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Blog: On Health. On Writing. On Life. On Everything.

Something I Just Learned from the Australian Aborigines

Waiting for my transit airplane - already pretty stinky after traveling now for 24 hours, and not having farther advanced yet than from Perth to Shanghai - I find out that China does not allow access to Gmail, Amazon, Twitter or Google – so much for Freedom of Speech . I can as well use this time to write about things I learned in Western Australia recently. I learned about Noongar medicine, from the Aborigines in the South West – bush medicine, that is. The Aborigines are First Nation of Australia, just like our Natives in the Americas. The Aborigines believe that each person has a totem that is also the place where one belongs to, the spirit of that place, and the linchpin, so to speak, of your life. You see, the place from where you came, and where your soul is bound up, cannot be changed. That is some heavy stuff for somebody who, at age forty, left everything behind in Germany, and immigrated to the USA. But it is an interesting idea – one with many consequences. For instance, Aborigines are not interested in waging war, because you can only inhabit your own totem land, never the one of somebody else. His land will never be your land. So there’s no use for war. Nor for greed and envy, it seems. If you always live smack in the middle of the life that belongs to you – and only you – you are always home. You are also always at the most interesting, most fulfilled spot of your life. You wouldn’t have use for the Kardashians … Traveling – like I am doing now – has a different meaning under this aspect. Aborigines travel across the land according to changing food supplies throughout the seasons. Like Native Americans went from their winter dwellings in the forest to the coast in summer, to gorge on mussels and clams and lobsters – we still have an unexcavated midden near out Maine cabin. The Aborigines had an even harder life, roaming the arid regions of Western, North and middle Australia. They needed to know their seasonal foodstuff well – lizards and grubs and roots mostly, occasionally a kangaroo or an emu. All food is shared. I tried a piece of Australian celery last week. Very tasty. Seasonal is the keyword here. Aborigines don’t do sightseeing; they revisit their spirit location again and again. Because from there, strength and knowledge emanates. Place is important with such a concept; time is not. The seasons are revisitings. Life is a string of revisitings. Aging is not a problem. Any time you revisit your totem spot, you gain more knowledge, and – like the food – you share your knowledge with your tribe. The knowledge is handed down mostly as songs – long ballads, with repetitive lines. And the song is your totem, too. It is fascinating that I come to this Aboriginal knowledge just when I am also reading Flights, by the Polish author Olga Tokarczuk. I have been told she might win a Nobel – she certainly has written here a profound account of our restless, traveling lives. Not to hammer in the moral of this Aboriginal philosophy too much – you can do that for yourself. But I have found myself contemplating this new thought. New for me, of course. Very old for the Aborigines. So old that people estimate they have lived that same kind of life for at least 50,000 years. Without destroying their environment in the process. Compare this to our man-made global warming. Read More 
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Gluten-free??

Gluten is a sticky protein in wheat, barley, rye, AND oats, naturally. But the gluten in oats is called avenin; the gluten in wheat, barley and rye is called gliadin. Shorthand, we use the broader term "gluten" in the place of the more specific term "gliadin". That's why we can call oats "gluten-free". And it is true that many people with a gliadin problem, are able to digest avenin. Some, however, are not. And no effort to label oats as "gluten-free" will make it so - it always will contain its specific gluten called avenin. For the people who think "gluten-free" is a health fad: It is not. Celiac disease is a severe autoimmune disease, with many consequences if neglected. Roughly 1 in 100 of people worldwide have gluten sensitivity. It's real (because it's in your genes), and it can't be wished away. [This article first appeared as a letter in the New York Times health blog 4/14/2018] Read More 

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World Water Day 2018 – and a fitting announcement

Our water is getting worse. A reminder that celebrating water today comes with the burden of working toward the goal of clean water. Clean water for those people who still don’t have it, and clean water for those who take it for granted, and don’t realize the water quality is deteriorating. Apropos the World Water Day today, I want to announce that finally a new book by me comes out. Or, put more modestly – and more accurately, a chapter in a handbook. The handbook is Integrative Sexual Health, and it is part of Andrew Weil’s Integrative Medicine Library series, published by Oxford University Press. My chapter 22 is called The Benefits of Water Therapy for Sexual and Pelvic Problems. If you have read my water book Health20 -Tap into the Healing Power of Water, you know already some of the usual suspects: cold shower, herbal bath, hot footbath, tepid sitzbath, and so on – just not with so precisely the lamplight turned on the area between your thighs and your navel (sorry for that metaphor …). You will find remedies for a whole host of ailments “down there” as my medicine hero Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897) always put it. As a Catholic priest he might have felt uncomfortable talking about “down there”. Be assured that the authors of this handbook do not feel uncomfortable naming names and stating problems. How excited I was when writing that chapter! I had asked this question: How it could be that all the diverse healing approaches lined up in this book seem to help –cold water, herbs, exercise, better nutrition, talking therapy, improved sleep, hormones, vitamins, removal of toxins, weight loss, Ayurvedic Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine. What is the reason they all work? The answer I finally arrived: Disease is an imbalance in your body, and all these different medical modalities can nudge your body back into balance. And I don’t mean balance in a flaky way. I mean this in a strictly scientific way. Because, it turns out, that all these different modes of healing affect the neural-hormonal-intestinal axis from your pineal gland to your sexual glands (ovaries in women, testicles in men), to your gut. In between we have the pituitary gland, the thyroid, the adrenals – and they all work together in health, along that axis that also comes by the name of psycho-neural-hormonal-intestinal axis. And that axis is out of balance in sickness. This is how integrative (or alternative, or natural) medicine defines disease: Imbalance. Compare it to the predominant model in conventional medicine: You have a disease, you get a label (a diagnosis) – and only this kind of pill can make you right again. A prescription pill that only the physician can give you. Sometimes, actually, that model works – and in my chapter I list a whole slew of problems for which you better see a conventional doctor. But it is safe to say that many sexual problems are approachable by natural means. A bounty of advice and hints – that’s what you will encounter in this book. If you are not pleased with your sex life, or experience pain and discomfort in the area down-under, you might find a solution to your problem in this fat handbook. It will come out April 8th, and can already be pre-ordered. Happy World Water Day 2018! Read More 
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