A Pandemic Wasn’t The Plan: Part 3 – Hormones 05/11/2020

Well, I bled for 16/30 days in April plus 5 in May. This is not my normal. This is pandemic menses. I don’t remember the relationships between cortisol, ovarian function and the reproductive cycle and frankly I haven’t had the energy to look it up again. I am also 46, so my ovarian reserves are low and having anovulatory/ short cycles could be the new normal until I get fully into bioidentical hormone replacement land. Still: Why such extended Abnormal Uterine Bleeding (AUB) ? And why this extended pain, expense and moodiness when I am already working long hours, alternating day and night shifts, and having to accept the global panic of COVID?

I have not changed much of my regular hormone regime. I have been taking bioidentical progesterone the second half of my cycle for the past 10ish years. Ovaries start decreasing progesterone production around 35yo often causing worsening PMS, cramps, and shorter lighter cycles. Taking progesterone lengthens my cycle from 21 to 26ish days and really helps with cyclic breast pain, bloating, cravings, PMDD and cramps. I had been on vacation when all this started and had not been taking it consistently 🙁

I also take testosterone as a subQ injection intermittently. It is prescribed as a weekly shot, but I tend to take it only every 2-3 weeks, mostly because I forget. Sometimes I forget to take it for months at a time. Cis female ovaries and adrenals produce small amounts of testosterone throughout the lifetime, and testosterone is the dominant cisfemale hormone of menopause! Endogenous production tends to decrease around age 40 as an average.

When I was working at Age Management Center, I tested dozens of women’s testosterone levels between ages 25-75 and it was extremely common to have very low levels: more common than normal levels! Optimization of this all-gender hormone brings a sense of vitality, physical and mental strength, increased muscle mass, heightened endurance, and improved orgasm strength (or orgasms, maybe for the first time!) It helps me have the energy to get to the gym and enjoy workouts. I also had an improvement in libido and sexual satisfaction. I have been taking this rx more frequently these days as internal medicine is *exhausting* so low T is not at the root of my hormonal shifts.

That leaves estrogen as the possible culprit, and this could certainly be the case.There are 3 different estrogens in the body that can be measured. Estradiol is the major circulating hormone that has all the beneficial effects – elasticizing bone, brain, blood vessels, and skin. Estrone is a metabolite of both testosterone and estradiol through aromatization and is theorized to have more inflammatory and proliferative effects. The ideal Estradiol: Estrone ratio is 2:1in the body. Estriol is the weakest estrogen and is localized to the uterus and vagina. This enhances vaginal lubrication and tissue health. It is also what is typically used for vaginal replacement in menopause or transmasculine health because it has less systemic effects. I am due to go get my hormone levels tested to see of I have had a big shift in estrogen levels. Lab work is ideal when done between days 19-21 of a cycle to catch all 3 hormone levels. I have not had any side effects of low estrogen yet, but as a 46yo, the decrease is coming.

I will likely transition to bioidentical hormone replacement when my ovaries retire fully. Humans used to go into menopause around 50-55 then die around 65. I do not think we were made to live an extra 40-50 years (90 yo) without any gonadal hormones. And as someone who will be in high productivity for many years head working in medicine, I will need these juicy, foundational, resilient, life giving hormones! Plus, I love the feeling of being strong physically, mentally, sexually and emotionally!

What about Breast Cancer you ask? Well, fortunately I do not have the gene that puts me at higher risk. I also eat lots of foods full of plant nutrients, antioxidants, fibers, and phytochemicals and good quality meats and fats. I exercise occasionally, especially out in nature where I can fill my lungs with fresh oxygen. I have a lot of stress in my life, but I do my best to counteract that with affection, loving kindness towards myself, sleep, mindfullness meditation, therapy, strong friendships and sunshine/water/flowers. Estradiol does increase proliferation of breast tissue; bioidentical progesterone counteracts that maintaining a balance of growth and suppression. Testosterone itself is also apoptotic meaning it is anti-cancer/ pro cellular health in nature. For me, in this body, having a well of hormones to draw from as I continue to function in the world is a source of inner vitality that I can give myself, even when my ovaries stop being able to produce it themselves. And, I will probably stop full bHRT after around 15 years, which is what evidence has shown is the time when long term hormone replacement therapy in ciswomen stops being as effective and starts to drift towards harmful. I may even just continue testosterone in those years which has less negative evidence as well as less links to breast pathology.

I have effectively convinced myself this was probably an estradiol dip in ovarian production resulting in a very short cycle partially due to low progesterone followed by an ovulatory but still low estrogen short cycle. Fingers crossed that this is not my new normal. I have also re-upped my commitment to taking my daily thyroid medication as well as adrenal herb supports, because the hormone systems all work in tandem and when one part is dysfunctional, others need to work extra hard. But the adrenal and thyroid systems are a whole other conversation for another day. And maybe I will read up more on the links between stress and hormones between now and then.

http://resources.ama.uk.com.s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/glowm_www/graphics/figures/v5/0060/014f.jpg

Meanwhile, This Gal needs to get ready for her night shift in the COVID ICU. Stress. Yup. Exhausting emotionally and physically. Yup. My ovaries can probably read the cortisol and adrenaline levels in my blood and there may be another month of AUB ahead as my body instinctively tries to preserve its resources for essential functioning only in these pandemic times. At least I know what to do for it! I also did book an appointment with a new gynecologist to have an expert on board in case I need something like imaging or a more extensive workup. A Doctor cant always heal herself!


