Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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What is a Radiofrequency Ablation?

Sounds super scary right? And you don’t even know what it is yet. I am inspired to write this after explaining to a lot of people the procedure I had done recently. So why not get some word out on what this is, and how it can help with chronic pain conditions that stem from neurological disorders.

So what is it first of all? A Radiofrequency Ablation (or Radiofrequency Nerve Lesioning) is basically where they take a wire, and insert it down a needle into a part of you (generally along the spine if you are treating pain, other places for other issues) which is then heated up and tissue is ablated. Ablated means they’re removed, cauterized, or destroyed – think of it like one of those chemical peels, the top layer of skin is being ablated. Which sounds horrible and possibly painful just reading that but I swear it isn’t! Usually for pain management it is done to nerves coming from certain points on the spine, and the medial nerves (which sends the pain signal up to the brain) are targeted.

Picture from southlakepainrelief.com

This is a picture of where they are and what things look like in the Cervical section of the spine.

It doesn’t feel really any different than any other injection procedure you might have, though sometimes you may get a muscle twitch when they pass current down the needle to make sure they are hitting the right spot. Once they know they are in the right spot using the current to stimulate and a fluoroscope, they pass a current down the wire that generates radio waves (which also produce heat) to cauterize, or ablate, the nerve. It is actually a pretty easy procedure, and I seem to recover faster than from other types of procedures. Plus I find it helps me a lot more with my pain than a cortisone injection these days.

Since it is easier to be a visual learner most of the time, here is a great video to watch with some animation so you won’t feel too squeamish if blood makes you woozy.

So as you can see it is waaaaay less scary than sticking a needle in you and burning off parts of your nerves sounds. Plus the nerves grow back in a few months and if you are lucky don’t have to repeat the process. If you are like me and do, it has a lot less negative side effects than getting cortisone over long periods of time, and you get to be free of some pain!

Remember all of our bodies are different and yours may react differently than mine, talk to your doctor, or a few doctors (which is best) and make sure you do your own research to make sure this is the right procedure for you and your pain condition. WebMD is a great resource as always for things like this, and definitely ask a professional!

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Honey & Apitherapy, What’s the Buzz?

Nothing is more frustrating than a terrible internet connection, I have been fighting with my ISP this week to get connection so I can write and work. They have had to come out twice in about as many days, and I have had a long and frustrating fight which has caused unfortunate pain increases. They have been horrible to deal with and that probably is why they are the most hated ISP in America.

But because of my frustration with them inspired me! It made me think I should write of something sweet, to counter the sour. And of something I love for many reasons, honey. Eating a teaspoon, ideally a tablespoon, of honey a day made from local flowers to your area can help with seasonal allergies. I used to suffer every year from horrible allergies in Spring and Fall, but now that I have been diligent about consuming honey regularly, I no longer am among the ranks of the Cedar Fever sufferers, or any plant pollen since I am allergic to just about all tree pollen here, AND grass. But that is just one of the things that fabulous honey can do! Honey like lavender, aloe, helichrysium and a few others we have gone over, honey is a multi-duty substance that you should have on hand for all first-aid, and other health situations. Honey is great for burns and if you don’t have aloe or lavender, I would reach for some honey next!

Honey is known by a lot of names mel in Latin, is where you get terms like miel in Spanish or French. For Norse and Teutonic languages you get the term huniġ and hunagą respectively from which we derive our modern English honey. Mel is what gives us the name Melissa not only for humans but for bees, and for lemon balm.

That amber liquid of sunshine & awesome

But no matter what you call it, it is that wonderful sweet and gooey, condensed sunshine ambrosia.

History of Honey & it’s Uses

Honey was everything from medicine, to food, to poison, and everything in between, it was always held in high value by most cultures around the world that had access to it. Before sugar being easily produced in mass quantities, honey was the only sweetener option in general. Honey was difficult to get, and a precious resource since it usually came with wax as well as the energy packed honey. That preciousness has carried down to the term of endearment “Honey” which has been in use since the 14th century for precious loved ones. Honey has always been a precious thing, it was difficult to collect yet humans would go to great lengths to gather it. All over the globe humans would seek out honey, and sometimes to extreme lengths to get it –

The gathering of honey has been documented by humans as far back as 8,000 years ago, we know this because of the Araña cave paintings found in Valencia, Spain.

Should look familiar after those videos

Should look familiar after those videos

Honey has even been found in a Georgian tomb from 2700 BCE, since it in never goes bad (though it can go all granular) it survives in tombs well. Honey was found in Tutankhamen’s tomb and was in essence still edible. As long as the jar remains sealed honey will keep indefinitely. Honey was also famously used to embalm Alexander the Great, he was placed in a gold, body shaped casket (the first time, it was later snatched to become coinage and a glass coffin replaced the gold) filled with honey to preserve him. His body was said to be well preserved even years after his death. Many cultures used honey in death rituals or embalming, the mellified man was an interesting, as well as stomach churning, mention documented by a Chinese scribe. In the Talmud it is mentioned that Herod I (yeah that one that really didn’t like babies) had a wife, Mariamne who either committed suicide (lept from a tower) or was executed by Herod (the sources vary on how she died), and Herod kept her body in honey for seven years. Which led to all sorts of rumors of what he got up to with that body behind closed doors. The Assyrians and the Persians used the wax on the body then honey in their embalming processes, and the Egyptians did as well. Plutarch mentions that Agesilaus – 

“The attendants of Agesilaus had no honey to preserve the body (he died in a foreign country), so they embalmed it with melted wax and thus carried it home.” 

The usage of wax and honey seems to come from cultures where large quantities of honey were scarce. Persians apparently also made honey mummies for monetary gain. A red haired man was fed and cared for until he reached 30 and then he was drowned in honey and drugs, and then placed in a jar full of honey for 150 years. Gives new meaning to long term investment. Many mummies were needed since mummies were used in everything from medicine to making paints like Mummia Brown. While honey doesn’t spoil, if you leave the lid off, yeast will quickly grow in it and this is most likely how the first discovery of the wonderful world of meads, metheglins, melomels, tej, and other delicious honey fermented drinks. These played a large role in the cultures that brewed it, mythologically and culturally, studied in depth by one of my favorites Claude Levi-Strauss in his book from Honey to Ashes, a good read if you are into extremely technical and dry anthropology type books. If you aren’t the “too long; didn’t read” it version is honey and honey fermented drinks play a large role in peoples lives, history, the religions of their areas, and just the over all culture, in the areas it is produced or gathered in.

But honey is not just good at preservation, it is also good for utter destruction. Some bees make honey out of plants that are poisonous, like Rhododendrons, which can give honey a reddish tint. This honey, known as Red Honey, or Mad Honey, was the downfall of many armies. Xenophon, a Greek General, was leading his troops through the hostile territory of Persia down to the Black Sea, after the death of the previous leaders, and without supplies. As they arrived in what is now Turkey, fighting their way through until –

“the Hellenes scaled the hill and found quarters in numerous villages which contained supplies in abundance. Here, generally speaking, there was nothing to excite their wonderment, but the numbers of bee-hives were indeed astonishing, and so were certain properties of the honey. The effect upon the soldiers who tasted the combs was, that they all went temporarily quite off their heads, and suffered from vomiting and diarrhoea, with a total inability to stand steady on their legs. A small dose produced a condition not unlike violent drunkenness, a large one an attack very like a fit of madness, and some dropped down, apparently at death’s door. So they lay, hundreds of them, as if there had been a great defeat, a prey to the cruellest despondency. But the next day, none had died; and almost at the same hour of the day at which they had eaten they recovered their senses, and on the third or fourth day got on their legs again like convalescents after a severe course of medical treatment.”

As you can see this honey is far more intoxicating than usual, and it was used to make watered down beer more potent in some areas. But it was also used as a sneaky weapon of war, like St Olga of Kiev did.

Awww looks gentle as a soft summer’s breeze right?

Wrong. Oh so very wrong.

Olga, angered because the Drevlians, think of them like a rival biker gang and/or tribe, had whacked her husband, and then insulted her by saying that she should hook up with the Drevlian Prince. Olga didn’t want to hear any of it, so when they sent 20 guys to talk her into it, she promptly had them buried alive. Because that seems the calm and rational thing to do. Then she sent word to the Drevlians that she had reconsidered their offer and, gee don’t you know she would like to marry their prince but, gosh won’t it be hard to convince the people of this? Won’t they send their best nobles to come help her out? And in a move that makes you wonder if these guys weren’t victims of head injuries or otherwise intoxicated, they sent them. Olga, being the gracious hostess that she is, offered them a sauna to freshen up after their journey. And well heck, don’t you know, that sauna caught fire. Terrible, but you know how these things happen, right? Too bad someone had “accidentally” locked the doors, from the outside. All of them died. Not suspicious at all the to Drevilans. Now Olga really begins to get started, she tells the Drevlians that, well shucks, how awful that happened. And doesn’t she feel bad it happened to your best men too. Such a shame! Why not make amends? Everyone who can come, is now invited to this fabulous feast she would be throwing for her husbands funeral. Which personally, if some lady who had a streak of unusual accidents following polite invitations was inviting me to some fancy dinner for her husband that my gang offed. I would not be going.

