eczema, miscellaneous

american springs and french homeopathy

so I was reading Susan Herrmann Loomis‘ book…

While I was reading On Rue Tatin, I got to a part where Loomis mentioned how her son’s physician also practiced homeopathy, and instantly my interest was piqued. The U.S. is pretty bi-partisan when it comes to medicine. You usually see either someone follows a conventional/allopathic practitioner pathway OR they go into an alternative medicine profession (homeopath, naturopath, etc). However, in France it seems that many medical doctors are also taught a bit of the more alternative medicines and as a result will prescribe unconventional medications and generally tailor treatments towards individuals more strongly so than in the U.S.

unconventional medicine… like hot springs therapy?

Having had a dermatologist who prescribed me the U.S. version of the Avène line products, I remembered that France also has a hearty healing spring culture and how insurance can cover some of the expenses for treatment at one if one has a prescription. I had researched the Avène springs therapy previously I jogged my memory about how their water comes from the Sainte-Odile spring, after having been naturally filtered through the Cévennes Mountains. I’m still super intrigued by trying this one day, as one can pay to do 3-week stays and the results seem phenomenal. I better keep working on my French though…

but more on homeopathy

In going down the French doctors are homeopaths direction, I ended up stumbling across the recent controversy happening, where the French government is trying to remove government reimbursement for homeopathic medicine prescriptions. Multiple groups andd campaigns have formed fighting on both sides (including SafeMed, FakeMed, MonHomeoMonChoix) Apparently, according to articles I read (in English) from france24 and bloomberg, the debate centers around the following points:

  • the efficacy of homeopathy. On one side we hear that the homeopathic medicines are nothing more than fancy tictacs; they only function as placebos anyway, and studies prove that. On the other side we hear that the homeopathic meds are gentle alternatives to meds with lots of side effects, and they can be used for more acute but non-severe conditions like the common cold and allergies. The studies that deny the efficacy of homeopathy are contested by the argument that homeopathy works by tailoring to each individual patient, and so a large uniform study where are all subjects are prescribed the same medications would not accurately show its effectiveness
  • the French government needs to save money. The French public health sector is looking to save money and this is a viable way to cut back spending, is what Buzyn, which is challenged because it is believed that homeopathy only contributes to 1% of said spending
  • this is the first step towards decreasing prescriptions generally (said by the Minister of Health, Agnès Buzyn). This idea is contested by studies like (this one) which show that the costs depend on the type of insurance used. For their social security (gov reimbursed program, though the consultations for homeopathy may be more expensive, the actual prescription costs are much lower than that of conventional medicines.
  • only 10% of patients seek reimbursement for the homeopathic medications anyway

my two cents

I personally think Buzyn is being short-sighted. If you take away reimbursement for just the homeopathy treatments, I doubt the result will slow ALL prescriptions being given out, but rather France will instead see a shift towards more issuing of medical prescriptions, which will cost the government more overall. I don’t know how the relationship works in France, but if it’s anything like the U.S., the pharmaceutical companies will fill the void of the homeopathic prescriptions by incentivizing doctors to give out more prescriptions. This would make the country by and large more dependent on meds, rather than less, and now these meds are stronger and as a result probably have a greater range of serious side effects, which rebounds into needing more medicine to treat the side effects. But again I’m not well versed in how the French medical system works, so this is all my conjecture.

if you believe it “in your heart of hearts”…

I also feel like people attack the placebo idea all the time but if you have something that is no more harmful than a tictac, as the articles argued, yet it makes the patients who take it feel better, why is that a bad thing? A lot of health is mental (as our brains are a part of our body) and so if feeling cared for, listened to, and treated (even if the treatment plan includes fancy “tictacs”) makes someone feel better, isn’t that in itself still a useful option? Most of the doctors interviewed who are in defense of homeopathy, seem to agree with me. They stated things like obviously you wouldn’t use homeopathy to treat cancer, but you might use it to treat an acute case of insomnia, etc, and that cutting off such an option might hurt lower income patients, as homeopathic medicines are usually cheaper than allopathic ones.