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A Pandemic wasn’t the Plan: Part 2 – Anxiety/Herbal Rx 04/04/2020

I went to my local Co-op today, which is one of the only places that doesnt feel totally overwhelming to shop, and every single person had a mask on. This is the new norma I spent the week pretty anxious about the contagion and infectious side of COVID19. I had two of my patients get ruled out for the virus mid-treatment this week AND the contagion aspect seemed really important for those around me I come in contact with, not only myself. What do I need to do to not be a vector of spread? We now only wear scrubs to the hospital not work clothes, and I take my shoes off at my door. Are you freaked out about the contagious side of it? This is a real phobia for some people, and it at the root of many OCD compulsions. I feel for all the germ-phobes out there! My only advice is therapy therapy therapy. There are also one or two antidepressants that help with OCD if you are really noticing an uptick in this in your every day. Ask your PCP if they can help. If you dont have one, this is a great time to get one! Many health providers are accepting new patients, and their clinics or your local community center can help you get the health coverage you need.

Medicine really needs to start valuing mental health as equal to primary and specialty medical care in insurance reimbursements and coverage. SO much suffering comes from the mind. And teeth! Dental coverage too! I promised a blog on botanical medicine and viral illness. I am not up to date on the most current treatments and theories in the natural medicine world anymore. The Naturopathic News and Review publication is a great resource for cutting edge evidence from practicing ND’s.

Most of my botanical training is american traditional eclectic western botanicals, and the knowledge dates back to folk traditions, native medicine, midwifery, and turn of the century medicine. In this vein, there is a wealth of knowledge about foundational immune support and antivirals vs antibacterials and antifungals. If you are interested in this kind of care, most ND’s and herbalists are doing telephone and online appointments and shipping our medicine. Look under your Naturopathic Medicine State Association and see who is available in your area for personalized medicine.

Chinese botanical medicine also has a fantastic apothecary of immune supporting botanicals as well as support for basically every system. Their pharmacopeia is rich and complex with over 5000 herbs with specific indications and formulas. Many TCM Doctors and Acupuncturists are also herbalists and sell custom blended teas as part of their practice. Consider reaching out to someone locally for this as well with a phone or video appointment.

Herbal Medicine for COVID19 falls into prevention by strengthening and prevention by antimicrobial actions. Prevention by strengthening herbs are used when you are not sick. They tonify and strengthen the body, increasing reserves that can be called on if illness occurs. The following is a list of such herbs:

  • nettles
  • astragalus
  • alfalfa
  • borage
  • siberian and american ginsengs
  • ashwahaganda
  • cordyceps and other nourishing mushroooms (use sparingly)
Nettle Cake with Pine Buttercream

Nettles are best made as a herbal tea and drank clear and often. They can also be eaten in soups, cakes, and stir fried although this is easier in some parts of the country than others.

Astragalus is a sweet root and is best as a broth, or a tablet taken 3 tablets in morning and night. This is a key ingredient in “change of season soup” from the TCM formulary for immune strengthening as well. Borage, Siberian and American ginsengs and ashwahaganda are adrenal tonics that boost immunity by decreasing inflammation and increasing resilience. I like borage tincture 1 tsp daily, ginsengs as tinctures or pills (they don’t taste great), and ashwganda as a standardized tablet or capsule. Ashwaganda means something close to “horse piss” Ive been told, and it is named after the strength and passion of a horse as this is what it embues. These should be discontinued at the first sign of a sniffle or other illness. Then switch to active antimicrobial prevention. Taking these while sick can sometimes strengthen the pathogen rather than the host.

Antimicrobials: These are divided by their functionality.

Use these herbs as a prevention; it is best to preserve the antibacterials for signs of actual infection. Like Rx antibiotics nature’s antibacterials have strong actions and their use needs to be preserved for proper indication

A selection of commonly used antivirals includes:

  • alium cepa (onion)
  • allium sativa (garlic)
  • echinacea – only in the first 24 hours of infection
  • elderberry- usually used as a syrup that is very safe for all ages (watch for honey under 1yo) and for pregnancy –has some possible conflicting evidence for COVID19 infection, make your own informed consent to use.
  • monolauren (from coconut oil)
  • euphrasia (eyebright) – for viral conjunctavitis and eye symptoms
  • cats claw

A selection of my fave antibacterials include:

  • goldenseal – for inflamed mucus membranes and purulent discharges
  • berberis – for anything that looks or feels “infected” including GI issues
  • echinacea – one of the only botanicals proven against strep species. Use a glycerite form of the tincture and squirt it directly onto an inflamed throat. The glycerite is sweet and is safe for children and elders.
  • cats claw – used for Lyme infection
  • onion and garlic, oregano and thyme – in cooking! use liberally!

Antifungals are also important for chronic immune system depletion often manifested as thick brittle toenails or fingernails, frequent yeast infections, sinusitis and chronic belly issues. They are less relevent for this pandemic other than to sustain and support long term immune and lung health. My go-to antifungals include:

  • monolauren (from coconut oil) 300mg 2 times/ day
  • pau d’arco tincture or tea – 2 tsp or cups per day
  • tea tree oil – topical
  • caprylic acid – at least 2 caps daily
  • garlic
  • * a note on essential oils

I personally took a bottle of astragalus tablets 2 2twice-ish daily and now I am switching to Monolauren daily for 3 months with vitamin C and cats claw tincture daily for at least the next 3-4 weeks for intensive antiviral support. I am also taking ashwaganda as an energy tonic to support my stress levels during this unusual time to be working in medicine, and a probiotic. For my personalized medicine I have an herbal thyroid support formula alongside my Armor thyroid medication as I have Hashimotos thyroiditis. Finally, I drink homemade nettle tea or lavender/ chamomile tea and am doing the best I can to get cooked or fresh greens most days.

My training in essential oils is only for primarily olfactory/ inhaled, diffused in water or skin products. I was not trained in “by mouth” use of essential oils such as promoted by DoTerra or other EO companies so I cannot recommend tfor or against these by mouth. I do like topical and diffused use of these medicinal substances and find myself drawn to tee trea, eucalyptus and lavender, cypress, pine as my primary antimicrobial nature scents for baths, lotions, soaps and diffusion. Many flower essential oils have beneficial effects on the mind/ mental health as CN1 is a cranial nerve. There is a long tradition of use for cosmetic use as well.