Invited where you say?….

Olga had a crafty plan for them, of course, she served them all mead made from poisonous honey. Most likely honey made from Rhododendron flowers, which bees in the area have built up a tolerance to. The mead was highly intoxicating if it did not kill you, and allowed the slaughter of most of the Drevlian guests that had attended the funeral. The numbers that died from this are estimated to be close to 5,000. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!

Olga decides, 5,000, plus a scoach, just doesn’t satisfy her vengeance needs. So she rolls up on the Drevlian home city, threatening more of her patented delightful death and destruction. The Drevlians at this point realized that maybe they should try to make amends, they offered payment to satisfy her and asked if she would leave them alone. She said, “OK I can agree to that, but bring me birds from the eaves of your houses.”

The Drevlians thought they got off light. Well, more alight, since Olga tied sulfur (very flammable, if exposed to heat and sparks of cooking fires) to the birds and sent them back, setting the entire city ablaze. Everyone perished in the flames, they were entirely wiped out… did I mention she was a Saint?

Saint Kick-ass

But honey wasn’t just for the dead or for making mead, or even murderous mead, it was also for medicine. As I mentioned earlier, I have been taking local honey every day and have had a significant improvement in my allergies. I have tried to purchase only local honey, preferable from small companies since most large company, commercially produced honey is over filtered (not ultra-filtered, this explains the why that would be bad), or not even really honey anymore some would say. And in some ways I agree, honey should have pollen and other things in it, and shouldn’t be from other countries, states, cities, or even counties if you can manage. The pollen is what you want, if you understand how inoculation works, this is how you get your body used to the pollen so the body does not see them as foreign objects. That means your body wont release histamines, and you wont have the inflammation that an allergic reaction causes. There were many other uses for honey, the Egyptians were 1000’s of years ahead of the Greek doctor Hippocrates, and in the Edwin-Smith papyrus mentions that honey was used to prevent infection in wounds. The Eber’s papyrus also mentions honey, and it lists honey as an antibiotic, as great for wound dressings to promote healing. Eber’s lists few other remedies made with honey for things like stomach complaints, and using honey as a carrier for Acacia which is an abortifacient used as birth control.

The Romans also used honey for wound healing, Galen used honey mixed with salt, vinegar and water to treat wounds from trepanation procedures. Other Greek and Roman doctors used it to treat burns, all of these methods of wound healing are now being studied by modern medicine and medicinal honey is being used in Western Medical procedures to help with diabetic ulcers, abrasions, operation incisions and burns. They have found more than anecdotal evidence that there is improved healing with some types of wounds if honey is applied. Even the British Army took note and started using honey to treat wounds. In the Middle Ages in Europe honey’s healing properties were well known, an old chronicle from England says –

“Honey is still our chief sweetness, favorite salve and indispensable medicine.”

During the Civil War in America, honey was put on wounds in excess to help prevent infection, and the ever rampant gangrene that caused so many amputations during the bloody conflict. Honey has long been used to soothe breathing problems, honey and whiskey is an old Ozarks remedy my Mom liked to use for coughs. But honey and onion was a well known treatment for asthma attacks before the days of inhalers. I had a friend that suffers infrequent attacks of asthma, and could not locate her inhaler during an attack. She used honey, successfully, to ward off the attack until her inhaler could be located. While this is still anecdotal, it has been a long used home remedy for respiratory issues as well. Dioscorides mentions the use of honey to treat sunburns, and it does a great job of that, and it just is naturally great for the skin.

Apitherapy

Back to modern day! The term for using all sorts of bee things (honey, propolis, etc) is called Apitherapy, so everything that has to do with bees and the things that they produce would be covered under this umbrella term.

What is in Honey & and Raw Honey?

Raw honey is generally best for all of these mentions of honey being used in this post, since it would have the most beneficial components in it that have been filtered out of clear, processed honey. Honey, even if processed, is packed with all sorts of vitamins and nutrients, and the bees produce it mostly for their hive as their main food. This is why honey is valued by people, bears, other animals, and of course honey badgers, because it is good for us and them too. Local honey is made from bees that are kept no more than 400 miles (the official local radius) from where you reside, and they should preferably be pollenating wild flowers, and other local flora. There are many different classifications of honey, Raw as mentioned means unprocessed, local means near by, and if you see clover or orange blossom, that means it is a monofloral, or single species honey where the bees have just fed on that species of flowers. Now onto the basic nutrition!

This is the nutritional components of honey in general (this can vary by hive, location, time of year, and all that jazz).

Honey Nutrition as per wikipedia

  • Fructose: 38.2%
  • Glucose: 31.3%
  • Maltose: 7.1%
  • Sucrose: 1.3%
  • Water: 17.2%
  • Sugars: 1.5%
  • Ash: 0.2%
  • Other: 3.2%

As well as a plethora of vitamins and minerals, which we know are super important not only to a healthy body, but also can resolve some pain issues. Honey in general will contain but is not limited to the amounts or items listed below, since again variation dependent on location and plants available.

Vitamins

  • B2 (Riboflavin): 3%
  • B3 (Niacin): 1%
  • B5 (Pantothenic acid): 1%
  • B6: 2%
  • B9 (Folate): 1%
  • Vitamin C: 1%

Minerals

  • Calcium: 1%
  • Iron: 3%
  • Magnesium: 1%
  • Phosphorus: 1%
  • Potassium: 1%
  • Sodium: less than 1%
  • Zinc: 2%

Propolis

It has all these, as well as propolis, bee bits & venom, royal jelly, bee pollen, and other things like wax if it is raw which is what is listed as other. Pretty much raw honey is as you would get it from the hive itself, natural as can be, hence the “raw” label. Raw is preferred medicinally since it has these other bits in it. Propolis, has had a long history of use in traditional medicines, and is only recently been noticed by Western medicine after a few studies have shown that it treats versions of the herpes virus, that include chicken pox and shingles. Not enough official laboratory tests have been done, but the evidence so far combined with the anecdotal evidence throughout human history points to there being a possible gold mine of anti-viral & antibacterial goodness to be found in propolis if we are lucky. Raw honey usually contains propolis since it is a natural part of the hive.

Bee Venom

Bees, if you have ever been stung by one, have venom, and if there are bee bits in your raw honey there is probably venom from bees. Venom is interesting, depending on what makes it and for what purpose it works on the body in different ways. Just like some good things can become poisonous in large amounts, some venom when used in small amounts can be beneficial. I know this sounds extremely counter-intuitive, but there seems to be a lot of evidence found, and continuing to be found, that this may actually be a beneficial , and non-pharmaceutical, way to treat a lot of inflammatory diseases. (People are looking into snake venom as well) Bee venom therapy seems to work best with things like rheumatoid arthritis, joint pain in general, and even with Multiple Sclerosis (which is very similar to CRPS). There have been interesting experiments done by lay people where they allow bees to sting them in specific areas, sometimes under the guidance of a medical professional, and there have been some fascinating reports of reduced pain and swelling. This is not well studied enough for science to claim it is a 100% sure thing and best for these diseases, but the historical and present information also points, as with propolis, that there could be a lot of benefit to bee venom therapy for pain.

Bee Pollen

Bee pollen, is a tightly packed ball of pollen that bees create, and is a major source of protein for the hive as well as food for bee larva. Since it contains protein, carbohydrates, fats and tons of vitamins and minerals that help the bees, and us function, this has become one of those new trendy “super foods.” In my humble non-medical opinion, all un-processed foods are super-foods, since they all have their own benefits, nutrients and are easier for the body to use and absorb. You also have the “entourage effect” where one chemical in the plant are more effective when used with all chemicals in the plant. Think of it a group of chemical friends, they work best when they are all together and happy, than alone and lonely (simplistic I know but the concept is the same). Bee pollen is though packed with all sorts of vitamins and minerals, and even amino acids, that are really good for humans. This may be a good option if you have vitamin deficiencies, and if you have allergies since it works as inoculation and as a supplement though it may be too much if it aggravates your pollen allergies (though pollen will vary depending on areas the bees gather from). To read a full break down of the nutrition in bee pollen go here.

Beeswax

Beeswax is also another highly useful gift from the bees. Almost everyone should be familiar with their use in candles, and in the popular Burt’s Bees lines. In raw honeys you may get a small amount of beeswax which is indigestible but not harmful, it will just pass on through. Beeswax though is a fantastic substance, it seals cheeses, makes candles, cosmetics, candles, waterproofs fabric, food and medicinal products, and SO much more! It is great for warm wax treatments, and if you are familiar with the Burt’s line you already know that it is great for skin & lip products. The wax is the honey comb you see in jars, or pictures of hives, and I like to purchase it in its honeycomb form when possible. If you have never had the pleasure of eating sticky, chewy honeycomb before buy some and try it. You can bite the comb, and eat it spitting out the wax chewing. It really is fantastic, and you can save the leftover wax, it a great to use in salves (as we have gone over) and I bet we will continue to find more uses for this great substance.