my personal disclaimer

I am openly biased. I’ve always been a fan of complementary systems of medicine, as I grew up drinking homemade ginger, lemon, and honey tea for sore throats and whatnot, and only turning to medication when things were bad. At the same time, having severe food allergies, I did (and do) consume Benadryl and own an Epipen, so it’s not like I was against conventional medicine. It was always just a gradient of severity. I’ve also become decidedly more pro-alternative medicine because years of conventional medicine/treatment has messed up my skin worse than it was in my youth, and as a result, I have fairly strong fear-avoidance (but really only for dermatologists, ha).

but back to alternative medicine and hot springs

Since I obviously won’t be making my way to France anytime soon, I also have been interested to see if there are any hot springs in the U.S. (there are) and in particular if there are any near me (there are much fewer). Apparently there is one in Virginia that multiple presidents have visited at the Omni Homestead Resort. If I make it over there anytime soon, you’ll hear about it in a whole separate post.

all posts, eczema, women's health

things that suck, literally

I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth, I just no longer subscribe to the spacetime continuum on it. But you’ve heard enough of my excuses about why I’m so untimely and inconsistent with posting, so let’s just skip that rerun.

Today’s topic is things that suck. But literally suck, as in suction, not in that they are uncool. The latter is way too arbitrarily subjective for me.

Anyway, so I’ve been pondering about my skin health, especially that of my feet. As a whole my skin has improved immensely; so much so that going outside in 20 degree weather does  not reduce me to being a miserable shivering mess any longer. I feel like each day, despite my diet not being on point and my sleep amounts being wonky, my skin is developing a more human luster again. Obviously this is exciting beyond proportions, however, my feet in particular still look horrendous and itch aggressively at times. Many areas, especially where the foot skin meets the plantar skin surface (bottom of the foot), there is a tough thickened layer of scarred skin, much like a callous but not so strong and mostly still flaky. From staring at it collectively for hours (and talking with my sister, who is good at thinking about skin care), I have come to the conclusion that I sorely lack blood flow in those areas, and so the trick now is figuring how to remedy that. I’ve been trying massage techniques as part of a bedtime routine and maybe it’s working, but at any rate I started envisioning a new “quick fix” direction: leeches!

Here me out. Leeches are small and single purpose-y: they bite to latch to human skin, secrete a light numbing type chemical, and then they start sucking and drawing blood to satiate themselves, and when they are done their fat content selves detach and they fall off. Well, what if they were applied to those thickened eczema spots, like on my feet? Could their ability to draw blood work in my favor to get the needed blood flow to that area to promote better healing? Would it reduce the thick skin build-up?

I then got curious if any medical practitioners have tried using leeches for eczema and recorded their findings. Turns out the answer is yes, but so far only in India (or that I could find). The study I did find had no control group (so no way to control for placebo effects or to compare in general) but they did find that leeches helped the eczema spots. Honestly I’m not sure why though. The study mentioned the leeches’ secretion having a microbial effect and the penetration of the epidermis and dermis layers of the skin, as well as the increased bloodflow the leeches provoked, so maybe I was on to something there.

The next thing that sucks isn’t a thing at all, but my baby. As a breastfed baby, my little one practices her sucking multiple times a day (I don’t pump honestly because I’m not good at it, so it feels like it takes forever just to get a low yield), meaning my schedule is worked around her needs. While I don’t mind this, it has caused me to wonder how I could have a career, as there are not many jobs I could take her along with me in this day and age (or at least not that I know of).

In short, I started coursework to become a postpartum doula. It will probably take me a few years to finish it all, mostly because you need to spend 5 hours minimum with 4 separate families and Fiona isn’t ready for that duration of separation yet, plus I don’t have any families lined up. That and also Fiona has developed complete object permanence, and so we are drastically having to readjust her sleeping routine again.

In other news, I have also started a role as a research writer for a site called PPDJourney, which features stories from moms about their experiences with postpartum depression. I’ll be doing monthly pieces on things that relate to maternal mental health.

Also I may be possibly developing a course with my favorite herbalist group, but I’ll keep that under wraps until it becomes more concrete.

Lastly, yes I know the cover picture is a slug, not leech, but in the immortal words of Rick the Hormone Monster “What’d ya gonna do?”