Best of luck out there friendly readers. How we as humans conduct ourselves in these pandemic times can illustrate where we need to work on ourselves and where we shine bright. This is an excellent time for insight, awareness and evolution. Its also a perfect time for devolution and hopelessness. Reach out and find the resources you need or ask a friend to listen awhile: many providers are providing sliding scale or free servicesand telemedicine is blooming. The world is small with the internet. Kindness can be found in bugs on a sidewalk or a smiling eyes from 6 feet. If nothing else is true, it is that we are in this together.

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A Habit is Harder to Break than a Heart

Ugh. New Years Resolutions. Worst idea ever! And yet – I had a tough end of 2018 personally so I decided to make some resolutions in an effort to bring structure and more wellness to my life.

Well, it is 13 days in and I have already failed all of my official resolutions. In fact I failed my first one in the first two days of the year:

1. spend less time on my phone, especially in the company of people I love

Excuses are bountiful. However, If you are in the same boat as me with lofty goals and a complex life, I encourage you to think about resolutions as a year long goal, not something to be abandonded by week 3. It could take even 3 years to build the structure that you need to support the foundation of your bigger dreams/resolutions like an art or writing studio and time to produce new work.

The Winter Solstice (12/21/18) is when we annually rekindle the spark of the year ahead. This tiny flame grows to a raging bonfire at Summer Solstice with our culling and tending and then dwindles down to the blue flames of Halloween and Nov-Embers. Then the cycle begins anew with the next Winter Solstice.

If you looked at your resolutions as a fire you were to tend for a 12-36 month duration, would that change your approach? Your commitment to your Self or Visions?

I have things about my lifestyle I need to adjust, and those are built on deeply entrenched habits that function as crutches that allow me to perform in my hugely challenging day to day life. I cannot just pull the supports from my foundational Activities of Daily Living; I CAN build new supports/habits to relieve the not-so-functional structures.

Building a new wellness foundation takes a team or at the very least a multifaceted approach. I failed my New Years Resolutions the first week because I did not have my new structures in place to support them. I now see who and what I could rely on to make this reality functional, and this second week of the year I was 50% more successful in my goals.

What are your NYR? What changes do you need to make this happen?

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Notes from the Road: Buenos Aires WPATH

I am in beautiful Buenos Aires at my second World Professional Association for Transgender Health. My first was held in Amsterdam in 2016 when I was a fresh faced, just-finished first year medical student. Now, as a mid-fourth year student I am significantly more exhausted and disillusioned; I also have so much more doubt about choosing this field of medicine as my calling.

I like to tell the story that I returned to medical school to practice transgender health. Specifically, to be able to prescribe transitional hormones and participate in the insurance racket to reach more people. And that is part of the story. The root truth is I have been compelled to be a full scope physician for many reasons and transgender medicine gave me a focus because it was something I could not attain as the Naturopathic Doctor that I was before.

The last session I attended at the WPATH ARGENTINA conference was an incredible and inspired panel of Brazilian intellectuals speaking on depathologizing the transfeminine and deconstructing cisheteronormativity. Fran Demetrio, a transfeminine Brazilian professor was so passionate and eloquent in her discussion of injustice, oppression, systemic violence and the colonization of knowledge imported by biomedicine. She was being translated which made some of the discourse hard to fully comprehend and I wished WPATH had provided a professional translator for her because what she had to say was so profound and important and well thought out. She framed a paradigm that took the personal out of the conversation and raised it to a social construct and human justice level. In rough translation, she explained that not including the existential experience of trans voices in episystemic medical knowledge creates symbolic violence and perpetrates the colonialism of transgender relationships. This generates mental health violence and tramples the [transgender] patients knowledge. Considering and understanding this is essential to depatholgize the trans experience.

Despite the  multiple disparities that this population faces world wide, there is a slowly increasing body of trans identified physicians and health leaders in the field. However, to date  many of the people making the decisions about gender medicine are not differently-gendered themselves. Surely, this is problematic. The numbers of trans identified health care leaders is increasing by the year, and with groups like the Transgender Professional Association for Transgender Health, they are seeking greater control around the discourse of gender medicine and claiming their place as necessary voices in the didactic.  

The tensions between cis and trans leadership has created a simmering anger within this medical community. A socialist friend of mine shared that in activism in general there is a current trend towards challenging aggressions towards advocacy leaders in many different fields with a similar theme of  – who has the power to speak and represent the cause?

I was personally attacked in this rising conflict this year when I created a transgender health elective as a third year medical student for global medical students to supplement core medical school curriculum. A variety of trans and nonbinary people on social media threatened to create a petition against the course as it does not have a transgender identified course leader and there were multiple flamings on Facebook. I personally received several vitriolic emails from different people about the course, its content, and my leadership. I was privileged to have a team of (cis and transgender) people who have been in the field for a long time holding leadership positions to assist me in creating online and email responses that were balanced, appealed to reason, and illustrated the many ways the course seeks to uphold and respect the “nothing about us without us” principle while promoting evidence based foundational medicine.

I brought up this conflict between cis and trans leadership in the didactic of transgender medicine again at one of the ethics seminars at WPATH, where leadership and authority privilege was being discussed. Unfortunately, I was emotional in my questioning of the ethics behind attacking ally’s and advocates, as I am still deeply shaken by this experience. The response from one of the panelists was that when working as a non trans person with the gender diverse community there is so much anger one must simply expect to be attacked and be ok with that.

I am a person who has been excavating emotional violence in my personal life and creating real boundaries to protect myself for the first time. I don’t think I can intentionally choose a career were the population I am exhausting myself to serve reserves the right to be emotionally violent towards me indiscriminately because of their experience of violence. That is like saying that my mother has the right to be violent towards me in any way she sees fit because of the abuse she and her mother suffered. No.