Royal Jelly

Royal Jelly is another bee product, produced to feed some larvae and to produce a new queen once the old has grown old. It contains chemicals that encourage the larvae to develop into queens, but it is also loaded with nutrients and vitamins. It also seems to have antibacterial and antibiotic properties, but there has not been enough scientific studies to back a lot of claims made about it. It has a lot of traditional uses, a lot of people swear by it for skin care, but when added to honey that is consumed you get all of its goodness mixed with everything else.

So in addition to honey on its own, raw honey contains all of these things, and pollen, which is why it is so much better to consume for medicinal reasons than filtered honey. Most processed and clarified honeys do not contain the additional bee products, and may contain little to no pollen. If you can get your hands on it, raw honey should be used, but local honey is great as well. Local raw honey is best!

Mānuka Honey

There is one other type of honey, also best if you can find it raw (since some of the compounds are filtered out if it is clarified), is Manuka honey (sometimes written Mānuka). Manuka honey is a monofloral, that means one flower, type of honey. The bees are kept so they visit one type of plant, a tree called the Manuka tree, that is a type of myrtle tree native to New Zealand. Native birds, a type of parakeet, uses the manuka trees to rid itself of parasites, and I personally have found it to be a fantastic way to combat colds they tend to go away in a day or two. Since I get a lot of cortisone, my body’s immune system is compromised, and when I get a cold it tends to linger and get worse. I find that I can hold off colds the more honey I consume in general but if I get a cold I switch to Manuka honey, and it is gone in days. My husband was also astonished by the “magic” honey that fixed his cold overnight. Manuka honey is a bit more expensive than your regular honey, I spend about 30$ US for a small jar of it. But a teaspoon in a glass of tea a day, sometimes twice a day, is enough to help me get over my illnesses faster. It is especially effective when combined with the cold prevention tea as well. Though this is only my own experiences, and it has proven effective for me so far. But there is not enough scientific evidence to say that this is a proven known effect of this honey, or even why it works so well. It is entirely possible that the placebo effect is causing it, since it does have a medicinal smell that puts you in mind that it is medicine from the start, but hey if it works it works right? Manuka honey does contain the compound methlglyoxal, which can be bactericidal, but there is not enough evidence to point to it being why Manuka honey seems to be so beneficial. It is also good for hair, burns and wounds in general.

So you are probably thinking, wow, all this for stuff I keep in a squeezy bottle shaped like a bear? Indeed! But wait, there’s more!

There seems to be a lot of murmurings online that honey, sometimes on its own, with apple cider vinegar (not really sold on this one), or even cinnamon (which we know is useful already) helps with pain, or colds. Cinnamon mixed honey is an effective cold fighter, and can help with inflammation just from that alone, and the honey makes it palatable (since the cinnamon challenge shows its difficult to swallow it in a powder). But the honey also adds a big punch of vitamins and other nutrients that we know already can contribute to pain levels. Remember to make sure you get true cinnamon since cassia can be dangerous in large amounts daily. The additional vitamins may be why there is anecdotal evidence for apple cider vinegar helping with pain conditions, since it is usually unfiltered/processed that is recommended. Apple cider vinegar is made of crushed apples and it will contain lots of nutrients that the body may be deficient of with some of the diets people have these days. So this could be why there is so much from people saying they had good results with this added to their diets. Acetic acid is a large component of all vinegar which is a good anti-microbial is good for colds, and apple cider vinegar is a boon to diabetics since it was used in the days before current diabetic medications to help diabetics lower glucose levels in blood. Sadly though there is only traditional medicine and personal stories to back this up though more interest in it is growing.

How Do I Use it?

So how do I use honey & other bee things to the max? And get the most out of it? Well, like I said, go local and eat raw as a rule. You can add it into anything really, coffee, tea, bread (in and on it!), pretty much anywhere you use sugar, use honey instead. If you are a home brewer, mead and beers brewed with raw honey are a great way to consume some of the great benefits of what the bees make. There are lots of other uses though.

Honey & Cinnamon – for Colds & Pain

  • 1 teaspoon True Cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon Honey (Preferably Raw, Manuka or local)
  • optional: glass of warm water, cup of tea (green, black or white), 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (for colds only)

Mix honey and cinnamon well and consume plain. This is a good, and sweet way to treat a cold, as well as a good anti-inflammatory regimen. You can also put the honey and cinnamon mixture in warm water to drink it down, or a good cup of tea. If you have a cold, or sore throat the addition of apple cider vinegar can help quite a bit with the pain (will kill the microbes) and help the body fight it off. You can also warm the honey &  cinnamon mixture slightly in a warm (not boiling!) water bath and apply directly to wounds or joints.

Beeswax Warm Wax Treatment

  • 1 lb Beeswax
  • 3.2 ounces Mineral oil (you can use olive oil or coconut oil as well but mineral gives a better consistency)

You can place this in a Pyrex dish and melt in an oven set to 170-200°F (76-93°C) and allow it to melt, while stirring occasionally. Or you can heat this in a double boiler over the stove. Either way you want a slow, low, indirect heat to melt the wax, all wax will catch fire with direct heat, do not use direct heat or flame to heat it! Remove from heat and allow to cool to about 125°F (51°C), a very thin skin of hardened wax should form. Wash and dry thoroughly the body part that will need the wax treatment. Dip the body part in the wax 3-5 times so a shell forms around the body part, if you are doing a hand or a foot try to splay (hold as wide as possible) the fingers or toes while dipping. Allow a few seconds between dips to allow that coating to slightly harden before applying the next. Leave for about 15-30 minutes, and then peel off and you can store it in a sealed container for repeated use. Warm wax treatments provide warm moist heat, and are not only great for pain help moisturize the skin.

ProWaxTip: Again, never use direct heat or flame to melt wax. Paraffin wax can be substituted (without the mineral oil) for this as well, and there are electric wax melt-er things with lids you can find in stores and online too if you do this treatment a lot.

Herb Infused Honey

  • 1/4 cup Chopped fresh, or 1/8 cup dried herbs (applies to each herb added, so if you do 2 herbs 1/4 cup of each)
  • 1 cup Raw Honey

Add the raw honey and herbs to a double boiler and slowly heat until honey fully melts, simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes to help the herbs infuse into the honey, then strain if necessary and pour into a clean glass jar and seal tightly. You can also avoid straining by using cheesecloth or muslin bags to hold the herbs while infusing. Get creative with this one, you can make anti-stress & anxiety honey with lavenderlemon balm (1/4 cup for each herb or 1/8 dried), and adding or by itself chamomile would be good for sleep as well as inflammation and pain as well as topical. Lavender & peppermint for a icky tummy, rosemary for pain or your hair, copaiba or pine resin for inflammation or boost its antimicrobial powers (2 tablespoons of resin to a cup, apply externally only), vetiver for cooling, rose hips for a vitamin C boost, grated ginger (about 2 tablespoons) or minced garlic (same amount) can be added too to help with fighting infection and pain. Suggested dose is about a teaspoon a day of this herb infused honeys, and they are best stored in a fridge for no more than a year if you keep the herbal material in the honey, since it can ferment and/or mold with the additions.

ProTip: This honey can be used in place of essential oils in salve making.

ProSkinTip: Using things like copaiba, lavender and other skin friendly herbs is a great way to treat acne, rosacea, psoriasis and skin issues in general (abrasions, sunburns, burns, etc).

Hot Toddy

  • 1-2 shots (1-2 ounces) Whiskey (Bourbon or Rum are acceptable too)
  • 1 tablespoon Honey
  • 4 ounces Boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon Lemon juice (or a healthy squeeze from a wedge or two)
  • Your favorite teabag, or a teaspoon of your favorite tea
  • Covered Teacup

Brew tea as usual, and add the rest of the ingredients making sure all of them fully dissolve. This is an old old remedy, the origin I have been unable to locate. I know that both my grandmothers, and my husband’s great grandmother loved this sort of thing. It was used as a general cure-all for colds, flu’s, sore throats, and “just because” in most American history. Since it is alcoholic you shouldn’t use this if you are taking most medications, but if you need some mild pain relief with a bit of kick, this will do the trick!

Capsicum Paste

  • 3 tablespoons Chilies finely pureed or crushed, powder will work here too
  • 1 cup Oil (jojoba, almond, olive, any good quality oil)
  • 1/2 ounce of Beeswax, granular or grated
  • optional: any essential oils you would like to add, or raw honey

I will go over in later posts the benefits of capsicum and why it works, but for now it does and provides warmth to soothe painful muscles and joints, as well as chemical relief of pain that I will go over in detail in the future. Any chili will do to make this, the stronger (hotter) the chili is the more effective this will tend to be. To make this you will want to heat the oil in a double boiler, and add in the chili paste, or powder, and mix well until completely combined. Add in the beeswax slowly stirring to combine fully. You can pour this directly into a seal-able container, or you can whip it with a hand mixer (or stand mixer) so it is more like a creamed lotion for ease of application. Apply directly to painful areas, and if kept in the fridge it will store for about 2 weeks. ALWAYS WASH HANDS BEFORE TOUCHING EYES OR SENSITIVE SKIN AREAS. Trust me you will regret it if you don’t!

