Self-Care or Alternative Medicine?

I’ve blogged a lot about meds and medical devices, but haven’t really discussed "alternative" therapies. There are two reasons for this. The first is that none of the alternative treatments that I have tried have worked for me, so I don’t think to recommend them. The more important reason is that much of the advice of alternative practitioners is what I think of as simply taking care of myself. I do employ many of the strategies of alternative medicine; I just don’t think of them as alternative.

The non-alternative alternative therapies that I try to follow:

Eat simply prepared produce and meat
Frozen veggies make this much easier and Penzeys Spices make it tastier; both make preparation a snap. I also eat a lot of organic produce and organic free-range meat. Living in the northwest give me an advantage with this; organic is easy to come by and isn’t outrageously expensive.

Avoid inhaling potentially harmful chemicals or substances
Since most artificial scents or offensive odors trigger headaches for me, this is pretty easy. Most of my cleaning products are homemade or from Seventh Generation and candles are beeswax or soy. And, as I’ve already complained, I am careful to find home furnishings that don’t off-gas much.

Avoid potentially harmful food additives
Avoid all forms of MSG, nitrates, nitrites, sulfates, sulfites, and artificial sweeteners, flavorings or colorings. This means skipping almost all convenience foods, sauces and dressings.

Exercise and relax
My beloved yoga is out, but I try to take a short walk every day, even if it is just to my favorite coffeehouse (.8 miles round trip!). Meditation is beyond my grasp, but I do try to lie down, breathe deeply and relax all my muscles for about 10 minutes each day. This is usually when I lie down to go to sleep, but I figure every little bit counts.

Use aromatherapy
Maybe essential oils help my headaches, maybe not, but I love smelling lavender, mint and orange. I smell them straight from the bottle, rub them on my temples, burn them with a candle or put them in a spray bottle with alcohol (is that a harmful-to-inhale substance?) and use them as air fresheners.

Don’t mistake me for a whole health goody goody. These are all steps I try to do, which means that I do them most of the time unless I want to go out for dinner, get my shower really clean, take advantage of high energy days or be lazy. But I do feel better when I follow the "rules." The days I give in to reading a book and eating cookie dough all day are indulgences that I pay for with more headaches.

(P.S. Many of the foods and products I mention are more expensive than conventional varieties. I stock up on frozen vegetables when they are on sale, burn fewer candles than I used to, and remind myself that meds are expensive too.)

Melding Fact & Fiction

The handy articles that list health myths and then explain them as true or false may actually confuse patients. Because of how our memories work, we remember the health information we read, but regard it as true whether it fact or fiction.

The brain encodes a memory of the health information, but not many of the details about it, like where we read it or if it is true or false. As the details of the memory fade, the particulars that do remain fade faster than the claim itself. Long after a patient has forgotten these details, the claim remains familiar.

Then the "illusion of truth" takes over. Basically, we think of the information that is familiar as true even though we can’t remember the contexts of the claim.

The article’s bottom line? Don’t trust your memory. With the enormous amount of information that’s available and the foggy-headedness of headache sufferers, this is easier said than done. You can take notes or, if your reading fact or fiction articles online, you can bookmark the site to refer back to it. But how many people honestly do that? The best bet is that if something sounds vaguely familiar, check a reliable source to see whether it is true or false. Then try to remember what that source says.

Leaving Medicine for Hollywood

No longer practicing medicine, Harvard-trained internist David Foster is now a writer and medical consultant for the TV show "House." He combines his experience and the Merck Manual of Medicine to create the show’s dramatic medical scenarios. I’ve never seen the show, but the article’s author claims the issues "resonate with authority and realism."

Foster says, "I’m able to influence public debate and public thinking through the stories we tell on ‘House.’ I’m able to have a voice in public health and public policy and the medical world." It’s great that the scenarios of a medical TV show can be plausible, but I’m troubled that a doc has more influence on public health, policy and medicine on Fox than he did while practicing in inner-city Boston.

via Kevin, MD

Paxil Linked to Birth Defects

In a recent study of antidepressants and birth defects, Paxil was linked to twice as many birth defects as other antidepressants. Company officials are quick to point out that the study doesn’t show if Paxil actually had a role in the birth defects, but if I were pregnant, I wouldn’t take the risk. If you’re on Paxil as a headache preventive or for depression and are or plan to get pregnant, please talk to your doctor about the study.

