested told me about how they really believed in acupuncture — but I didn’t care, either it worked or it didn’t.   Clients wanted to talk about past lives, auras and the mystical experiences they had.

Of course the more exaggerated their magical world, the more dramatic the effects of my first treatments.  This was not the people I wanted to treat.  I soon became very disillusioned with treating these people.  I could not get anyone to take herbs and had to throw away my investment.

My patients in Japan were not weird.  They were from the normal population.  They did not look at acupuncture as magic, did not talk about auras or past lives.  They just wanted their arms better or their rashes gone.  But here in American (back in those days), alternative medicine drew a strange crowd.

Then I jumped out of the fire, into the frying pan.  After giving up on acupuncture, I then studied Homeopathy and became a certified practitioner working with two MDs in a clinic.  The types of clients drawn to that sort of clinic had disproportional more personality disorders and neuroses than other medical practices I worked in.  It seemed that alternative medicine drew nuts.  OK, there were lots of cool, mentally-healthy folks there too but the wacky folks really shined.  So after 3 years, I stopped Homeopathy.

Weirdos are not the only reason I stopped practicing alternative medicine but it was part of the reason.  In future posts I hope to describe other reasons.

Other related posts:

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Sabio’s Alt Med Background

Five Element TheoryThis is a reference post for anyone interested in a brief general history of my experiences in Alternative Medicine.   BTW, for the last twenty years I have practiced orthodox Western Medicine (Allopathic Medicine).

Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine

I landed in Japan for a brief 3 weeks vacation on my way back from philosophy Ph.D. research in India and Pakistan.  I was enamored by Japan and saw no rush to return to the States and my 3-week vacation turned into 7 years and I never finished that Ph.D.   My first year and a half I spent much of my spare time at a Zen Temple practicing Shorin-ji Kempo (Shaolin Kungfu) and meditation.  We also acupressure methods to massage each other after 2-3 hours work-outs.  Finding that interesting, I then took two acupressure classes in town, then I also found a Scottish acupuncturist who then took me on as an apprentice.  After two  years in Japan I was able to pass the National Japanese language boards and was accepted into an acupuncture college.  After 3 years of intense acupuncture training (4 pm – 9 pm, 5 days a week), I graduated (the only non-asian foreigner that year in Western Japan to graduate from an acupuncture college).  I then passed the national board exams.  For the next year I did apprenticeships in 3 clinics (I will write on these later) and took a graduate diploma in Chinese Herbal medicine. Then for one year I opened my own clinic in my home town, Kyoto.  I was called several times to give presentations on Acupuncture to various foreign groups in Japan.

On returning to the States I only practice acupuncture occasionally, and now don’t practice it at all.  I do still do acupressure to help people with headaches and sore backs.

Homeopathy

On returning to the USA after 7 years in Japan, I went to Duke Medical School’s 2-year Physician Assistant program ( a crammed version of a Physician’s 4-year program).  But during those years I also casually studied Homeopathy. After graduating from Duke, I got two jobs in Seattle Washington.  One in an Emergency Department for 30 hours per week and a second at a Family Practice Clinic with two MDs who only used Homeopathic medicine — again 30 hours per week.  During my first year at the homeopathic clinic, I also took a certificate program (180 hours) from the International Foundation of Homeopathy.  But I stopped practicing Homeopathy after only 2 intense years of practice.  I will write more later.

Diet

Diet is probably one of the most important forms of “medicines”.  I became a vegetarian after eating goat brain from the skull of a goat as a guest in a village in Pakistan when I was 19 years old (my first trip to South Asia).  I remained a vegetarian for about 7 years.  Part of that time I did a raw food diet for 6 months but became weak and stopped it.  I stopped being a vegetarian when I reached Japan and decided to start eating fish.  But fish proved to be “gateway” flesh and soon I was eating almost anything (whale, raw horse, live fish …).