Finally honey is a great shampoo, it can be added to the best shampoo ever (a tablespoon or two), or you can mix 1 part honey (preferably raw) and 3 parts water together (thoroughly no lumps!) for a single application shampoo. This is great for dry hair, or if you suffer from a dry scalp or dandruff. If you make this in large quantities they honey can ferment so I don’t suggest it.

Honey and bees are great resources, so respect them and support the people that help keep them around, for without bees there are no plants. Honey should never be fed to babies since it can contain botulism. Some people may be allergic to the bee venom, or pollen, and could cause allergic reactions. If you are sensitive do test patches and check WebMD for honey related reactions. As always if you are in doubt about anything at all, ever, ask a professional!

If you are going to take bee products on their own, make sure that you discuss this with your doctor and check for interactions on WebMD for Manuka honeypropolis, bee venom, royal jelly, beeswax, and bee pollen individually.

Online stores great for bee products are Amazon.com, Mountain Rose Herbs, and Bulk Apothacary, look for local stores that sell bee products though and try to purchase through them if you can. Support your local Bee Farmers! 🙂

A few sites with recipes, and products that also supports bee keepers here, here, and here.

If you are interested in a neat honey documentary this is a good one on Honey made from Rhododendrons, mentioned previously. If you are interested in honey death rituals this is a great site, and for more military history of mad honey and armies go here or here

If you want to learn about the history of Sugar and its impact this is an OK book, but there may be better out there now.


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Everybody Poops

Well pain has slowed me down this week, and last not to mention a massive amount of doctor appointments. Looks like I will likely be going in for a hand surgery soon for Carpel Tunnel, caused by CRPS. It has slowed me down a bit, but I will always keep on truckin’!

This is a lot of information again, could be information diarrhea, but you know how I do. *z formation snaps* So here we go!

Everybody poops, so lets just get that part out of the way. Normally, as the saying goes, “shit happens,” but what if it doesn’t happen? I have recently been asked, as discretely as possible sometimes, about these and other gut issues, so I thought it might be time to share some knowledge about a difficult to discuss subject. We must get over it though, constipation happens, it could be due to digestive issues, poor diet, not enough hydration, post-surgery, digestive disorders, or in the case of chronic pain sufferers, a side effect of most medications available, as well as lots of other disorders. How long is “too long” before not pooping is an issue? How do you remedy or, hopefully, prevent such issues? Is there such thing as a “bad” sort of poo? Are there different positions for pooping that you can use to not over strain yourself? What to do about this is usually a very private issue, alluded to in silly commercials for harsh chemical laxatives, but never really discussed? Drag it out into the light of course! So lets get started, here is a simple image to give you a general knowledge of what most poos are made of, and some general color references. This is a great image for a quick reference for the scoop on poop.

You will know more about poop than you ever thought you could know after reading this, and this is just scratching the surface!

The Whens, Wheres, & Whys of Pooping

The Whens & Wheres

The history of where ancient peoples had a poo, and what social do’s and don’ts existed around them were, usually, for valid reasons. So of course, since you know I love all things historical, here is a somewhat brief history of bathrooms, which is more important than you think. Water toilets we think are a modern invention, but using water to move waste away either through using naturally occurring water resources of human built plumbing has been a way to get waste that if it sat around could bring disease, away from the areas where people lived. The first known flushing toilets were from the Indus valley region in India, and date as far back as about 2600 BCE. Greece too had water driven toilets found in the ruins of the Minoans on Crete. Romans too had toilets where waste was washed away by water, they were though much more communal and rich and poor used them…and possibly had a chat.

Since pooping was more of a social event.

They used most likely a sponge attached to a stick, dipped in water (or vinegar, depends on who you ask) from the trough in front of each seat. The rich apparently carried their own, but if you were poor you made due with the communal one. Possibly the origin of the phrase “short (or shit) end of the stick,” as you would want to be very aware of which end of the stick was grabbed when it was passed to you. There has also been a recent articles about alternative wiping options. But there isn’t 100% evidence this is actually what these pessoi were used for, and they do not seem like they would be friendly to your neither regions if used. Other than sponges on sticks, leaves, sticks, even hands and possibly the aforementioned pessoi been used to clean up after a good poop. But you can all breathe a sigh of relief and thank China for inventing toilet paper. Paper has existed in China, as we would know it, since the Han Dynasty.

Making paper in China

It was first recorded there that paper was used for toilet purposes in about 875 CE. There is even a quote from Yan Zhitui, a government official and scholar, said –

“Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes”

So there are limitations culturally for what can and can not be used as toilet paper, since this would be dishonorable. Finally in Europe the privy or garderobe, which was basically an outhouse or latrine, was first improved upon by Queen Elizabeth’s godson, Sir John Harrington, invented the flushing toilet. Which was used only by the Queen really after it was made, most people used toilets that were built over rivers so water again could carry waste away. They looked much like this –

photo by Steve

Gaurderobe over river in France

Or were sometimes built like a bridge over the river. Obviously, this is not an optimum waste disposal method. This led to a lot of issues with diseases that travel in tainted drinking water. Once it was proven that clean drinking water was key to a large amount of disease prevention, you start to see more sanitary conditions improving across most countries. Oddly though sanitation in large palaces, like the infamous Versailles, had no sanitation. Puts a real different spin on the place when you realize all those fancy French nobles were having a wee and possibly a poo in the corners. Most rooms came equipped with a chamber pot, which in many fancy castles and noble houses was all you had even if you were Queen Victoria. If you were a lady things were often more difficult, with all that fabric taking it off or lifting it all up was not really an option. So the bourdaloue was invented, you lifted just enough of your skirts to place it between your legs, clasping it firmly with your thighs you could have a wee under all that fabric at a party, and no one would be the wiser. Not so great for poos though, some women were said to straddle a chamber pot.

Getty Art Collection

Definitely not a gravy boat.

A lot of them had seats, most were just a hole in a board over a hole, or a stool with a hole over a bucket. They were very much like the latrines you may have used while camping, or a port-a-potty type thing. Very smelly, and rather unfortunate if it is your job to manually clean it out. Interestingly, when these were covered over and left, they are sometimes found by archaeologists, who also dig out sewers (never saw Indiana Jones sifting through poo did you?). The reason being is that a lot of information can be gleaned from a civilization’s leavings. Undigested seeds, or other plant or animal matter, was passed and can tell us a lot about diet, and general health of the population. Diseases present themselves in poo, so you can get a great snapshot at diseases that occurred and sometimes the demographics of who got it (ie: only the poor or a certain area had one type of disease, while others types appear elsewhere). You can also find a lot of interesting things that people happen to drop, rings, pottery, jewelry, coins, and many other things that happen to fall in, for us to find in modern excavations.

Silly medieval lady, that's not for babies!

Silly medieval lady, that’s not for babies!

A lot of them in early Europe and Asia didn’t have seats and then evolved into using them later. You get the term stool for poo from the position of Groom of the Stool, who had the honor of wiping the King’s rear after a poo, since he had a fancy stool to sit on while he went. Not a job I would be knocking over people to get to, but if you were wiping the King’s rear, you were also able to get his ear. And influence on the King was, well a coveted thing at most courts. Yet only Asia has brought the past into the modern day, Asian countries employ what is dreaded by most Western tourists – the squat toilet. Or as many call them squatters.

They really aren’t so bad

Squat toilets could actually be quite forward thinking, for your back-end. It seems that like along with the birthing canal, the muscles that allow you to poop work in concert with gravity in a squatting position, so it may allow you to more easily pass things, and could prevent injury from over straining like hemorrhoids and other issues. It may also be a good position if one is constipated. Currently some countries are a bit more open about pooping. Germany has poop “shelves” (extremely well described by the linked blog) in their toilet to allow for proper fecal inspection, since a good poop is the key to good health in a lot of ways. Which is not incorrect, noting the amount, consistency, and other aspects of what you pass can be a key to monitoring and maintaining good health (which we will go over further down). Other countries are even more relaxed about poop, in Japan the word for poop sounds very close to the word for luck and there has been a whole market formed around lucky golden poops.

The perfect golden poop

Admire the perfect golden poop

But even in Japan there was a serious crisis with women using too much water during bathroom visits, due to flushing repeatedly to hide the sound of bodily functions. Which lead to the creation otohimes, or sound princesses, which has a recorded flushing noise to cover any incriminating sounds. Inspired by a princess in the nebulous past that feared sounds being overheard as well, and had a maid drop stones in water while she was “indisposed” to cover any audible evidence.