Again.

not  including the existential experience of trans voices in episystemic medical knowledge creates symbolic violence and perpetrates the colonialism of transgender relationships. This generates mental health violence and tramples the patients knowledge. Considering and understanding this is essential to  depatholgize the trans experience. “

Dr. Demetrio’s message ultimately lifted my perspective of the conflict to a healing systems approach. With this in mind, I am still recalibrating my commitment to trans health as a specialized field of medicine, while intentionally making room for the many trans identified health care leaders. As a nontrans woman and a white queer/lesbian, I devote the next phase of my medical education to the foundations of internal medicine as well as lesbian health, vaginal happiness, fertility, community health, and queer health issues like addiction and mental health. My view of women’s health includes trans and cis women, as does my passion for community wellness. I am confident that these past 11 years of studying transgender medicine and advocacy work will continue to inform the communities I serve, if in a less direct way.

I see now that when I claim my leadership vision within a paradigm that matches my own identity I can be stronger and more authentic.

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I Always Bring My Lunch

I was in NYC in August this summer, doing a short 4th year medical elective at the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery. I did some couch surfing, and stayed at an Air BnB in Williamsburg my last week. Medically it was an outstanding experience, and in my dream future, I will get to be a physician working at this clinic in Manhatten. Being away from home, I realized how much I rely on having my own kitchen! Making my lunch is I keep my body feeling good despite spending most of my time working in a hospital or relaxing in bed.

What do you do for lunch every day?  By lunchtime every day, I will eat basically anything. I sometimes eats my lunch at 10:30 AM I am so hungry. The more glucose my brain is burning, the more I need that hit of fat, phytonutrients and fiber.

Therefore, my cunning plan is to eat super healthy sometimes boring basics for lunch – lots of veggies, good quality fats, high fiber fruits, raw vegetables and very few processed carbs. Then,  I dont have to think as hard about what’s for dinner and still maintain a good nutrient balance.

So, what do I actually eat? Greens and grains, with cheese, avocado or nuts/seeds and random chopped veggies like carrots, cucumber, tomato, radish. In summer I love to put flowers in my food. A grain free diet is popular with the keto crowd, but I advocate to have at least a few cups of whole grains in the diet per week. The fiber, magnesium, B vitamins and serotonin release metabolically help keep the mind-gut axis regulated. We rotate our grains between short grain brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, and millet to maintain variety of flavor and nutrient profiles.

I heard once in a conference lecture that nutritional studies were done evaluating T4 –> T3 conversion activation (active thyroid hormone.) Subjects were fed fat based diets, protein based diets or carbohydrate (CHO) based diets. Only the diets with carbohydrates evidenced thyroid hormone conversion. Since I am a huge fan of having optimized T3 production for an effective metabolic mileau, I advocate for having a moderate amount of whole grains in ones basic nutritional foundation.I wish I had the study in-hand to back this up but I dont; maybe once I am out of medical school I will have time to research these things more fully. The bottom line is that whole grains are good for health and tasty and I like them in my lunch. They are filling and delicious and beneficial.

I like to layer the grains on the bottom, then a huge handful of greens – whatever has the latest expiry date when I am shopping! We rotate spring mix with herbs, arugula, baby spinach, crispy green leaf lettuce, and occasional kale salad (leftover.) I need fat with my lunch to feel satisfied, so I douse the whole thing with yummy olive oil and a delicious vinegar like balsamic or umeboshi or fire cider vinegar. Then, I add some protein: cheese is the easiest and I love cheese.  Tuna, egg or chicken salads are always a win too.

I also love toasted walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds. I buy them raw, and toast them in a dry cast iron pan until they are warm and smell nutty but not burnt. Make sure to stir! I store these in glass jars in the cupboard. The pumpkin seeds are best toasted with some Chalula hot sauce and cumin! Yum. These add a crunch, some richness, protein, and delicious essential fats. Finish the lunch with 2 chopped veggies for color, fiber, and variety: an organic carrot, cucumber spears with pepper, pepper slices, whatever floats your boat.

If you are a hard paleo and refuse grains, or if you are like me and sometimes need a second lunch or a hearty snack then organic nitrite free salami is a good addition. It is filling, savory, and works well with olives, carrot rounds and other veggies for finger snacks. Just veggies is not enough for me.

Lunch Plan B: huge leftovers fan here. If I go out to dinner, I almost always save half for lunch the next day. This is a win-win, because I stop eating when I am full (or save room for dessert) AND I have a pre-made meal to go. I hate waking up extra early to deal with lunch, so I usually get lunch ready the night before. We generally also cook for more than two, planning a lunch or two and maybe even a supper into every meal we co-create. Leftovers are exciting to me because these are usually rich yummy comfort foods like pasta, steak, curries and other “real meals”.

Finally, making lunch saves me money. The first day of my August rotation I went to the nearby Whole Foods for lunch. I wasted 15 minutes wandering around the hot and cold bars, trying to figure out what to eat. My $15 salad ended up being an awkward mish-mash of flavors that did not blend well. That day after work I went and bought $40 worth of groceries (almond flour crackers, apples, greens, cheese, nuts, yogurts and paleo granola for breakfast)  and brought my lunch to work every day for the next week, supplementing with enchilada leftovers.

Bringing your lunch ensures you know exactly what you are eating. It keeps you committed to your intentions with food, and lines up the healthy choices for you in moments of  “Im Starving” brain meltdowns that would otherwise allow for easy Trash. It is also a great way to plan your daily insulin for diabetics! Finally, it frees up dinner for more social food activities that may be less greens and grainy.

Oh, and bring a snack, maybe two. For Fall and Winter I find an apple is the hardiest fruit. Combined with nuts and raisins, it’s a great choice. Someone once said, if you dont want to eat an apple, you are not actually hungry. This holds true as long as your teeth are in good shape.  In winter and summer, cut up fruit like citrus or stone fruits an berries are refreshing and delightful. I also love dried mango slices from Trader Joe’s. If you crave yogurt and aren’t having it for breakfast, it’s a good option too. I love the dairy-free yogurts too like soy, almond and coconut singles, which are far better choices than anything a vending machine or a cafeteria might offer.