During my stay in Japan I became sick, probably due to stress, and then started a Macrobiotic diet which drove me into worse health until I gave it up about 1 year later.  For the next 10 years I would eat largely vegetarian with 1-2 meat meals a week, buying food at coops and always striving for whole grains and unprocessed foods.  Oh yes, alcohol always remained a vice on each diet.

About six years ago I became much more lazy in my diet and started eating a lot of sweets.  I gained wt, developed high blood pressure and GERD.  A year and a half ago I started a low-carb (Paleo Diet)– more later.  Since then I have lost all my excess weight, was able to stop all my medications and am probably the healthiest I have been since I was younger, but my old vegetarian friends would be deeply ashamed of my unabashed carnivore habits.

Exercise

I have always exercised — with periods of lethargy, of course:  jog, martial arts, kayak …

Yoga & Meditation

I studied for two years to be a Yoga teacher  and have practiced various forms of meditation for many years- Yogic, Zen, Vipassana, Tibetan.  I am a very unskilled, lazy meditator.   Some consider these forms of alternative medicine.  More on this later.

Other related posts:

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Seeing Jesus: The Benefits of Pareidolia

jesus-in-toastPareidolia is the ability to see familiar things in otherwise spurious noise.  In this toasted cheese sandwich, some see Jesus’ face.  Though such hallucinatory visions may seem silly, perhaps they point to a beneficial way our minds work.  On my site I often try to point out that besides seeing the silliness in superstition or religion, we should also try to see why the mind behaves like this and in seeing such, we may notice that, even being skeptics or religion-free, our mind does the same thing often.

Like Treats Like

I contend here that we have a pareidolia function in the mind — one which can both be useful and deception. Being a former Oriental Medicine practitioner (herbs and acupuncture) I know another example of the mind using the brain’s pareidolia module.  There is an accepted principle in some branches of Oriental Medicine where if a plant looks like some part of human anatomy, it should have some remedial effect on pathology in that part of human bodies.
lotus_rootFor example, Lotus Root has channels running through it so when it is cut it looks like similar to how a cross-section of lungs would look. Lotus Root is used to treat phlegm in colds.  This notion of using things with similar form to the human body to treat ailments of that part of the body is, of course, silly.  But, as I will explain later, it still may be useful.

In the West, this principle is known as the Law of Correspondences.  This Law is based on the assumption that the divine order is redundant with hints of the implicit order.2

Homeopathy

Homeopathy1 uses this principle in a more abstract form of “like cures like” (I am an ex-homeopath too).   Let’s look at two homeopathic examples of this law of correspondence working as “like cures like”.  Sulfur is one of homeopathy’s many “remedies” (medicines). The homeopathic logic goes that if sulfur causes skin rashes, it can also be expected to cure skin rashes.  Bee’s venom is also a homeopathic medicine.  Since a person stung by a bee is induced to hyperactivity, swelling, redness, and pain,  then people with sore red, inflamed throats who can’t sit still may be treated with bees venom (Aspis mellifica).

We may wonder why this sort of silly logic does not get weeded from human consciousness by evolutionary principles and that is because Pareidolia is useful !

Pareidolia is Desirable

Pareidolia helps us to see patterns in the otherwise chaotic night sky.  Ancients looked at the chaotic sky and saw the shapes of humans and animals from their myths and then used those shapes to help them in navigation and calendar building.  Pareidolia is a memory device — it is easier to remember things familiar to us than mere random patterns.  I am thankful for pareidolia.

Another, less virtuous, reason for the persistence of pareidolia is that if you try 1000 herbs that share something with lungs, one of them might work. Then, with selection bias, you forget the other 999 failures and, BANG! , you have another “confirmed” superstition.   But at least it is now easier to remember the use of that herb.

We humans are funny. And as you can see my past intellectual wanderings in previous posts, I myself have fallen for pareidolia several times in my confused life. Silly me.