The Whys of Pooping

So now you know the wheres of pooping, so now to understand the whys of pooping. To do that we need to understand the whole process, and why its important. So you gotta start at the top, the digestive tract is one big tube that goes from the mouth (and nose if you want to be technical) down through the esophagus, which chewed food travels down. Food moves down the esophagus, made of smooth involuntary muscles, using a wave like muscle action called peristalsis, aided by saliva and mucus that lines the digestive tract. Mucus is a large part of the digestive tract, think of it like the oil in a machine. Mucus helps everything move, and protects the stomach tissue from digestive juices, and does other things in other systems in the body but we are mainly concerned with digestion. Mucus is extremely important, like I said, oil in a machine, no oil machine stops. So to make mucus, you have to be hydrated also if you remember the first image, poo is mostly water. If you aren’t drinking enough water there is not enough mucus, and if you don’t have enough water a good poo can’t be properly formed, or moved along. Lack of proper hydration can be the source of your issues when you can’t poo a lot of the time.

The food moves to the stomach, the stomach is a muscle-y sack that has gate keepers at the beginning and end. The gate keepers are sphincters that allow food in, and food out in measured amounts. Food once it enters is broken down by the digestive juices and the muscle action (it sort of squeezes things to help turn things to a soupy food slurry) then, through the next gate keeper sphincter to the U shaped duodenum. Then more peristalsis as it goes through the small intestines. There is nothing small about them though when it comes to their importance in the digestive tract. It is where a lot of absorption of nutrients happens by the velvety covering of teeny tiny little fingers, called villi, that line the intestinal walls, and increase in surface area aiding in nutrient absorption. Small intestines are the home of gut flora. Gut flora you may have heard of, since probiotics are a huge thing these days…or at least it is if you are Jamie Lee Curtis.

Have YOU eaten your yogurt for pooping today?

Have YOU eaten your yogurt for pooping today?

Gut flora is basically a symbiotic relationship, that means we both benefit living with each other. We don’t actually know what all the gut flora bacteria are, they actually differ between humans and are difficult to grow in a lab culture. But what we do know is they are vital to having proper digestion as well as your immune system. There are some theories being bandied about lately that lactose intolerance, IBS, and other digestive/immunological disorders could be increasing in the population is due to the over use of antibiotics, which can kill gut flora. You kill all bacteria, even the good guys, and sometimes the cure is almost as dangerous as the illness.

So since we have all been on some antibiotics, it is important to try to restore as much of that good gut flora as you can, one way is actually with yogurt. You have to make sure you are eating yogurt with active cultures, so that would be traditionally made yogurts or if they are added they will note so on the label. Probiotics have helped my husband with his rosacea, by keeping it from spreading and reducing the redness, and has even helped my dog who has an issue with an overgrowth of skin flora, yeast (its not bad or contagious, its only real side effect is making her smell horrible). This happens due to a lack of bacterial checks and balances, bacteria need other types of competing bacteria to keep things in balance (circle of life and all that jazz). So eating yogurt you get lactobacillus, a type of bacteria we know is in the gut, as well as in dairy and some fermented foods. Eating home made fermented foods is also another way to get this bacteria into your system, things like kimchi, pickles, and pretty much any fermented food will have this bacteria. If you are hip and now, you probably have seen or heard of kombucha, it is a drink made from tea fermented with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). This is an excellent way to return helpful bacteria to the gut, and it is super easy to brew at home (instructions and recipe later).

Finally after all the nutrients have been absorbed and all food matter further digested by the gut flora, food moves into the large intestines, or colon. This is where the poop happens, this is where water is absorbed back into the body, the waste has now become less a slurry and more a thick mash, and all that good bacteria starts to ferment it so any other fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamins K, B12, B1 & B2) can be absorbed, as well as any remaining and necessary salts. The large intestines are large in circumference, and not length, it is ¹/5th the length of the small intestines. After moving through the colon, the food you have eaten has become, poop. When it has become poop, it must be stored until it can be passed through the anus, and it is stored in the rectum until its ready to go. If you ignore the signal that it is time to poop, it is sometimes returned to the colon and more water is absorbed, which could cause the very bad issue of hardened poops and again, constipation. If it is listened to it will be passed into the anal canal and then out through the anus, that’s it.

A picture of the path we have just taken, with a few more details

What exactly is constipation, and what do I do about it?

The What of Constipation

Well, to understand this we need to whip out the ol’ Bristol Stool Chart, which is a chart from the University of Bristol. It is a tool to help clinically discuss the nature of your poo, and it is a simple classification chart to help patients, and doctors effectively communicate poo status. Remember the poo shelf? Poo really is important for health! You should always take a look, to make sure your poo is good poo because “bad” poos could indicate all sorts of issues. If you want a good break down of the when to, and when not to, freak out about your poo, check out the article here. Poo is an extremely effective way to keep an eye on the over all health of your body.

So back to that stool chart.

In all of its poo glory!

In all of its poo glory!

So as you can see it describes the entire poo rainbow, and gives an effective and less “icky” way to describe poos. Also it gives you a general outline of what is good and bad poos. I say general since type 1 and 2 are considered constipated, but if they are easy to pass and don’t fit the other criteria of constipation it may just be you aren’t drinking enough water, or didn’t go soon enough or something like that. 3 and 4 are considered ideal, the 4th being most ideal while anything after that is considered diarrhea which is a whole different kettle of fish. So what are the other symptoms with types 1 and 2 that show it is constipation?

  • Straining with more than a quarter of the times you go
  • Hard poo (that’s type 1)
  • Feeling of a partial poo, like you may not have pooed everything.
  • Sensation of a blockage, or that things aren’t able to pass
  • Fewer than three poos a week

If you have these symptoms and types 2 and 3 if you are able to pass, you my friend probably have constipation. No I am not a medical doctor, so remember if you try any over the counter and natural methods and you don’t have results in a few days, you need to contact your doctor.

The Hows of Fixing Constipation

There are simple things to do to combat constipation if you have or could have it.

Drink lots of water.

Seriously, do it. Most of us don’t drink enough water with all the sugary juices and sodas around, plain old water gets boring. I carry a bottle of water everywhere with me, I’ve used metal and other types but my favorite has been my rubber jacketed reinforced glass Zulu bottle. It is glass, so non-reactive, and surprisingly durable, considering I’ve dropped it at least 3-4 feet a few times and it bounced instead of breaking. Also if you want to add essential oils to your water

Zulu bottle, about 30$ but worth the money

Any water bottle will do, glass, metal or BPA free plastic (it is worth it just to be on the safe side). You can always jazz water up infusing it with things like fruit and herbs, mix it up go wild. Have a basil and watermelon water (you can puree a watermelon and freeze it as ice cubes and drop those and fresh basil into your glass or pitcher), lemon balm and black berries (you can do the same as watermelon juice, with any fruit really). You can also add small amounts of essential oils to water, no more than 1 drop per 8 0z of water at first, and you want to make sure that you are getting oils that are safe to ingest. Make sure to do your own research, oils are unregulated so be careful about what quality it is of the stuff you put in.

Get lots of fiber.

I probably couldn’t sound more cliche I know, but with all cliches there is a granule of truth. It is so very important to eat lots of leafy greens, and fruits and just vegetable matter in general. Fiber is basically plant celluloid that cant be digested and acts as an internal broom to sweep things out more easily. It is important to get enough of this in your diet to make sure you poop good poops, on the regular. Making sure to get your daily recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables should cover you, if you want to eat more leafy greens great! Eat raw, I rarely recommend a purely raw diet, but for few days raw veg is a great way to give the bowls a kick start.

There are all sorts of fiber supplements and other things like, Grape-Nuts, bran muffins, and Metamucil to name the most famous. You may want to find one that works best for you with some trial and error if you choose to go the supplemental route. It can be a good way to get additional fiber if you are already eating your roughage and things aren’t moving along as they should. There are a lot of natural, and chemical dietary fiber supplements, but fresh is always best in my opinion. Just make sure to do your research, and try a few different brands, everyone and every brand is different. What works for your friend, may not work for you. One size never fits all.

Get exercise.

No fooling. Get out and take walks, swim, run if you are able to. Any work out that just gets the blood moving helps to get that gut moving. If you are post-surgery and they “put your gut to sleep” this is a good way to go, even if your movement is limited. Walking as much as you can stand can get things going. So if poo seems a no go, go talk some exercise to help you go. There is also some Yoga to do to help with constipation, this is a good quick-start, but you may want to dig deeper and do more research if this appeals to you. T’ai Chi Ch’uan and Qigong are also good exercises to do, even walking, can stimulate things enough.

Massage the Abdomen

I have seen overall 2 schools of thought on this, first one is to rub in large circular motions from right to left on the abdomen. The other is to start where the appendix is (think lower right quadrant of the abdomen), then make small circle motions working up to (the top right quadrant) just under your ribs on the right, across the top to the other corner on the left, down to the top of the pelvis (or lower left quadrant) and then across and back around again. This is supposed to help stimulate the colon’s muscles to start contracting and sending things along. There are tons of massages and things listed if you google “massage for constipation” look around try a few see what works for you. If you ever feel severe pain doing this stop, and call a doctor.