 

REFERENCES

Shankar KMP, Rao SD, and Gopalakrishnaiah V. A clinical trial for evaluation of leech application in the management of Vicarcikā(Eczema). Anc Sci Life. 2014 Apr-Jun; 33(4): 236–241.

all posts, eczema, nutrition

the magic of medicinal ideologies

Something that has always fascinated me has been the underlying ideologies behind medicine of different regions/cultures, be it modern western science, naturopathic medicine (which can blend a lot of the holistic and western medicine practices), traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, or yoga.

As western medicine is the most familiar, I will talk about that briefly at the end.

The other day I went to a Qi Gong and Tai Chi school where I talked with one of the instructors about the concepts behind medical Qi Gong. We talked a little bit about my skin and the instructor mentioned how the skin and the liver are connected in the Chinese ideology and so if the skin is showing lots of signs of disease, there may be an issue with the liver’s digestion. She also mentioned that I would be a person expected to have an imbalance of yang over yin. Yin and yang are seen as complimentary energies that keep the body in balance, with yin being the cooler, more feminine energy, and yang being a hotter, more masculine one.

In regards to nutrition, when I was seeing an acupuncturist a few years ago, she also talked about the dietary components that might be causing my skin issues. She also believed that I had an imbalance of yin and yang, (in that again I had more yang), hence the inflammation. Her advice to me was to eat less spicy food, avoid sugars, and have more bitter herbs in my diet, as well as continuing the treatments I was getting from her in acupuncture, cupping, and massage.

The National Eczema Associate interviewed Dr. Xiu-Min Li (a Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai) who studies asthma and allergies (including AD) and went on to explain about traditional Chinese medicine and how it fits into the treatment of eczema. The article provides more insight into how TCM is starting to be incorporating into mainstream western medicine, with the goal of having an alternative to use before topical steroids. It would seem that many people currently turn to try traditional Chinese medicine when standard western medicine practices of topical/oral steroids and other topical medications don’t do the trick.

When I was doing my yoga teacher training a while back they talked about chakras. Chakras are energetic points of the subtle body and there are 7 of them that line the spinal column, and they each are meant to represent a basic level of human consciousness. According to what I learned during the training, when the third chakra (Manipura) is unbalanced, one can expect to see eczema and other stress-related skin conditions. This may be because the third chakra is connected to the detox related organs (like the liver) as well as the abdominals, obliques, etc.

Nutrition based in the Ayurvedic ideology talks about balancing the Pitta dosa (doshas are energies that control how we act, think, move, etc), and to do that they advise avoiding eggs, wheat, milk, nightshades, spicy foods, corn, shellfish, and overly sugary foods. Eczema is seen to be more of an excess of Pitta dosha, or more fire, hence trying to eliminate inflammatory foods.

Here’s an anecdotal story published by the National Eczema Association a while back about a family that turned to Ayurveda when the western medicine wasn’t helping their daughter’s eczema.

In regards to modern western medicine practices, a few comparison points are developing that reflect the more holistic ideals in the ideologies mentioned above. For example, added sugar is more or less nationally seen as being inflammatory, and many doctors will caution against having a diet that includes too much of it. There are also more practices such as taking bleach baths to help reduce infection risk and other treatments that can be done at home without a prescription that a western doctor will recommend now. And the recommendations around lotions and moisturizers (over the counter) are more prevalent, though the brands which are suggested still vary. Light therapy/phototherapy is also recommended to help increase vitamin D exposure, and more and more doctors are also advising getting moving more to help with healing, as well as different solutions to try at night to help with sleep- from stress relieving techniques like meditation or taking a bath at night, to antihistamines.

I personally however, have not yet had a doctor who engaged me in a conversation that got more specifically into nutrition (minus not eating a lot of sugar or junk food). I am not sure if it is out of their scope of practice, but it has not come up in 26 years of seeing doctors, which surprises me. Many doctors, as far as I can tell, still think eczema is not really related to food, but as I do have food allergies I was born with, I would probably be a prime candidate to test for new allergies. The rub there is that generally doctors will prescribe getting a patch test done- but you have to have cleared up skin for the test results to be more or less accurate, and you can’t be on steroids at the time (and I haven’t had clear enough skin in about 3 years).

