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

Brown Fat And My Californian Pool

The experiment is still on: How long into the winter will I succeed to keep up my daily twenty-one laps in the pool? So far, so good. The water is much colder now, but the days have been sunny and friendly – the fog lifted while we were at the East Coast. Truthfully, lately it has been harder to face the pool: I am still battling a minor cold, and every day I have to decide if it is prudent to swim with the cold, or if I should just snuggle up in a warm blanket. But the exhilarating feeling after my daily swim – I seem to be addicted to it. I look full of vigor. My posture definitely is straighter. I am building up muscles where I never had any – on my back and my arms. Plus, the tiny belly I had is getting smoother (not smaller). On the negative side is my skin. No outright rash or itching yet, but I have the suspicion that my skin looks a bit older, notwithstanding the coconut oil I slab all over me after each bath. For a few days, I had been getting extremely cold after each swim, and couldn’t get warm at all. If you ever read my water book, you know that staying cold after water exposure is not a good idea. But with my inborn stubbornness (which might just get worse with age …) and medical curiosity, I kept doing what I should not have done: go swimming. And got colder and colder. In spite of the knee bends, blankets and hot tea with fresh ginger. Two nights in a row, I didn’t get warm all night – certainly not a healthy state! Until yesterday. Shortly after I went swimming, had taken my short cold shower to get rid of the chlorine, had done my exercise, had rolled up in my blanket and imbibed the tea, I got really warm. Even my hands felt tingling with warmth. This lasted all night, and is still going on. I suddenly had the feeling that, for the first time in my life, that I was getting on the warm side in life. Like, where my husband always is. Looking around for an explanation, I stumbled onto brown fat. Brown fat gets activated by cold. Brown fat is supposed to be healthier than yellow fat that just stores superfluous calories. Babies have more brown fat because it protects them from hypothermia – a constant threat for newborns. Brown fat is not so much fat but is related to muscles. Brown fat is brown from the mitochondria and their iron contents; mitochondria are tiny energy factories. Brown fat has also more blood vessels for better oxygenation and is metabolically more active than yellow fat – it actually burns calories instead just storing them. So, by swimming in the cool pool, I must have tapped into my brown fat – I can’t come up with any other explanation. And did you know? Brown fat is implemented in weight loss. Yes! Brown fat can make you lose weight – IF you have enough brown fat. Sebastian Kneipp, the father of the Kaltwasserkur (Cold Water Cure) is famous for jumping into the wintry Danube River to cure his tuberculosis. Later, he modified his approach because he observed that some weakened patients were not able to withstand the bitter cold he himself had applied to his body. One could say he watered down his original approach … I had always repeated what I had been taught: that too much cold might be hazardous to your health. Which still might be true for frail people. But I might be onto something here … I will let you know how this will work out. P.S. After today's laps, I have very warm hands. Read More 
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My Hospital Manifesto

If I would decide how hospitals are governed (and I don’t), these would be important points for me: 1. Food: Thy food be thy medicine – and vice versa – Hippocrates said. What is served as “food” in hospitals these times, is mostly abysmal and just goes to show that conventional medicine is not interested in really finding out the root cause of disease. In many cases, it is nutrition, stupid! 2. Cafeteria: Same for the place where all the visitors come and eat. It could be an educational experience, instead just another gorging with inferior foodstuff, filled with chemicals, trans-fats, sugars and dairy. 3. Quiet: When I was a child in Germany, and my father was a doctor, he used to take me on his rounds. Hospitals then were very quiet places. The nurses (often nuns) would walk on their rubber soles like on cushions, and they spoke with low voices. The doors to patient rooms were double doors – the patient had privacy and quiet. 4. What hasn’t changed much: That the hospital routine is not geared toward patient recovery but to a ward schedule convenient for doctors and nurses: Then as now patients are pulled out of sleep to measure their temperature or draw blood tests at four am. I would like to see more concern for the patient’s wellbeing than for the organization’s. 5. No TV in patient rooms: My guess is that at least seventy percent of all illness is self-inflicted. It used to be that being in the hospital was a time for contemplation about what brought one there. Not any longer – as TV is squeaking and squealing day and night. 6. Conventional and complementary medicines are BOTH used. There should be no bias toward the one or the other – what has been proven to work should be applied: Hydrotherapy, movement therapy, food, herbal medicine and art, music, journaling, acupuncture, massage, and so on – they all should be used to make patients better. As they are in most European hospital. And paid for by national health insurance. And, no, they are NOT going to be broke … 7. More cleanliness in the facilities. More cleanliness of the patients. Used to be that hospital were spic-and-span places where you could eat from the floor; not any longer. Instead of on cleanliness we trust in antibiotics – to our detriment. Same with patients’ cleanliness: Used to be that nurses washed the patients daily; not any longer. Nurses have gone scientific (necessarily so – but who is now responsible for caring?); the paperwork has become overwhelming. Housekeeping has been out-sourced. And simple ideas like a washing and cleaning have become obsolete. But hospital infections are skyrocketing. 8. More friendliness and caring toward the patient. The patient has become a moneymaking device. 9. Less care and resources to be spent on very old, very sick people in their last days of life – more on pediatric and under-served populations. DNR (Do Not Resuscitate orders discussed with every patient and/or every family). It will lead to savings of money and will allow people to die with dignity. 10. In medical schools, only half of the students should be A+ nerds; the other half should be people who really want to become doctors and patient advocates from all walks of life. We need very brilliant students because they push medicine’s frontiers ahead. But we also need caring primary care physicians. And putting them together in medical school will hopefully lead to a dialogue between them. As I am thinking more about this, I might come up with more ideas. What would you wish to implement in the hospitals of the future? Read More 
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Listen To Your Body