Natural Laxatives

If you are eating fiber, probiotics, hydrating, and your green roughage and you still aren’t going you may need to start trying some natural laxatives. Some fruits, herbs and vegetables on their own have laxative properties that you can take advantage of that help get things going when you don’t want to use a harsh, possibly cramp-y, laxative. A lot of foods are just naturally rich in fiber, or have laxative properties I don’t fully go over but I would like to list since they are all good additions if you are looking for relief. Things like: flax seeds, raisins, beans, leafy greens, banana, bran, peaches, broccoli, raw carrots, etc. These are just a few, but of my favorite ones are:

  • Apples – Apples, they are the quickest and easiest laxative around, and so so very simple. All you have to do is get an apple, any type, and cut it into slices, leave it out for a bit til it gets brown. Then eat it. That is all, gotta love simplicity! You could also opt for unfiltered apple juice, or cider, since this will also have the same effect. Although it can cause some foul wind in some digestive systems.
  • Prunes – Another simple fix is prunes, I love, love, love prunes. I was very small, maybe 2 or 3 years old, and ate a whole bag of them I found in the fridge door. I soon found out about their strong laxative effect, yet this has not diminished my love for prunes. They are an underrated fruit, reserved for “old people.” But they are so good for you, and a wonderful way to help get things going. Also fantastic kolache flavor, try it if you have a Czech bakery near you. Prune juice is also a great option, a glass or two will get things moving.
  • Figs – Then there is always figs, which are not only tasty but also like prunes and apples, a good natural laxative.  Dried or raw figs are a natural stool softener that can help loosen things up enough go get you going. I really like grilled fresh figs, grilled until soft with just a dollop of marscapone cheese on them it makes this medicine that is actually a treat to eat. You can also make a syrup I will list a recipe for later.
  • Rhubarb – Rhubarb is a natural laxative too, and great cooked up with some strawberries in jam or in a pie, or just sliced and cooked in some honey to pour over ice cream or into a drink (like some hot or iced green tea). You can even take apple or pureed strawberries and pureed rhubarb, (with a bit of water to loosen things up to drinkable level if needed) and make a drink out of it.
  • Fish Oils – Fish oil and cod liver oil are both great laxatives, fish oil is generally easier to take since it comes in capsule forms, and is found in grocery stores more often than cod liver oil. Cod liver oil is found in most health food specialty stores and is extremely fast acting (do NOT take this at bed time!) and a ½ to 1 teaspoon a day should be enough to get things going, too much can actually damage your GI tract so be careful with this and don’t go overboard.
  • Water – I can not say enough, drink a lot of water. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. It is thought that if you drink room temperature, or even just warmer that it will help with things a little more. You can also put half a lemon’s juice in water and down it, that may get things started. As well as the previously mentioned way of adding fiber to your drinks.
  • Caffeine – A good old cup of coffee is also a pretty good way to get things going, or if you aren’t a coffee drinker a strong cup of black tea since caffeine is a laxative. Moderation must be cautioned, too much of this can definitely be a bad thing.

 

Recipes

Probiotic Butter

  • 1 cup Whipping Cream
  • 1 tablespoon Plain Yogurt (probiotic of course)

Place yogurt in cream and set in undisturbed area in 73º F, since it is getting hot I create my own cool with ice packs. Leave for 16 to 24 hours, I like to just dump it all in my stand mixer, and cover it so nothing falls in, and whip with a paddle attachment. I set it on the speed above stir, and just leave it. If you have a splash guard, use it. This can get messy if there’s splashing. When you hear a sloshing sound that means its done, you will have the buttermilk which you can strain, and save. I use to make biscuits, but you can do loads of other things with it (though nothing is better than hot buttermilk biscuits so I don’t see why you would make anything else). You will want to put the butter that is in lumps in a bowl and smush it while holding the bowl at an angle and squeeze the liquid out. Rinse it occasionally, with cold water, and keep working the butter until the liquid from it runs clear. Add a half a teaspoon of kosher salt if you want for preservation, and there you go butter! You can whip it for fluffy spreadable butter and store it in a butter bell, or a tub. Or you can put it in wax paper or plastic wrap and roll it into shapes (just make sure to poke any bubbles with a toothpick or pin) and refrigerate, or even freeze it. You can double this for a 2 cup log of butter as well. Not an extreme measure but a great additional way to get probiotics than yogurt, kombucha or pills.

Fig and Date Jam

  • 1 cup Prunes (pitted)
  • 1 cup Dates (pitted)
  • 1 cup Boiling water

Chop dates and prunes into small pieces, smaller the better, and place in water and bring to a boil. Cook until a thick consistency and then throw it in a jar, and store in the fridge. 1 tablespoon a day should get things done, and it is super good on toast from home made bread.

Epsom Salts are another way to get relief, generally the package will have amounts for oral doses, speak with a doctor especially if you want to venture to other orifices for dosing.

If all of the other methods have failed you it is time to move on to these recipes.

Dandelion Root Tea

  • 1 ounce of Dandelion root, pounded
  • 6 cups water

You must be starting to get desperate to resort to this, and the other teas, dandelion root tea is pretty horrible tasting. But it does the job. This will yield 4 doses, and you will want to pound the root until it just breaks a part a bit, don’t make a mash of it. Simmer it in the 6 cups of water until it has reduced by half. Drink 3/4 of a cup warm a day.

I got this next recipe from Jimmy Wong’s Grow Your Own Drugs series. It contains senna pods, this is a relative of cassia, you can use senna leaves but use only a few as they are far more potent than the pods.

Syrup of Figs for Constipation

  • 18 grams (.6 oz) dried Senna pods
  • 100 milliliters (3.4 fluid ounces) Boiling water
  • 8 fresh figs, quartered
  • 100 grams (3.5 ounces) Sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon

“1. Place the senna pods in a glass bowl and pour over the boiling water. Leave to steep for about 30 minutes, then strain through a sieve or piece of muslin into a blender.
2. Add the figs and sugar to the senna infusion and whizz until smooth.
3. Pour into a saucepan, and heat slowly to reduce, stirring occasionally. You want to end up with a thick, glossy sugar-like syrup – this will probably take about 25 minutes. Add the lemon juice and stir in well.
4. Take off the heat and pour the syrup into a sterilized 150 ml bottle.

USE: Shake well before use. Take 2 tsp before bed when needed. Don’t use for more than a few days at a time, or if you have severe abdominal pain.

STORAGE: Keeps in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks.”

You can also make a senna pod tea, it is pretty powerful stuff so this should really be a last resort. Senna has been used for generations in Chinese herbal medicine, but it still should be used with caution and respect. There are also pre-made preparations from teas, to suppositories that carry senna extracts as well.

Senna Pod Tea

  • 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of senna pods (half as much if you use leaves)
  • 16 ounces Boiling water
  • 5-10 medallions of Ginger (for taste and to ease some of the cramping)
  • 3-5 drops Fennel essential oil (or 3 or 4 fennel tops of about 3-5 inches)

Steep for 3-5 minutes in a covered tea pot, and drink about 8 ounces, if you need a stronger tea let steep for longer. But the longer you steep it the stronger this will be when it comes to cramping.

If you don’t want to opt for that, you can always go with cascara sagrada, sacred bark, this is another one that you will find in a lot of pre-made preparations, but if you want to make it at home make sure you purchase just the dried bark, fresh bark could cause intestinal bleeding, and can severely irritate existing digestive issues, like Chron’s or IBS. Make sure if you have an existing digestive tract issue to discuss this option with your doctor first.

Cascara Sagrada Bark Tea

  • 1 teaspoon of Cascara Sagrada bark (well dried)
  • 3 cups Boiling water

Steep in a covered teapot for 30 minutes, and drink a warm cup before bedtime, possibly 2 cups if you had the first the night before and nothing happened. Again, use this with caution, and all other herbal medicines.

If all of these fail, you may want to move on to chemical laxatives, which WebMD has a good breakdown of each here. You can also try enemas, which are not my favorite thing since you should pretty much be ready to feel like you are peeing out of your ass, and it may not even fix things. After a surgery or in an extreme situation though they may be necessary. If you have not had a poo in two weeks or more, you need to consult your doctor and manual removal may be required. Which is unpleasant for all involved. Make sure you always answer the “urge” when it calls, and take care to look at your poop more often. It is way more important than you realize.

Remember, I am not a medical professional, consult your doctor before embarking on any drastic treatments, especially if you have any digestive disorders. As always, if you are in any doubt about anything whatsoever, ask a professional!


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Botox? Isn’t That Just For Wrinkles?

Botox, I am sure everyone has heard of this. I get Botox injections for therapeutic reasons, to treat my migraines. But often when I mention this to someone I get the response of “But you are so young?” or “But you don’t have wrinkles?” Which while slightly amusing, shows that the most well known uses of Botox are for cosmetic and not therapeutic reasons. I have also been asked by other people who suffer from migraines themselves how well this works, so I figure why not throw some light on this well-known, but not well understood by most of the populace, treatment.

When you hear about Botox, it is mostly tied with famous for movie stars, known for making them look like slightly puffy, wooden people since their faces are so paralyzed with Botox they can’t form normal expressions. Some are more honest about it. Like Joan or Dolly, who are open about their use of not only Botox but all things plastic surgery. Which I respect that they are open to saying basically, “Yeah, none of this is natural but I have to perform so it sort of is required with the gig.” Also, I mean come on, if they lied we would know.