My basic formula is eating good quality food 65% of the time. Then I can easily process about 35% cheeseburgers, nachos, pizza, sweets, and other junk. To change your body composition this may need to become more like 75:25 and exercise has to be added in. I eat at least 60% of my daily food at work between 9-5pm. If I make sure these foods are healthy, wholesome and invigorating to my brain and bowels, my nutritional work is done for the day. Yay!

 

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The Pain Conundrum: Options & Alternatives

I’m a woman with chronic pain. It waxes and wanes, but I have been on flourbiprofen, a prescription-strength NSAID for about 20 years. I take it about a week before and the week of my menses. That is two weeks a month of strong NSAID use. Plus, ibuprofen for occasional headaches or other pains.

After spending a week observing a nephrology office in January, I started thinking about my own NSAID use and  kidney health. After getting some lab evaluation (creatinine, BUN and GFR) it turns out I have stage 2 kidney disease. WHAT!! I consider myself an extremely healthy woman, and no doctor has ever mentioned kidney issues, much less had a conversation with me about the well known, scientifically proven ways that NSAIDS like ibuprofen, alleve, midol, and aspirin damage kidneys.

Here is the science: The kidneys receive about 25% of the blood flow from the heart, and filter blood through their delicate & intricate filter and tube mechanisms.

 It is prostaglandins that increase pain and inflammation. All NSAID medications work by inhibiting the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzyme, thus decreasing prostaglandin synthesis.However, ibuprofen and all NSAIDs also interfere with the body’s natural blood vessel constriction and dilation hormones through this system, ultimately affecting the kidneys. In the long term, this damages the delicate kidney structures from irregular blood flow. It can also lead to chronic high blood pressure.

To make matters worse, there is a second way that ibuprofen, aspirin and other NSAIDs damage the kidneys. The immune system can react against these drugs and cause an inflammatory reaction right in the matrix of the kidneys. This is called Acute Interstitial Nephritis and can happen after only one week of use. It can also become a chronic, simmering problem that is definitely underdiagnosed.

So, what to do? We cant use opioid pain medication like we used to because it is extremely addicting, and now ibuprofen, aspirin and products like Motrin or Alleve are also harmful. Sadly, acetaminophen, or Tylenol is a centrally acting medication with little anti-inflammatory action and it doesn’t work well for most pain although it is great for fever.

First of all, I would argue we as a culture need to become a little more tolerant to living with some discomfort. Pain is often a sign that something else needs to be addressed: like, hydration, nutrition, posture, or drug/alcohol overuse.

Second, the practice of prevention goes a long way to decreasing the duration and quantity of pain medications needed. WE ARE LAZY!! Simple stretching and at-home exercises can do wonders for back and body pain as can weekly yoga. People who don’t know basic stretches can be referred to physical therapy for individual assessment; this is covered by most private and federal insurances. The newest guidelines from the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend:

“Nonpharmacologic treatment, including exercise, multidisciplinary rehabilitation, acupuncture, mindfulness-based stress reduction, tai chi, yoga, motor control exercise, progressive relaxation, biofeedback, low-level laser therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or spinal manipulation, should be used initially for most patients who have chronic low back pain.”

Finally, botanical medicine has an evidenced role in combating pain. Most herbs are better used proactively for prevention of pain and inflammation than acutely when symptoms are already present. Turmeric, ginger, black pepper and boswellia all have a long history of use for muscle and joint issues. New Chapter has a herbal Zyflammend product line that specifically addresses pain and/or age-related joint disease that is worth trying. Take as directed on the label, 2 tabs daily for at least 6 weeks to assess your response.

DLPA is a less used supplement for chronic pain and depression. This is DL-phenylalanine, an amino acid that gets converted into tyrosine. Rather than directly addressing pain, DLPA slows endorphin breakdown by decreasing enzymatic function. This results in higher endorphin levels for pain control as well as increased adrenal hormones such as norepinephrine. The dosage varies from 1500mg on an empty stomach each morning to 200mg twice daily. For gynecological pain like mine, cramp bark is another option. This needs to be taken in moderately high doses (3 caps 2-3 times per day)  just before menstrual pains begin, and continued throughout the pain window.

These are all good options for all kinds of pain, not just back pain. If we as a consumers were willing to put the same effort into treating & preventing our various pains proactively instead of just popping 3 Advil every 4 hours, we may live longer and healthier. The effect on the kidney is also real, and needs to be talked about more. I see patients dying of kidney failure in the hospital every day, and it is not pretty. I know that I am forcing myself to be more tolerant of the low grade pains I live with, and I just started using herbs (Vitanica’s cramp bark) and (walking and stretching) exercises in an attempt to minimize the pain medications I may really need in a few days. I am hoping it makes a difference, because my kidneys aren’t really up for another 10 years of this.

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Embedding Resilience in Medicine

      Half an inch from the first four thoracic vertebrae lie the central nervous system transistors (stellate ganglion) for your fight and flight nervous system. Needless to say, my upper back is constantly aching. I am metabolizing the unique stress of being a brand new doctor/medical student in hospital life. It’s a different kind of stress than the first two academic years: those were crushing content & exams, but they were ivory tower academia. This is the very real medicine that is literally birth, life and death stuff. More visceral than literal, I find myself often crying,  sometimes gagging, and occasionally elated.

The purpose of third year clerkship aka #MS3 is to get a sampling of each major specialty to help us decide on a residency. Its a generic med school formula consisting of: Pediatrics, Surgery, OB/GYN, Internal Medicine Inpatient & Outpatient, Family Medicine, Psychiatry, Community Health. Inpatient, we legally cannot write patient notes. While we can actively participate in patient care,  everything we do needs to be seconded by a licensed doc; therefore, we are mostly shadows, errand runners, and absorbent sponges.

