Thursday, January 22, 2009

What You Can Do About Enlarged Pores

Once an unsightly blackhead has been removed and a pore is empty, it can take a while for the pore left behind to close up. You can, of course, accelerate the healing of enlarged pores with Renova, Retin-A, or Differin. You can have AHA peels, BHA peels, microdermabrasion, and laser resurfacing of the skin. But what can you do on a budget? Here are some simple suggestions.

Avoid putting moisturizer on open pores. Don't use moisturizer on open pores even if you have dry skin. If you wear makeup, anything that makes skin more "slippery" will cause makeup to fill in pores, causing unsightly accumulations of pigment and possibly starting a new cycle of acne.

If you must use moisturizer, use it in the evening. And if you use both foundation and sunscreen, you will need to get your foundation in your sunscreen. That's because the extra layer on the pore will almost surely cause makeup to "slip" and accumulate.

If you use foundation, use matte or ultra-matte. Matte and ultra-matte foundations keep oil from reaching makeup that would then "slide" into pores.

Think about dabbing just a tiny amount of milk of magnesia onto the pore (under your foundation). A guy's way of explaining this is, milk of magnesia is like spackle. It makes an even surface. Matte creates a more even surface than ultra-matte.

And if you have a really slow-to-heal open pore, blot your face several times during the day, and dust. Powder, particularly pressed powder, can hide a pour. Just be sure to do this with a brush, never a pad or sponge. Pads and sponge can cause powder to cake and look thick on the face.

Answers to Reader Questions

Since I wrote this post in 2009, I have received several inquiries about individual products for enlarged pores. I've communicated back and forth about what works. There seems to be a consensus that face primers like Smashbox’s Photo Finish Foundation Prime, which wasn't as widely available in 2009, is a good way to cover up enlarged pores. A product called Anthony for Men also gets good reviews. I don't sell either one. I'm just passing on what my readers have passed on to me.

I've heard from one reader who got a prescription for Accutane for enlarged pores and wasn't happy with the results. He says that he got itchy, flaky skin replacing enlarged pores. I've also corresponded with a reader who swears by treatments with the Isolaz machine, which sucks debris out of enlarged pores and shines light into the pore to "dry up" the sebaceous gland. But at $200 to $400 a treatment, that's really not a budget treatment!

Thanks for your comments over the past two years. I'll continue to listen.

The Dengue Alert - What Travelers Need to Know

With the announcement of three deaths from dengue fever in Bolivia, travelers to Latin America should take sensible precautions. Dengue fever is occasionally epidemic throughout most tropical South American countries, and can affect large numbers of people.

Dengue has some very specific symptoms:

  • A "saddleback" rash. It begins on the torso and spreads to the arms, legs, and face three to four days after the beginning of fever.
  • Joint pain so severe the condition has earned the name "break bone fever," although it does not actually break bones.
  • Severe headache, nausea, vomiting, sudden, high fever.
  • And in small number of cases, hemorrhagic shock, a medical emergency.

As I note in my book Healing without Medication, Medical science has no cure or treatment for dengue fever. Unless shock occurs, doctors can only offer pain relievers, usually acetaminophen (Tylenol), and recommend lots of fluid. A traditional Latin American herbal remedy for dengue, however, is sometimes helpful.

Scientists at the Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City have found that extracts of the Mexican goat’s rue plants Tephrosia madrensis, Tephrosia viridiflora, and Tephrosia crassifolia slow the multiplication of the dengue virus, at least under laboratory conditions. Mexican curanderos treat dengue with a goat’s rue tea.

Goat’s rue herb increases perspiration. Be sure to drink 8–10 glasses of water a day when taking this herb. It also can stimulate milk production in women. Do not rely on goat’s rue for treatment of hemorrhagic shock.

The best approach to dengue fever is prevention. When traveling in the tropics, be sure to apply insect repellant when traveling through urban areas where water is allowed to stand—even cup-sized pools of water are enough for infection-bearing mosquitoes to multiply. The species of mosquito that carries dengue prefers to bite during the day, and frequents shaded or cool areas. Dengue is most common at elevations below 4,500 feet (1,500 meters).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Do Pore Strips Work?

Among the most heavily promoted products for acne care is the pore strip. A pore strip is a piece of cloth with some kind of sticky glue on it. You put them on your face, wait a few minutes for them to dry, and then pull them off, hoping you also pull off a blackhead. But do pore strips really work?

Many people are favorably impressed the first time they use pore strips. The hairspray-like ingredient on the back of the strip latches on to the black, oxidized top layer of sebum that clogs the pore and makes the blackhead black. The problem is, pore strips make skin look better without solving the literally underlying problem.