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1. Here is a good sight describing Similia Similibus Curentur (Like cures Like) and likewise exploring the pros and cons of homeopathy.

2.  Here is a 1920 Theosophy publication explaining The Law of Correspondences.

See a neuroscience article on this phenomena here.

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Home, Pigs, Pareidolia & Swine Flu

house_character_pig-roof13Chinese characters are often composed of abstractly stylized pictograms. For instance, the word “home” in Chinese is “Jia1” (click the link to see 43 other words with this sound–the number one means that sound is made with the first tone.).  The beauty of characters is that people of different languages can see character and read in their own language.  So Jia1 [the Chinese pronunciation] is pronounce “ie” in Japanese.

I made this diagram to the right to illustrate who the character for “home” is composed of two simpler symbols: roof & pig.

I found a picture of a pig to put over the character to give you an idea of how the symbol could have evolved.  It is as if I performed a retro-pareidolia to find pictures to match the Chinese characters.  The actual character is really a stylized version of a much simpler figure.

But speaking of pareidolia, religious people often see their favorite saints and founders in the oddest places: toast, window panes and clouds.  And atheists love making fun of these pareidolia as if the phenomena is an unforgivable cognitive defect.  But I contend that seeing familiarity amidst noise is a useful memory trick and thus a desirable cognitive skill (although it is frequently misused).  For instance, it is pareidolia thinking that let humans see mythic figures in the sky to help them memorize the stars to use for navigation and calendars.

Anyway, back to my story:  In ancient China, and still in rural china, families raise their animals below or near their house. Thus a building with animals is typically a home.  And we know that many human viruses jump to us from places where animals live close to humans — as in China.

swineBut I guess you don’t have to live with the animals to be affected by them.  Chinese people would not kiss a pig.  But Americans with all their public displays of affectionate behavior could be the culprits too (smile).

I am not trying to add to the Swine flu mania — and I trust it remains an exaggerated threat used by everyone from religious groups to governments to better themselves. But all the talk of the flu reminded me about how the Chinese character for “home” is a good mnemonic for flu vectors and this was good springboard to speak of pareidolia.  So there you go!  Hope someone enjoyed it.

Egyptian Government Actions

When disaster occurs, it is classic human behavior to rid yourself of outliers–we seek scapegoats.  History is replete with examples.  So it is not surprising that the Egypt government would use the Swine Flu issue to single out Christian pig farmers.  But we do know that human-animal close contact is a source of virus mutation and transmission of pandemic organisms.  And indeed, many successful public health improvements have been aimed at correcting certain cultural norms that allow encourage these close.  And pigs are one of the major vectors of the flu virus.  But though they may not be the major cause in this strain, Egypt’s action, though obviously dramatic and persecutory, is mildly understandable.

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The Social Function of Vaccine Resisters

vaccine Vaccine Resisters come in many flavors — myself being one of them, having modified the vaccine schedules for my children. Other vaccine resisters may totally object to all vaccines — a position I do not support. Nonetheless, pro-vaccine people should know that vaccine resisters have and continue to fulfill an ironically desirable social function.

Vaccines are incredibly beneficial:
Don’t get me wrong, I am a medical provider and have had my own kids vaccinated (albeit on a schedule of my choosing).  But the wonderful safety and effectiveness of our vaccine system is partial due to resistance of some parents to routine, mandated vaccines.

Pharmaceutical companies are a great boon but must have checks:
Companies have produced wonderful improvement in both the variety and the quality of vaccines over the years. But it must always be remembered, that pharmaceuticals only have our best in mind as long as “our best” entails our purchase of their products and thus (like all companies) in this sense, they are not to be trusted. This is the source of the adage “Consumer Beware”.   Like food, transportation equipment, structural equipment and even some toys since drugs can have deathly consequences, so as consumers we need to be extra careful.  Though these companies also are a huge benefit to our country, to safe guard from their dark side, our society has evolved several checks. I feel that consumers are part of the check system. I do not want just the government to act as a check. Consumers must always be the most important check. And I feel that a subgroup of consumers, the vaccine resistors, are part of that natural check system which have benefited us in ways unrecognized. Many of the safety checks in our present system exist exactly to appease the errors pointed by earlier resistors.  And though they point to false errors, they have been right several times.  But more than that, their hesitations, accurate or not, keep both the government and the drug companies more diligent.