There is also the holistic medicine movement we see that is not specifically tied to any of the above ideologies. It includes more of western herbalism, often crossed with different nutrition changes and protocols, like the autoimmune protocol, or the elimination diet, or other variations to help with what is called the “leaky gut” syndrome. There are tons of resources from bloggers, nutritionists, doctors, etc about how to go about a nutritional change to heal whatever ailments you are undergoing with food, and I’ve also noticed a lot of sufferers of eczema have gone into nutrition after having success controlling their conditions with their dietary changes (one example being Prime Physique Nutrition). There are also movements to changing the whole lifestyle to be more holistic (like making your own cleaning products as well as skin creams, moisturizers, body wash products. A lot of this new movement is grounded in taking control of your health, often after having tried working with doctors in modern western practices for long periods of time unsuccessfully.

A health resurgence in America has been in herbalism. Some famous members of the community include Rosemary Gladstar (author of Herbal Healing for Women), Susan Weed (author of Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year), Aviva Romm, Mark Blumenthal (founder of the American Botanical Council), Christopher Hobbs, and many, many others. Of note, I am usually deep into researching about women’s health, hence the references above. Gladstar does have a book on men’s health called Herbal Healing for Men.

From Gladstar’s book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health (which I own) she briefly talks about her general advice as an herbalist for how women can keep balance in the bodies by doing “good living practices”, which she notes as having proper nutrition, ample enough rest, joyful exercise, self connection, and tonic herbs. Delving deeper into nutrition she says to eat foods close to their natural states (which also means eat what grows seasonally), pay attention to how you feel while eating and afterwards, eat organic when you can, and eat  alkalizing foods. She notes about the latter that a lot of the disorders women have thrive in acidic conditions (aka when we eat too many sweets and carbs).

Personally, I have found relief from the most extreme symptoms by modifying my diet (I usually avoid eating wheat products and sugar because I tend to over consume foods containing them), and by using products approved by the NEA that avoid parabens, alcohol, and other chemicals that can be irritants for people with eczema. Acupuncture did seem to help- though I can’t say it was in isolation, since I did get massaged each time (which is also known for helping eczema). I tend to only bathe in a diluted bleach bath when I feel like my skin is getting close to infection (not sure how to explain how I know when that point is), otherwise this winter I did take a lot of baths with either apple cider vinegar (works similarly to bleach) or epsom salt (tends to calm me down and works well for helping me get through the dry out phase of TSW faster). I generally avoid using topical steroids when I can because I have gone through withdrawals before, and because I don’t like the reliance on something that doesn’t fix my issue (usually starting on steroids means I have to stay on them because I flare back up as soon as I start a taper).

All in all it does feel like there are more overlaps occurring over time in these differing ideologies, and we are seeing them sort of blend together in effort to figure out how to deal with chronic non-fatal diseases such as eczema. Whether or not they work still mostly seems to comes down to a person-by-person basis.

 

REFERENCES

“Ayurvedic Medicine and Eczema.” National Eczema Association, https://nationaleczema.org/ayurvedic-medicine-eczema/. Accessed 14 May 2018.

Berzin, Robin. “The Simple Elimination Diet that Could Change Your Life Forever.” Mind Body Green, https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-12540/the-simple-elimination-diet-that-could-change-your-life-forever.html. Accessed 14 May 2018.

“The Effects of Traditional Chinese Medicine on Eczema.” Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, https://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog/2016/08/19/effects-traditional-chinese-medicine-eczema. Accessed 14 May 2018.

Ehrlich, Henry. “Traditional Chinese Medicine and Eczema: An Interview with Xiu-Min Li, M.D.” National Eczema Association, https://nationaleczema.org/traditional-chinese-medicine-and-eczema/. Accessed 14 May 2018.

Gottfried, Sara “Is the Autoimmune Protocol Necessary?” Sara Gottfried MD, https://www.saragottfriedmd.com/is-the-autoimmune-protocol-necessary/. Accessed 14 May 2018.

“The Three Doshas: The Keys to Your Individual Nature.” Eat Taste Heal, http://www.eattasteheal.com/ayurveda101/eth_bodytypes.htm. Accessed 14 May 2018.

“Yoga for Skin Diseases”, Yoga India, http://yoga-india.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Yoga-for-Skin-Diseases-Anna-Mayer.pdf. Accessed 14 May 2018.