Am I smiling? I can’t tell if I’m smiling…

Then you have the ones that think nobody notices that they had a lot of work done, especially with Botox.

Yikes. This is what happens when you can’t feel your face, not good.

But Botox was not originally invented to help celebs not have sweaty armpits at events like the rest of us normal people, or to make them not look, as Joan put it, Shar peis. It was noted as a possible way to help instead of harm people pretty much from its first moment of “discovery.”

So what IS Botox? Most people have heard of it but few really know what it is. Botox is the brand name for a “safely” inject-able form of the botulinum toxin, which causes botulism. You may have heard of botulism, it is why there is a lot of suspicion around home-canned goods as well as why you want to avoid dented cans if you purchase canned goods. This neurotoxin, which means it only has an affect on the nervous system, and causes muscle paralysis which is why it is so highly sought by movie stars. The extreme paralysis makes wrinkles from facial expressions impossible, thus giving the illusion of youth, emphasis on illusion.

Botulinum toxin was first discovered in Germany and information was published on it between 1817 – 1822 by Justinius Kerner, the poet and medical writer. He called it “sausage poison” or “fatty poison” due to it being found generally in poorly prepared sausages, or fatty meats, that caused deaths frequently in his time. He was the first one to notice that this paralytic neurotoxin might have a therapeutic use, despite its deadly nature. He also coined the name botulism, from the Latin botulus meaning “sausage,” since sausages are what were generally poisoning people due to poor hygiene in some rural production. Which they do look like little fat sausages…

little, fat, murderous sausages.

In 1895 it was a Belgian bacteriologist, Emile van Ermengem, who isolated the bacteria that causes botulism from a piece of fatty smoked ham that had poisoned thirty four people at a funeral dinner. He named it Colstridum botulinum, since it looked very sausage like under the microscope. Luckily, it is now known that to kill the bacteria food must be heated to at least 185 °F (or 85 °C) for 5 minutes or more to kill the bacteria. Which is why during canning processes the cans, once sealed, are heated to kill off bacteria. There are other ways of getting infected with the bacteria that causes botulism, it can be contracted through inhalation, wounds (most commonly in people that inject drugs on the street), it even lives in certain soils. But ingestion was the most usual way to become infected with this deadly bacterium for many years of human history. Now death is much less common with modern antibiotics, as long as treatment is sought soon enough. Other animals can be affected by this bacterium, and it is well known to affect bird species. Botulism is also a reason why honey is not recommended for children under the age of 1, since spores of the bacteria can live in honey and cause floppy baby syndrome.

Then in 1928 P. Tessmer Snipe and Hermann Sommer first purified the toxin, that means they were able to isolate the toxin from all the other stuff produced by the bacteria. Which means, like being able to isolate penicillin, this was now a manufacturer-able toxin. Then with the purified toxin another group of scientists, Arnold Burgen’s group, working in 1949 was able to find that the botulinum toxin was blocking neuromuscular signals by preventing or decreasing acetylcholine release. That means that it is effectively muting the signals from your nerves telling your muscles to move, and that isn’t just the muscles that move your body (the skeletal muscles) but all of them. That means the ones that make you breathe, swallow, blink, make your heart beat, all that involuntary stuff your body does without thinking. Which is really bad news, since your whole body functions off the movement of muscles, and all that becoming impossible. A pretty scary thought right?

“And people willingly inject themselves with this?!?!?” you must be saying.

Sure do. There are a few different types of toxins produced by the C. botulinum, and they are labeled A through H, and it is the Botulinum toxin type A that is known as Botox (or sometimes as Dysport or Xeomin) that is the most commonly used for therapeutic and cosmetic purposes. There is another form available MyoBloc made from type B that seems to be less commonly used, but still for both therapy and cosmetic reasons.

And this is what that Botulinum toxin type A looks like

It was in the 70’s, more precisely 1973, that an opthamologist (eye doctor) Alan Scott and Edward Schantz, in San Francisco, started doing experiments with the type A toxin on monkeys, and eventually developed a treatment method for humans. In 1980 the first human was injected with the toxin to treat crossed eyes and later was used to treat uncontrollable blinking. In 1993 it was used to treat spasms of the lower esophageal sphincter, and in 1994 it was shown to inhibit excessive sweating (something later made famous by celebs not wanting to sweat at events we mentioned earlier). There were many other uses that it was found to be helpful with both cosmetic and therapeutic, but it was not until October of 2010 that the FDA approved the use of Botox to treat chronic migraines.

And there was much rejoicing.

Speaking as a chronic migraine sufferer, Botox is just about the coolest thing out there. I have had so many different procedures to treat my migraines, and nothing gives the results that Botox does. For me I have gotten 3 months, and sometimes a bit more, of migraine free life. Which is a glorious thing, after you have spent months and months having maybe a handful of days where you didn’t have a migraine. It doesn’t require as often an application (at least for me) as corticosteroids, and I find the relief levels are much greater and my use of prescribed medications, or other medications, significantly reduced. In some ways this was my “miracle drug” for me. (Now, everyone is different so your results may be different, and Botox could even be not the best thing for you. Always discuss any treatment decisions with your doctor.)

But this is not something to be treated lightly, Botox can have significant side effects. Listed in depth on the medication guide and product information on Allergan’s (the maker of Botox) site for information on Botox for migraines. Reading these may scare you off the treatment all together, which in some ways is a good thing. It seems to be all too commonly used for cosmetic purposes, since most people think it is “safe” and won’t cause any issues. While it is a diluted form of the toxin, and has been ruled safe to use by the FDA that does NOT mean that you can just go to any old place and get it injected. There are a lot of places that offer Botox cosmetic injections, which if done improperly you can end up looking a lot worse than Madonna does. It could cause serious side effects and even death if done wrong and left untreated. So make sure that if you are opting for this treatment that you really need it first of all, and second of all you are getting the injections from a physician and not some lady in a salon who doesn’t even have a GED. This is a neurotoxin, that killed 1000’s before we were able to identify it. Toxin’s are not good for you, and you only want to go this route if you have to. Seriously, be smart about this stuff. You wouldn’t go up and piss off a rattlesnake just for fun, so don’t let just anybody shoot you up with neurotoxins, ok?

If you do suffer from chronic migraines, this may be your miracle drug too, you should definitely discuss it with your doctor and make sure they aren’t doing this as a first option. Second opinions are always good, but if you have ruled out all other treatments and causes of migraines this may be the best option out there for you.

ProInsuranceTip: One of the big issues I run into is the usual insurance coverage issues, which if you are a chronic pain sufferer you are probably well versed in all the fun things you have to do to get them to approve things. This should be covered under “good” insurance, but may not be. Botox is extremely expensive, so that may be a prohibiting factor in its use for you. See what you can work out with your doctor if you are not covered for it.

Remember, we are all different and some treatments that work for others may not work for you. Make sure you discuss all options with your doctor, and that you both agree that this is the right treatment for you and your symptoms. Educate yourself on it, make sure you know all you can, if you are ever in doubt about any procedure, Botox or otherwise, ask a professional!

by John Kahen @ www.beverlyhillshr.com


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What is a Cortisone Shot?

Most people hear “steroids” and most will immediately think of some iron pumping, professional athlete-type, ‘roid rager with biceps the size of VW bugs. Most media coverage of steroids involves a lot of negative press, giving steroids which can be very helpful a bad name… and did I mention ‘roid rage?

Now, now Arnold what did that camel do to you?

Cortisone is a steroid, but it isn’t the sort that would make anyone bulk up, be the terminator, or hit home runs. Those sort are Anabolic or Androgenic steroids, they do not help with pain. Cortisone shots are a steroid hormone, also known as corticosteroid, and though there is sometimes other stuff in the shots, it is the important bit that makes them work. (The other stuff is generally saline, and local anesthetic.)

Believe it or not, your body naturally produces a certain amount of this already, it is made in the Adrenal glands, who besides the brain endocrine glands and the thyroid, is a huge part of keeping your body healthy and working right. Think of the endocrine system sort of like the internet, it is the system your body uses to send out signals and make sure that all the trillions of cells are all on the same page about what is going on, or can all act in unison if necessary. Like when your body says, “hey, I am sick” its all the things that make you feel that you are sick. That is your immune system, triggered by your endocrine system to respond to start fighting things, which is what makes you feel bad when you are sick. The cortisone produced by the body is produced when the body is stressed, and stress can occur if you are injured or in danger which triggers with the fight or flight response. So you are basically creating a large wash of those “we are in stress” chemicals, and this can have a great healing effect for some people, or at least the reduction of pain. It does also mean your body is in an unnatural state and that can have some side effects.

Cortisone was discovered in the 1940’s by two guys from the Mayo Clinic, it was hailed as a miracle drug (aren’t they always?) and was the reason the discoverer’s got a Nobel Prize in the 50’s. There are now a plethora of drugs that are corticosteroids such as but not limited to, (and these are just their names, not commercial names) prednisone, methylprednisolone, prednisolone, dexamethasone, and the well known hydrocortisone. There are many ways to take corticosteroids, orally, topically, injection, and inhalers are a few ways. I am generally talking about cortisone products used to treat pain though in this entry, and they are usually injected into the body.