Vaccines are not harmless:
Vaccines are incredibly helpful to the health of our society but they are not without harm. I will not go into the history of vaccines that have been pulled and changes to vaccines which once harmed. But if you think they are harmless, visit this government site: National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program to see how from 1989 to 2009, even after many unfounded cases where thrown out, many were considered valid enough to receive > $1.7 billion in compensations for vaccine injuries.

Keep Vaccines Voluntary:
To maintain the consumer check on vaccines, I vote to keep vaccines voluntary. Yes, the voluntary nature will have its drawbacks including  potential of some parents harming their children.  This is where the argument gets very controversial.  But I think the drawbacks of a voluntary system outweighs the down side of a mandatory system — just my opinion. And even though there are weird folks out there, there are still lots of people who raise good questions about vaccines that are important to raise. And in addressing these over the years, our system has grown stronger.

Some of the questions we need to keep asking:
1) Which vaccines?
Vaccines were first developed for high morbidity, high mortality illnesses — that is, illnesses that kill or cause great suffering or permanent damage. But it is possible to also create vaccines for illnesses that are only a nuisance. Just because a drug company creates a vaccine, do we really need to use it. If vaccines are mandatory, people will not be able to choose. If a drug company creates a vaccine and knows they can make a huge profit by lobbying the government to enforce the mandatory distribution of their product, we loose essential freedoms. Fine, let people experiment with it who desire. But don’t make it mandatory.  If vaccines are made mandatory, then if a drug company creates a vaccines for a low-morbidity, non-lethal illness, they or the government could still just add it to the list of “mandatory” vaccines.

2) Unknown Ecological Effect:
We still don’t understand much of the complexities of immunity and our own bacterial/fungal/viral ecosystem. Many organisms live on us in small numbers and in relations to other organisms. We have already shown that if you cut down on strept organisms, staph organisms prosper. As with any ecosystem, we should tamper slowly. Allowing voluntary use of vaccines will allow people to discover these relationships while maintaining freedom.

3) Vaccine Schedule:
All kids don’t need the same schedule for vaccinating. We are not all at risk in the same way. The vaccine schedules are made to be most convenient for the providers and to be sure more vulnerable populations are protected. But again, the schedule should be voluntary too.

Though I think I have put forward a fairly level-headed middle-ground position on vaccines, only 1/3 of readers seem to agree with me my position of voluntary vaccines — see the poll below:

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Last updated for clarity & new info on 5/20/09

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Salutary Chaos: Monks, Worms & Hearts

saint_anthony_orthodoxChaos in Religion:
The hermits of Scete were 4th century Christian ascetics who lived the contemplative life in the deserts of Egypt. They lived largely in solitude, silence,  and meditation, laboring for a hand-to-mouth existence.    However, occasionally they relaxed their vigorous austerities and just chatted.   Below is one story from a collection compiled and translated in 1960 by a Trappist monk called Thomas Merton. Continue reading

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Bad Science

quack-doctorThough I am hugely pro-science,  I am only pro-science-method, not pro-accepted-knowledge.   People claiming to practice science are people and thus susceptible to all the foibles abundant among humans and their institutions.  The April 2nd NYT has a good article on how though research shows failures of medical practices, nonetheless practitioners keep pushing  these failures:

  • Cough medicines that don’t work
  • Ear infection antibiotics don’t work
  • Knee and Back surgeries that don’t work

The writer left out that present cholesterol and fat dogma is wrong and yet still taught by most Medical Practitioners !

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