A stalk of Brussels sprouts survived in my fridge while we were traveling to the East Coast. Last night, I suddenly had the vision that I would like to eat those green little roses – and of all things with raisins! No clue where it came from. The sixth sense? But I knew I had to get up a bit earlier this morning to actually cook this strange breakfast for myself. Since the nearly twenty years I don’t indulge anymore in the ubiquitous müsli or cereal breakfast, I usually eat dinner left-overs or open a can of beans, throw in a handful of fresh or dried herbs, pepper and salt, and some olive oil – it is a fast meal, but no junk food. At this point in my life, I take my gut feelings seriously. So I browned two large onions in coconut oil before I added the Brussels sprouts rosettes and a cup full of raisins. I let it simmer with some pepper and salt, until the rosettes were soft and the raisins plump. It was delicious – why had I never thought of adding raisins to this dish? The taste mingled the sharp black pepper and the sweet raisins to a new experience. Usually I serve Brussels sprouts with a good sprinkling of nutmeg. Why do I take my hunches seriously? Because I figure my body wants to tell me about a slight deficiency. Of course I don’t follow hunches for marshmallows and M&Ms, because they are not natural – although I might turn to dark chocolate if I had a craving for something sweet. Nearly thirty years ago I followed a hunch to visit a certain museum – five hundred miles away. And through that museum, I met my future (and now) husband … but that is a different story! Why do I bring up something as unscientific as hunches? Because daily we are bombarded by health news and scientific breakthroughs and advertisements for new super-foods – it is hard to find our way through this maze of information. I early on decided that I need to see – and feel – the difference in my body, my mood, my soul before I believe any new health hype. For instance, I always craved more fat in my diet than medical wisdom allowed me to eat. It always seemed that my brain did not function well without enough fat – and I am talking good fats here, mostly olive oil. At that time, I was still timid and told my patients to stick to the official line in conventional medicine, namely to cut out fat. But secretly, I bathed my vegetables in all the fat I desired. And interestingly, it was me who kept her weight since age twelve, not the people who had been advised differently. I was the one who weighed herself every day on a scale – contrary to what medicine was teaching at that time. So, now, when you take a new supplement: Do you take it because your doctor/your herbalist/your acupuncturist/your friend/your newspaper told you so? Or because you feel suddenly so much better than before? Over the years I found out that rarely do I feel better with ANY supplements. Exception are the phytogens (female herbs) by GAIA which I gave been taking for many years now. But I do feel better when I take my daily cold shower (or my daily laps across the pool), when I eat less at dinner and nothing thereafter, when I do moderate exercise throughout the day but feel miserable in the gym. I feel good about myself when I drop a small coin into the hand of a homeless veteran, but feel shabby when I argue to myself that he probably is an alcoholic who deserves his fate (nobody deserves that fate!!). Over the years I found out that vitamins and homeopathy don’t do anything for me, but freshly cooked meals do. That leaving out dairy cured my asthma, and improved my osteoarthritis vastly. That I need about double as much sleep as my husband, and that I definitely need my small thyroid pill after half of my thyroid was taken out years ago. Without that tiny pill I turn into a nagging bitch (as my husband found out!). Mind you, I don’t give in to silly cravings like drinking a ton of booze. But the occasional glass of wine seems to be fine. And when I was pregnant, I took very seriously my sudden hankering after lobster, and made my husband drive to a seafood restaurant late at night! When one turns vegan, most people feel wonderful, initially. Because it is a cleansing diet, after the overload on meats, delis and dairy products of the Western diet. But do you still feel wonderful after a few years on this diet? Or do you believe the vegan ideology more than what your body tells you? Do you feel great after an all-you-can-eat buffet, or do you feel like a stuffed turkey? Do you feel great after a diet coke, or do you have the lingering suspicion you might be addicted to the aspartame and caffeine? Do you feel good after a triathlon, or do all your joints scream? The big problem of course is that our brain can make us believe what we want to believe, deceivingly. It takes years of practicing your hunch skills before you can trust those wild notions coming out of nowhere. After all, there is something like the placebo effect, which may make you feel good erroneously – at least for a time. But nobody else can answer the question “How are you?” – except you. Because every body is different, and only you can feel how you are. As my friend Roanne Weisman puts it: Own Your Health! And, hey, I feel perfect today after Brussels sprouts with raisins! Read More 
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