Unfortunately, some throwbacks to fraternal physician hazing rituals are still in place even for third year medical students. For example, my Internal Medicine inpatient rotation, which is already a 6am – 6pm shift 5 days a week (with a 1 hr drive on each side) also requires 6 -24 hour shifts in the 6 weeks. I asked a friend who is a year ahead of me and attended a different hospital clerkship if her rotation was scheduled as such, and she said she had to follow hospitalist hours for that same rotation – roughly 730am – 330pm. If the point is to learn each of the specialty’s roles, it makes sense to follow the professional hours. If the goal is to teach us that Internal Medicine requires an exhausting slog of hospital life, and how to forsake all other aspects of our personal and academic life for our career, then this approach in third year makes sense. Slate Magazine said it best: Third Year Kills Humanity of Medicine.

I haven’t done the above inpatient IM rotation yet and yes, I’m actively worried about my health, my marriage, and my coping skills during that onslaught. I did one 86 hour “sneak peek” week with our Family Medicine inpatient service last Fall.  I did enjoy the steep learning curve and patient contact; however,  I often felt lost and useless as my resident dictated her many notes and ran around the hospital following up on pages and other details. I did get some good studying done and learned some basic inpatient skills but there were hours, especially after the first 8,  that I wished I had something more productive I could be doing in.

In reality, the residents are much more forgiving than the administration and often let us leave early (6am – 10/11pm) saying “there is nothing we could learn at 2am that cant be learned at 2pm.” I am eternally grateful for this ray of grace. And I do understand that night shifts and on-call hours are foundational for many physician careers and practicing them could be relevant.  But why, when 55% of Internal Medicine and Family Doctors report burnout, are we being subjected to these mind numbing hours as third years? How will medicine ever change if the hazing continues to be perpetrated generation after generation?

I accept that being a doctor requires selflessness & sacrifice. I accept that long hours are often required and I like to work – for an income, for a team, and for a good reason. I’m a second career medical student, I study and practice clinical skills because this is what I love! I accept that as a resident I will bear the brunt of hours spent watchdogging and admitting in part because we are the cheap labor force of institutionalized medicine. But, I have 1.5 years of med school left, and 3-6 years of residency/fellowship ahead. What is the purpose of having me work 86 hour weeks now,  and how is it going to benefit my relationship towards medicine?

To embed resilience in doctors, we as a profession and as an academic incubator need to provide time & space for rest, relaxation, and quietude. Only in parasympathetics can we metabolize the soul-rattling experience that comes from facing death and sickness and the burden of chronic disease in North America. Not only are we facing grief/loss/mortality, we are taking on the enormous responsibility of decision maker. A backlog of unprocessed emotion leads to substance abuse, chronic pain, sleep disorders, lack of compassion, and who knows what other organic & chemical dysregulation. We need regular daily time to cook good food, sleep with our loves, be intimate and vulnerable, Netflick and chill, get to the gym or get outside. Only in that space can we emotionally integrate this transformation.

Our clerkship Dean Dr. Taylor sent out this  reaffirming blogpost last month in which an experienced physician Dr. Youngson writes to his younger self. He says:

     “As a medical student or junior doctor, it’s easy to feel powerless especially in a hierarchical medical system that too often teaches by humiliation, punishes those who question the status quo, and grinds people down through overwork and inhuman working conditions…”

Change medical education so that we as medical students (and residents and attendings and all doctors actually) are seen as people who are more than life-saving, problem fixing, chart dictating, disease curing machines. A more gentle, humane practice of time & space for medicine while living life alongside the role of physician has to start at the beginning of the clerkship year when we integrate it’s practice with our academic foundations, or it wont be ingrained as part of the way we approach medicine.

Once I started thinking about time, resilience and integration as the cure of medical burnout, I began seeing evidence everywhere. I heard a NEJM Interview from 01/03/18 with Dr. Armstrong from Massachusettes General Hospital’s new Pathways program where residents are given time and a scientific team to investigate complex patient-based cases. The 12/26/17 issue of JAMA has an article by Jack Coulehan, MD MPH from the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics on Negative Capability and the Art of Medicine that speaks to “sustaining the physician through the ‘humdrum routine’ of professional life… [Using]… the power to recognize the ‘true poetry of life'” and of medicine. This is a reflective practice. He says:

In pursuing the steadiness and detachment required to master clinical practice, it is tempting to neglect the more difficult project of nourishing engagement and tenderness in our relationships with patients – and with ourselves.”

The future of medical education is not only about competencies met and clinical acumen. The true scholars of the next generations of physicians will be those who can achieve their best in patient care and scientific fulfillment, while also living a satisfying, integrated and joyful life.

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Evolutionary Success vs Child Free Living

As you know, I have been struggling with my biological clock: my age and stress level tick louder than ever. Weighing the cost of motherhood against my career in medicine has never been an equal balance with scales always tipped in the favor of my seemingly insatiable appetite for knowledge. And yet – I’ve been studying fertility since 2004, seeing fertility docs since 2008, and  froze my eggs in 2013. I am always scheming to figure out “when is a good enough time”. Yes, I know there “is never a good time: but as a lesbian with a choice, isnt there a “better time”? And here I am, child free, finally happily coupled, and in my third year of medical school in 2017.

I just completed 6 weeks working with newborns and doing well-baby checks to mostly women under 30 in my first pediatric rotation. I I couldn’t help thinking about the definition of evolutionary success as progeny. Many moms I worked with had 4-8 other babies. Some were on opioids, many smoked pot and tobacco or even took buspirone and SSRIs throughout their pregnancy and had sick/addicted babies. Some were very very young. But evolutionarily, each of them had already surpassed me even with my 2.5 degrees, $500k of education,  and diverse, privileged, happy life. I realized I am currently an evolutionary failure.

