stress and health

April 20, 2014

Now that we’re all done with taxes (we are…. aren’t we?) hopefully we all can afford to take a load off.

(Or… catch up on what we left behind?)

Anyway, perhaps you’ve heard, by now, the link between stress and health. Hopefully you know about this! More stress = worse health, in general.

When our body gets stressed out, we release cortisol, the stress hormone. It’s not 100% understood, but it affects all sorts of body processes ranging from weight gain to immunity to hormones…

In fact, it’s been suspected in chronic inflammation of our body, which has been linked to–you guessed it–autoimmune disease such as MS. (You knew I’d get there at some point!)

So, clearly, we want to reduce stress to reduce MS flareups… and improve our health in general! I know we all have different stress reduction techniques, but for sure, when I chatted about stress reduction with my health students the other day, the big theme?

Planning ahead. Organization. Not procrastinating.

There are other stress reduction techniques too, but those are fodder for a future post…

Recently, talking with this quarter’s nutrition students as well as with my mom, I realized how little is known about a sneaky, sneaky fact. Those labels on some foods that say “Zero Grams Trans Fat!”? They aren’t always telling the truth.

(Now, the government issued a statement toward the end of last year that trans fats are indeed quite unhealthy for us. In fact, they said that no amount is really good for us at all, and most sources suggest that we consume less than 1% of our diet from trans fat per day. Whew. That’s a pretty drastic statement.)

Trans fat has very few natural sources–small amounts are naturally found in dairy and meat–but those don’t seem to have the heart-disease-causing effects of the man-made trans fats that we hear about all the time. The “evildoer” of which I speak is created when oil undergoes a chemical reaction to make it solid–called hydrogenation. This hydrogenation reaction creates man-made trans fats.

These trans fats are found in margarine, microwave popcorn, shelf-stable baked goods, and many processed foods.

Here’s the big secret: labeling regulations allow food manufacturers to say “Zero Grams Trans Fat!” if their product contains up to 0.5 g per serving!

You might be thinking, “evil, evil! out to get me!” And, perhaps there is some component of that. But, since there are some naturally-occurring trans fats in animal products as well, this covers the marginal amount of trans fat that, say, an egg might contribute to a product.

Yet manufacturers do take advantage. How many margarines do you see bearing “Zero Grams…” on their package, to try to get us to buy? (And, the same goes for the nutrition label–they aren’t required to ‘fess up there.)

Look for the following words on the ingredient list: hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, shortening.

It’s not too bad if you honestly limit yourself to one serving, but imagine you’re eating out of a package of cookies and watching a movie that’s really drawing you in… and you’re watching… and you’re eating… and you’re watching……. and before you know it, 5 servings of the cookies are gone. How many trans fat grams have you eaten at that point? Who knows?

So, better to be safe, and try to avoid hydrogenated fats in the first place.

And believe it or not–there is a link to MS, here! Overconsumption of trans fats has been shown to increase chronic inflammation (throughout our entire system), which has been directly linked to cardiovascular illness and type 2 diabetes, but researchers also believe there’s a connection to autoimmune disease. Anti-inflammatory diet (including less trans fat) is definitely better for slowing our MS and reducing our symptoms!

just say no to fear

April 14, 2014

My 40th birthday is now less than 4 months away. I set the intention, at my last birthday, to make some big changes. Many of them have come about without my having preplanned them much–for instance, the inspirational speech I gave at the end of last quarter regarding my health scare, how we should all celebrate every day.

With that in mind, while I don’t necessarily celebrate “milestone” birthdays as “special”, I’m planning a nice vacation this year–and every year thereafter, as money allows. After all, given my medical history, I really don’t want to put too much off anymore.

On the other hand, I almost feel like that’s playing into the hands of fear… fear that I don’t have too many active years left. Truth be told, I hardly have any MS symptoms, and I consider myself lucky for that reason. But I do live in a bit of (fear) that something will suddenly happen…

And yet part of me feels that if I play into the hands of this fear, ill fate is more inevitable.

Maybe it’s just silly superstition… and I should just relax and have a nice birthday trip. :)

A few days ago, I saw my MS specialist for an update after my recent MRIs (there was some concern that I may have had a minor relapse without knowing it).

But–ends up that my MRI hasn’t changed a bit. I haven’t had any new MS activity! (I guess my bad days are just that–bad days.)

I’ll take whatever good I can at this point, eh? After all of the abdominal surgery, MS seems like background noise… even my cancer scare seems like background noise at this point.

At long last… after a full month of non-use… I’m finally back on Rebif!

My insurance had changed pharmacy delivery providers (as this medication gets shipped to me on ice), and I got 1 day’s notice of this change before I ran out of the previous month’s supply. How much time I spent on the phone with the new pharmacy to try to get things straight with them. And each time I called, I’d find a new error in my record, whether it be a typo in my name, mistyped address… (yes, I believe my insurance went with a cheaper provider)

Several calls with the pharmacy had ended with “your insurance is denying the drug. We’ll call and look into that.” and I’d call the following week and find out that no one had followed up. (Why an insurance company would deny as mainstream an MS drug as Rebif…)

Then they screwed up my copay, and my copay assistance, and… everything they could screw up, they screwed up. Bottom line, a few days ago, I got the drug. And yes, all of the nurses agreed that I should start with a half dose for a few weeks, since I no longer have the drug in my body. (in case of side effects)

Good news is… no injection site reaction so far, no side effects! I think I’ll stick with the half dose for the first two weeks before I graduate back up.