Carbon Dioxide as Migraine Abortive

A device that sends pressurized carbon dioxide up one nostril and out the other, without the patient inhaling it, appears to abort migraines rapidly and effectively. Findings from the Phase II study on the device were reported at this week’s annual meeting of the American Neurological Association. In the study, almost 30% of patients suffering from migraine attacks were pain-free within two hours of using the device.

Here’s how and why it appears to work:

"While the gas is flowing, carbon dioxide readily permeates the nasal mucous membranes creating carbonic acid and decreasing the pH of the nociceptive nerve fibers, Dr. Spierings said. The acidosis created is potent enough to prevent stimulation of neurons and activation of the pain cascade. A bystander effect that follows prevents activation throughout the trigeminal nerve system."

Researchers expect to begin Phase III trials early next year. I’m curious to see how the research plays out.

Note: Pam pointed out in her comments that I wrote carbon monoxide, instead of dioxide! My mind auto-completed (or began) the word wrong. I’m such a dork. (updated Sept. 28, 10:44 a.m.)

You Pay for What You Get

Saturday I drove the 2.5 hours to my sister’s house so I could spend the rest of the weekend with her family and my dad, who is visiting from Phoenix. It was a hard week and I didn’t know on Saturday morning if that day’s headache would get better, worse or stay the same. Thankfully it got better as I drove; we had a nice day and all tucked in to bed by 10 p.m.

Which is when I realized that I didn’t have my glasses with me. Or a change of contacts. I wear daily disposable contacts which don’t "keep" overnight, in my eyes or in solution. And my eyes are really, really bad, so I knew my sister’s optometrist wouldn’t have any in stock, nor would I be able to do anything other than stare off into space the next day.

My only option was to drive back home right then. Not too much of a problem because I was wide awake and don’t normally fall asleep until midnight. Except that when I hit the road I remembered that I’d already taken my meds, including the ones to help me sleep. I stopped at Safeway for supplies, then had to decide which was worse, going to a rest stop at midnight because I drank two Frappucinos or taking 200 mg of caffeine.

I made the wrong decision by starting with the Frappucinos, which were so sweet that I couldn’t get halfway through either one. So I took the caffeine pill.

The drive went fine. I wasn’t wired, nor was I falling asleep. It helps that I love road trips and I had six of my favorite band’s CDs in the car. But the whole time I wondered how much I would pay for messing with my body so late at night.

Sunday morning was promising. Hart and I went out for coffee and bagels, after which I had no energy and an ugly headache. I took it easy all day, hoping that I could ward off any more damage. Ha!

The pain was high when I went to sleep and I woke up on Monday with lie-in-bed-wanting-to-scream-but-not-daring-to-move pain. I hate to tempt fate and say that it was a 10 (Do I really know what the worst pain imaginable is? If I call this one a 10, will the next one go to 11?), so I’ll call it a 9.75. Needless to say, it was a terrible, no good, very bad day. Amazingly, this morning the hangover is pretty light and the pain is only a 3.

Of course I’d pay for the energy needed to drive home on Saturday night. That’s just the way it goes (see the spoon theory). I hoped sacrificing Sunday would be the only toll, but that was wishful thinking. I expected three or four days of 7 or 8 level pain, not one of 7 and 8 and the next of almost 10. I guess it all evens out, but I thought the give and take was more predictable.

As I type, I feel the shadow of a hangover growing. Maybe today won’t be as easy as I hoped. Especially because I’ll spend the entire day reminding myself that I’m paying for what I got.

The Spoon Theory of Illness

Explaining to others how our illnesses change our lives is almost impossible, even to those who know us best. Christine of But You Don’t Look Sick has written about the “spoon theory,” which she developed to explain her illness to her best friend. Although the invisible disease Christine deals with is lupus, her approach is widely applicable.

via Orien at Live Journal’s migraine support group