I am an archetype of my Generation X.  I don’t have many excuses for child-free living left, having had a bacchanalian and free-spirited 20’s and 30’s. Is it time for me to “settledown”? Who am I if I choose NOT to have a child of my own?

My primary reasoning for not spawning includes RESPONSIBILITY – towards my career/education and more importantly, to the kid. Who brings a child into the world who is guaranteed a mom who is away from home 12-18 hours a day (unavoidable in medical school -residency)? Where is the evolutionary success in that? Generationally, I do not have the same programming my parents had to marry/reproduce, and as a lesbian it didn’t happen by accident. Also, as a kid myself who had a high ACE score, I don’t want to perpetrate even a privileged neglect into another generation. So, here I am: struggling with my generational expectation to break the glass ceiling, achieve my highest ambitions, follow my dreams … and shouldering the unspoken price of doing that.

Maybe I could redefine evolutionary success. Not “survival of the species” but survival of the…planet? Conscious eco-systeming? Or maybe even the more complicated redefining of family/familial success – what if evolutionary success was a life well-lived and well-loved, and a small carbon footprint; a kinship network of peers, lovers, and lifelong friends instead? Children no longer live to serve their elder parents, and even if I had a child, I would not be promised a safe and well-cared for death. Still, at the end of the day, even though I have many cousins with beautiful babies carrying on the family line in all directions, my personal lineage of Wright-Larson will not be carried on unless I have a kid. That feels sad. That does feel like failure.

I stand with my aching feet and my scrubs and pager, knowing raising my own babies is not likely going to be the life I get to live this time around.

I have always been an outlier. I chose Naturopathic medical school in the 90s, chose the urban underbelly in the 2000s, and chose osteopathic medical school in the 20-teens.  I’m 92% reconciled that I will enjoy my child-free life and travel to Tokyo, Vatican City, Barcelona, and live in expensive, romantic urban centers. Because I consistently choose career, love and adventure over a baby and domesticity I will be able to live a certain kind of lifestyle. But that doesn’t make it easier when I come home smelling like babies from a day at work, or when I see my cousins achingly beautiful creative charming kids. There is no consolation prize for evolutionary failure. Only the small faith that I am making the right choice for the kid I would create and maybe a for this planet, and hopefully for, myself and my love.

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Balancing with Ayruvedic Medicine – from Womens Power to Heal

510fafgjdbl-_sx336_bo1204203200_I am doing an Integrative Medicine Scholars program through the AMSA and we have to do a project to explore some aspect of Integrative Health. Ayurveda is a practice of medicine I don’t know much about, so I decided to do a personal practice incorporating lifestyle, nutrition and herbal medicine principles for the month of January. My friend Cathleen Miller helped me to figure out what my Dosha is (constitutional type) and lent me this amazing book, and …. here we go! Below is an outline taken directly from this text for (my) Pitta-Vata type.

Balancing Pitta-Vata Rhythms –

  • Rise with the sun and go to bed by 10 pm – maintain steady eating and sleeping routines
  • Ease yourself out of all stressful activities and maintain only those projects that create ease – allow adequate time to complete projects
  • Take ample rest
  • East wholesome, fresh, moderately warm, moist substantial and calming foods.
  • Avoid bitter, cold, raw, hot, spicy, oily, salty, fermented or stale foods and stimulants.
  • Shield against hot, wet, humid, cold, damp, or stressful environments.
  • Embrace serenity, love, warmth, healthy rituals and calmness.

Nutrition Principles

AVOID: caffeine, refined sweets, alcohol, saturated fats, excess salt, oily and spicy foods, and commercial dairy projects, as well as highly processed junk foods, meats, additives, frozen, canned, commercially grown, bioengineered, transgenic refined salts, sugars, flours and hydrogenated oils.

CHOOSE:

VEGETABLES Broccoli Brussel sprouts cabbage Cauliflower
Artichokes Asparagus Bamboo Bitter greens Black olives
Celery Cucumber Green beans Dark greens Parsnips
Peas Potatoes Sprouts Summer squash Sweet potato
Winter squash yams Watercress Bok choy Carrots
Daikon Beets Leeks

 

FRUITS Apples Apricots Coconuts Dates
Fresh figs Oranges Pears Pomegranate Tangerines
Mango Plums Raisins Quinces Limes
pineapple Avocado Banana Grapefruit Kiwi
Lemon Peaches Tamarind Rhubarb

 

LEGUMES Aduki beans Mung beans Kidney Lima
Lentil Navy Pinto Chickpeas Tofu
Black beans

 

NUTS Coconut Roasted sunflower seeds Roasted pumpkin seeds Poppy seeds
Water chestnuts Macadamia nuts Sesame seeds Pecans Walnuts
Pine nuts Pistachios

 

DAIRY Unsalted butter Cows milk Cottage cheese Sweetened yogurt
Buttermilk Whole cows milk cheese Cream Ghee Sour cream

 

OILS Sunflower Almond Olive Coconut
Dark sesame Light sesame

 

SWEETENERS Maple syrup Dates Sucanat

 

SPICES Coriander Cumin Cardamom Cilantro
Curry leaves Dill Fresh basil Fennel Turmeric
Saffron Peppermint Spearmint Ginger Anise
Mustard seeds Sage Nutmeg Thyme Ginger
Cloves Rosemary Tarragon Oregano parsely

 

Practices

  • New moon journalling with saraswati mantra – Aim Sarasvatyai Namaha
  • Ginger compress one week before the new moon (unless bleeding)

1 gallon water

1 handful grated fresh ginger

1 lg stainless steel pot with cover

2 stainless bowls

  Bring water to a boil, and add ginger secured in a ouch with a drawstring. Squeeze the  pouch to release the ginger juice and drop into the water. Simmer 30 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before uncovering when taken off the heat. Create a compress towel and apply to lower back for 4-5 minutes or until lukewarm. For full instructions, see text p. 264.