And the most amazing thing is that during the time I wasn’t using the drug, that I had no MS symptoms, especially given the stress my body went through with two abdominal surgeries in the same week. I’d say that’s a testament to good nutrition, exercise, and healthy habits in the fight against MS, wouldn’t you?

Recently, while staying on the surgical ward at a local hospital and needing to eat a clear liquids diet for a few days… well, I shouldn’t say I was surprised at their following the traditional USDA guidelines. Among my selections:

cranberry juice sweetened with sugar
grape juice with high fructose corn syrup
sugared jello
low sodium chicken broth

Notice anything fishy here?

While the USDA has yet to come on board with this for various reasons, there are multiple studies on the evils of sugar when it comes to heart disease and diabetes. So, your Standard American Patient would be much better off drinking your unsweetened apple juice, things of that nature.

But what about the low sodium broth? (which I find the beef variety vile) Check out this discussion on high blood pressure and sodium. Apparently we’ve been holding back on sodium all along because reducing sodium helped those who already have high blood pressure! So, why don’t they change their focus toward reducing the appropriate nutrient?

I write this post from the hospital, recovering from an emergency surgery to deal with complications from this. While I understand that many of their patients don’t come in with my background (teaching physiology and general interest in holistic health), I feel like many of my concerns have not been addressed.

Which makes me worry, because there are so many people who don’t have my level of knowledge about the body, and will just accept whatever their health team gives them. For instance, I believe that several of my current issues come from simple dehydration–I wish they’d put all of the pieces together when I tell them.

This is inspiring me to come up with a self-care basic physiology tool, maybe a few flow charts to help you guys out with symptoms that can be grouped together? (But when I’m not on so many narcotics, perhaps.)

Unfortunately these days, too many practitioners see the symptoms as individual pieces rather than a group. Sigh.

I just came across this article:

Study Shows Adolescent Obesity and Genetic Factors Interact to Increase MS Risk

You see, I was an obese child… like, nearly 100 pounds. I started putting on weight around age 8 (activity wasn’t encouraged in my life) and I just kept on going. I wrote about my childhood obesity, weight loss, and disordered eating on my now-dead other blog here.

I’ve often wondered if choices I made–or didn’t make–as a child contributed to my MS. After all, these days, I treat myself pretty well, diet and exercise wise.

Here’s a solid lead that my hunch is real. Not that I can go back and change anything, but further ammunition in my fight against the obesity epidemic. Something else to mention in nutrition class next quarter. “You might gain weight” doesn’t seem to have much impact on people’s lifestyles. Diabetes doesn’t, either. Maybe if we add MS risk to the whole mix?

We can only hope.

If you have MS or another brain disorder, you probably know the drill with routine long MRIs (or, technically, a series of MRIs, between various parts of the nervous system and with/without contrast dye). Worse yet, when the cervical spine (neck) is being scanned, we’re told not to swallow, so that the image stays clear. (Luckily, the technicians are good enough to let us know when we can or cannot move, and the longest period usually runs about 5 minutes.)

The first one of these I had done was torturous. So much trouble stressing out about not swallowing and staying still. (And believe me, with all of my past orthopedic issues, I’ve had plenty of MRIs, and have no MRI anxiety in general.) But the MRIs that I had a few days ago, I was quite calm. I appreciated the breaks for coughing and swallowing (it’s allergy season, after all) but could it be because of my newfound calmness from my meditation practice starting over the summer?

An added benefit from meditation that I never knew about! I think I’ll keep on going with it.

“the last lecture”

March 24, 2014

The end of last week marked the end of the quarter at the college where I teach, short of upcoming final exams. Considering what’s been going on in my body recently–and that my having caught it early(ish?) may have given me an advantage–I felt it was my duty to share my story with my health and physiology classes, difficult though it was to tell. It was the last thing I told in each of the two classes, and I put up the basic transcription on one of my course websites, if you’re curious to check out my last lecture.

Most students looked stunned. The younger ones (right out of high school, or still in high school taking this for credit) didn’t seem to know what to say. But I got a fair amount of support and thanks for coming forward with the story.

Meanwhile, I also shared the link with a coworker I’m relatively close to, because she was going to potentially have to cover for me one day–to let her in on the otherwise-secret. Not only was she supportive and kind, but also fully in favor of getting the “early detection” message out–ends up that yes, she moved up here mid-last year in search of a change from LA, but also because her long-term boyfriend had just died from pancreatic cancer (as a result of not checking out vague stomach pains soon enough). For all of our sakes… get those minor things checked out!

And now, back to your regularly-scheduled MS blog. :)