In a lot of ways cortisone was a miracle drug, it helps ease chronic pain, pain from injuries, it treats autoimmune diseases, it helps with organ transplants preventing rejection, and many, many other ailments. Most of the cortisone injected is synthetic but still chemically similar to the natural thing, and it works pretty much the same as the natural stuff, just in larger amounts. It works because it helps to suppress the body’s natural immune response, that is how this great drug helps to inhibit rejection in someone with a newly transplanted organ. This suppression means though, you need to be very careful about your immune system. It can cause other issues that I will discuss further down in this post, but that is the biggest one I have had to battle with.

Inflammation is your body’s natural healing response, but sometimes that signal is sent in error, or is sent too much, and pain happens. Cortisone helps to reduce that inflammation, and alleviate some of that pain. Now that is not to say when you receive an injection (which is generally how my pain is treated) it will be instant pain relief. You are putting a needle into a site that is already irritated, and just generally pretty upset with things if you are in pain. Then you are injecting fluid into that area, which will create artificial swelling of that area. The swelling is very small, you wouldn’t notice it externally, but small is all that is needed for a nerve to notice. So an injection can actually put you in more pain than when you started, but believe me, it is all so very worth it if it works. Especially since the pain generally only lasts a few days.

Now, the skill of the doctor is also a big part of this pain levels post-procedure. I have had some pain doctors who are just absolutely horrible, they will just poke you anywhere, and not care if you complain. Or that you are in far more pain than before the injection. I had one that was attempting to alleviate neck pain, and I spent the next 3 days wondering if I really could cut my own arm off, since that was better than living with how it felt after the injection. My arm eventually became sort of normal again, after a few months luckily. But it has become a huge issue since then. My current pain doctor is much more precise and uses fluoroscopy, and other tools to be sure of where she is “poking” me. I find with her more precise methods I not only rarely experience post-procedure pain, but also have better results with my pain reducing. That is not to say I don’t have occasionally mild injection site soreness, like I said, poking already upset areas, but it is far less than what I have experienced at the hands of others. Normally if you are in pain after the procedure you can rest assured that it will probably only be the worst the day after, lessening the second day and nearly gone by the third. If you don’t find your pain reducing after the third day, you really need to be talking to your doctor. That third day should be the day that you will see exactly what the procedure accomplished, and for me they have usually been good results.

There are also many names that these sorts of injections go by which can make it confusing, and that doesn’t mean they’re in the same places for everyone or the same amounts of steroids. But you should be aware of what is being put in you with each procedure, and below are some informative videos to start you off on what some of the ones I have experienced over the years. If you are interested in some more great videos on common procedures, see the video link at the end of this entry. If you are afraid of needles, probably should avoid all these videos.

Trigger Point Injections I generally get these as a quick fix to hold me over until we can schedule a procedure.

Nerve Block(er) Injection – these have brought a lot of relief for a lot of different symptoms, I suggest using a pain clinic that has your pain doctor injecting these rather than just a radiologist (one should still be present for the procedure though).

Sympathetic Nerve Block – not to be confused with the above, this is different. I find this helps me the most with my CRPS issues with neurological pain. Definitely not a video for the squeamish about needles.

Now for the sorta scary bit. This is where I list all the things that can go wrong from cortisone injections (or general corticosteroid use). Side effects to getting these injections can be the following (with some of my own tips):

  • Change in your body’s response to stress – we already said that cortisone is part of the fight or flight response, which is a body’s response to stress. Obviously if you pump your body full of chemicals that are there during stress, it throws things off. You really need to be mindful that just like if you have thyroid issues and take thyroid medication the actual gland can go “well, my work here is done” and just turn off. Your adrenal glands can do something similar and this can last for up to a year after the injections. You may find that you get light headed, or aren’t able to deal with sudden surprises or stresses, make sure you recognize when you are getting stressed and do all you can to soothe and calm your body so that it does not reach an overly stressed state. Also let other doctors know you have had corticosteroids so they can compensate if necessary in any non-pain procedures.
  • Hoarseness – yeah, it can make your throat dry, and make your voice raspy. I do a lot of hot teas with honey and lemon, and occasionally break down and buy over the counter throat lozenges to help with this. Water is a big deal after these injections. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. It helps.
  • Infection/Illness – Skin is breached with injections, and any scrape or cut from a fall or kitchen accident could become infected. We already know the immune system is suppressed so that means the natural responses to fight off even things like a paper-cut are not present. Make sure you take extra care with cuts and abrasions, take them all seriously and monitor them. If the skin around them becomes red, inflamed and tender, you may have to deal with an infection through medical means. Seek a doctor if something like that happens. This is also true for colds, flus, and everything else you can catch. Wear a mask if you can when going out, and try to avoid sick people. Also make sure you are getting sleep, taking vitamins, and doing all you can daily to boost that immune system.
  • Osteoporosis – this for women is the biggest danger, I discovered recently that I was having issues with calcium as well as other vitamin deficiency. Cortisone breaks down a lot of the stuff our body uses to work, or makes those chemicals harder to take up, make extra sure you are compensating for this, and doing strength exercises to ensure that there is no bone loss. You really need to worry about this if you are like me, and getting a lot of these over a long period of time. If you get a few and then no more, not as big a deal.
  • Weight Gain/Fluid Retention – UGH, I hate this one! Cortisone makes me ravenous sometimes, like eat the entire fridge and still hungry type craving for food. This is something you just have to be stern with yourself and fight, but it does make that fight just the bit harder. About six months after the steroid use you should see a decrease in the weight, and if you are careful while you are getting these injections you shouldn’t see excessive gain. Just be mindful, watch what you eat, get exercise just like normal. High sodium diets also cause water retention, check for swelling and if you find it (and its not weight gain) make sure you speak with your doctor.
  • Mood Changes & Insomnia – Hey, we all have bad days, right? But make sure that bad day isn’t one you decided is bad before things even happen. Look at your mood and assess it, is this really how I feel? Do I normally react like this to these sorts of things? If the answer is no, think about what “flipped that bitch switch” as I like to say. Make sure you are doing all you can to keep a positive happy outlook on things, yoga, meditation, tai chi, all of those are great ways to help combat all mood issues this and everything else that comes with pain causes. It can also make you have issues with sleeping, but when you are in pain you don’t sleep anyway. I suggest for this, natural sleep aids, I have discussed a few but there are tons out there I still haven’t covered yet. Find what works best for you on both of these and use it!
  • Elevated Blood Sugar –  this is a definitely possible side effect if you are like me and getting these a lot, over a long period of time, and could lead to diabetes. Watch your weight and always look for signs of diabetes. Diabetes is not a fun thing to have so keep and eye on this, check out the ADA site, and make sure you aren’t at risk. No one wants to have the diabetes!

    Least of all this cat.

  • Atherosclerosis – a big word that means basically your walls of your arteries getting hard. It puts you at risk for heart disease and other circulatory issues. If you are smart and are living a healthy lifestyle, this probably won’t even be an issue. Others, not following that, well you might get it anyway? Why tempt fate?
  • Aseptic Necrosis – this is by far the scariest thing in this list. This can happen and it is not pleasant, it means parts of your bones are dying inside you. Which is the stuff of nightmares to be sure! The most vulnerable place for this issue is the hip joint, which is less the side of your body and more your groin area. So if you are getting injections close to your hip, monitor pain in your groin area and if you have any, get to a doctor quick fast. You can get this in other places but it is pretty rare, and is accompanied by pain, most of the time.

I have mentioned a lot in my posts that I frequently get injections to help with pain, and that if you are getting these regularly make sure you are taking all your vitamins, and take care of your immune system. I have them a lot, probably more than is really good for my body according to a lot of information, but its down to a matter of quality of life. More injections and I can move, have less pain, and basically live life. Less injections, and it is back to the cane and being trapped in my own immobile hurting shell. Frankly, it becomes for me one of those “damn the consequences” sort of things. I do wish that there were other ways, I have attempted many things, and am always looking for new avenues, but these really allow me to remain a functional human until that other treatment can be found. Others, depending on the level of pain you are in, and your specific condition may not need as aggressive treatments.

Not everyone reacts well to cortisone, and some patients not at all. Cortisone should also never be your first option, only after doing physical therapy, chiropractic, stretching, diet/weight loss, and all the other avenues available, besides surgery, should you consider getting a cortisone injection as that last thing before you decide on surgery. Don’t let that scare you off if you need it, but don’t make it your go to solution, unless you have to. Look at your situation, discuss it with your doctors and make sure you educate yourself on some of available treatment options, and the issues cortisone can cause for your specific issues.

For the videos I mentioned earlier that give a great explanation on all sorts of steroidal injections used for back pain, or other back/nerve related pain go here.

Remember, I am not a medical doctor so your professionals should be guiding you and helping you make your decisions. But don’t ever trust their word completely, look up what is being done, make sure you are familiar. Educate yourself as much as possible, no one will do it for you!