  • Rose Oil Pichu – for headaches, hair loss, pain in the eyes, poor vision, mental fatigue and nose bleeds. Pichu: a powerful lubricating and loving therapy that helps maintain mental calm, emotional equanimity and helps balance the doshas. Best time: waxing moon phase. C/I bleeding. Best time: morning or early evening.

¼ cup dried roses

1 c sesame oil

Bring to boil over low heat and remove from heat, Add rose flower, cover and let steep 4-6 hours. Strain and use.

PICHU instructions: need pottery bowl, 12 “ clean cotton square and cotton hand towel.

  • Wash hair a few hours before
  • Release all stressful thoughts and details from the mind
  • Assemble the supplies on the floor close by
  • Soak the cloth in oil and lie down; place the cloth ear to ear. Press down on the cloth and wipe away excess oil
  • Rest quietly for 30 minutes and rise slowly, use hand towel to wipe away excess oil and maintain a peaceful attitude for the rest of the day.
  • Shakti Mudra – should be daily but 3 times per week seems doable – enhances sense of self, reinforces femininity, self esteem and restores vital energy to the womb.

Sit facing east

Bring palms together and separate slowly

Form the Shakti mudra hand position – see p. 192 text

Breathe deeply into pelvis and breathe out slowly, tracing the exhalation from the base 0f the perineum, circulating through the uterus and belly

Maintain for 15 minutes

Take a deep breath and make a commitment to a life of non-hurting

 

  • Yoni Mudra – 3 days before the new moon and full moon to revise Shakti prana.Not when bleeding.

Sit in meditative practice with palms facing up

Create the yoni mudra hand positions – see p. 155 text

Hold the hand gesture for 5 minutes

Allow breath to flow freely throughout the body, keeping the mind centered

HERBAL MEDICINE

Herbal Teas for PMS – Vata type predominant – take for 3 days of the new moon as well as the 5 days before menses

Helpful herbs: nutmeg, valerian, triphala, ashwaganda, shatavari, cinnamon, turmeric, fennel, dill and wild yam.

CINNAMON, CLOVE AND CARDAMOM DECOCTION (VATA) for PMS

2 c water

2 c organic milk

1 tbsp cloves

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp cardamom

½ tsp ginger

1 pinch saffron

 

LAVENDER FENNEL GINGER TEA DECOCTION (PITTA) for PMS

I c water

1 c organic cows milk

1 tso roasted fennel seeds

1 tbsp lavender petals

1 tbsp hops

½ tsp ginger powder

1 pinch saffron

bring water and milk to a boil. Toast the fennel seeds, then add all herbs and spices and simmer on medium for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, add saffron and stand 3-5 min before drinking.

 

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Will Power

I am two weeks into second year medical school, and the majority of our content has been NeuroAnatomy and Brain Diseases. As a physician it is pretty darn important to be able to figure out when someone is having a life threatening stroke impinging on brain tissue,  versus a flare up of a genetic disorder that is starting to show neurological signs and symptoms. Knowing the anatomy of the brainstem, and the arrangement and progression of the long tracts of nerve fibers throughout the spinal cord, medulla, pons, brainstem and beyond can create a Cartesian like diagram where one can fairly accurately isolate the nature and location of the lesion. That is, if you can remember where and how everything goes.

Brainstem_07-02_smallI never quite knew where the medulla was even located, and now I know more than I probably ever will again about the arrangement of nerves, radiations and nuclear cell bodies in its little bulbous body. This tiny part of the body has nerve fibers that do cardiorespiratory regulation, the trigeminal cranial nerve nucleus, tracts, and radiations for face sensation, ascending dorsal column and spinothalamic sensory tracts for the entire body, descending corticospinal and pyramidal motor tracts for the entire body, and some complicated cranial nerve regulating nucleii that coordinate the eyes and hearing. As you go up fun things show up like the olives, and the solitary nucleus and nucleus ambiguous (both associated with the vagus nerve.) And, the tongue. Problems with the tongue can be from a medullary lesion including slurred speech and not being able to stick your tongue out at someone very effectively, because it points wiggly off to the side the damage has occurred. There is probably more things in this tiny medulla oblongata, but I cant remember them right now.

Starting back into school is also an exercise in letting go. I am fairly certain this is a cerebral condition, and not a brainstem function.  Letting go of free time, of relaxation, of life without an alarm clock. It takes a lot of will power to focus for so many hours at a time. I personally also find myself needing to cut back on alcohol, Netflicks and social time with the advent of academics.  I have been having a lot of conversations about this topic of will power lately, as in, do I have enough, or am I lacking? I have such restricted foods from all of my food sensitivities that I feel like I have pretty good will power overall but maybe, just maybe I could work on a higher level control of some of my more primitive impulses (stay tuned for amydala updates next week.)

untitledBack to the topic of stroke. And willpower. Smoking is a huge risk for stroke, especially intraparenchymal stroke. 45% of people die within the first 30 days of having a stroke. Why? Because the brain is special. And when you put pressure on it, by adding more fluid (blood) into a closed small area (the skull, or calverium as I love calling it) then, the brain tissue simply LIQIUIFIES in an effort to make more room. Disgusting right?! When your brain liquefies, you get signs and symptoms associated with damage in that place – if you hit a small area and just nerves and radiations of nerves, your body can often recover loss of sensation or muscular weakness on one side of your body. When you hit a nerve nucleus, like the facial nerve cell body nuclei, you probably wont recover those functions because the cells themselves are dead.

Apparently I still need to learn more about strokes, especially the ones that can kill you. What I do know, is high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking are huge risk factors for stroke, and those are all related to will power. So, you do have a choice, like I do, about how to live on a day to day basis. I am choosing to decrease my daily alcohol content to improve my studying. What will your choice be?

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