Even worse, most brands of pore strips warn that if they get stuck on, you should wet them to loosen. Stuck on? Doesn't that mean that they could pull up healthy skin? Unfortunately, it does.

It is tempting to use pore strips wherever you have a skin breakout. That's especially true if you have invested hundreds or even thousands of dollars in acne treatment with Accutane, Retin-A, Renova, Differin, AHAs, BHAs, or facial peels. But the simple fact is, pore strips are too dangerous to use on skin that has been treated with any prescription acne drug, with AHAs, with BHAs, or with peels. You also risk serious and disfiguring skin damage if you use pore strips on skin affects with eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, or seborrhea, or if you have naturally thin skin.

Removing Blemishes

It's not a pretty topic, but there are simple ways to zap zits, to get rid of the blemishes that plague otherwise healthy skin. Here are the basics you need to know.

Just about everybody has squeezed a blackhead. It's not an aesthetically pleasing experience, but moving the stuffing of a pimple or blackhead actually does lower the pressure on the pore and minimize further damage. Squeezing is not a problem if you don't damage your skin by squeezing incorrectly.

How do you squeeze a blackhead or pimple the right way?

First of all, don't squeeze too hard. You do not want to pinch the skin, scrape it with your fingernails, or bruise it. If you leave marks on your skin, you are squeezing so hard that you are doing more harm than good.

Squeeze gently. The lightest pressure is best. Even if you cannot see that you moved the "stuff" in the blackhead or the pimple, just relieving pressure on the pore will help. You may have to wait several days to see the results.

Steaming the face is not a great idea, either. Hot water can enter skin cells and cook them. You may get rid of the oils blocking your pores, but you can get rid of the whole pore in the process (not a pretty sight).

Instead, wash gently. Wash your entire face with a gentle cleanser, one that does not make your skin tingle, itch, or burn, and pat your face dry.

Put a slightly warm (just warm enough to feel warm, definitely not hot) damp cloth over your face. Leave it on for 15 minutes. Once again, pat your face dry with a clean towel (the cleanliness of your towels being essential to your skin health), and repeat.

Using a tissue over the tip of your finger to make sure you do not break the skin, apply gentle pressure all the way around, not on, the blackhead or pimple until the blocked and oxidized oils begin to move.

It is not necessary to try to do surgery. If you cannot remove a blemish the second time you apply gentle pressure, assume it cannot be removed. Don't try to remove blackheads and pimples more than once a week. The healing of your skin from the inside out has to do most of the work.

Every time you remove blemishes, finish with a treatment with 2.5 per cent benzoyl peroxide, or if irritation, redness, or itching is a problem, a milk of magnesia mask. Applying milk of magnesia directly to the face and allowing it to dry, then washing off 15 minutes later, will relieve irritation and nourish the skin with inexpensive but effective antioxidants.

Healing Masks for Blemishes

Facial masks generally are not a good idea for daily skin care. While a clay or silicone or vegetable mask can feel good, most masks can irritate the skin. Sometimes, however, a facial mask is just the thing to heal blemishes. And the good news is, you can make them for just pennies.

In the old days, mothers and grandmothers treated their offspring's' blemishes with masks made from sulfur and mud. There's no doubt that sulfur, yellow and stinky as it is, disinfects acne-prone skin. The problem is, various reactions between sulfur and water and mud can create a very mild solution of sulfuric acid. The acid also disinfects the skin, but it takes more than just dead skin cells and sebum along with it when you peel off the mask.

And even if you make mask that does not irritate your skin, masks just are not the best choice for treating blemishes. Acne has be treated once or twice every day. Very few of us have time for two facials a day, and not too commercial masks never irritate the skin.

Another old favorite, however, is completely safe for the skin. Milk of magnesia makes a mask that actually heals blemishes. It's alkaline, rather than acidic, and the magnesium provides acts as a potent antioxidant directly in the pores of the skin. Milk of magnesia is anti-inflammatory, and, gram for gram, absorbs far more sebum than any clay.

Clay is OK. Just remember that there are cheaper alternatives, and be sure that any mask you use for blemishes does not irritate your skin. Remember, if a product causes your skin to break out, it's not your fault. Don't hesitate to ask for refunds for products that do not work. Your returning the product gives the manufacturer valuable information that can be used to make future products better.

Skin Care - How Do You Use AHAs and BHAs?

Many people use products with AHAs (also known as alpha-hydroxy acids, primarily for dryer skin) and BHAs (also known as beta-hydroxy acids, primarily for oilier skin) every day. But in our cost-conscious times, it is really important to know how to use expensive skin care formulas effectively. Here are the basics for using AHAs and BHAs for best results.

First of all, make sure your skin care issues do not become your eye care issues. You can apply either AHAs or BHAs around your eyes, but never on the eyelid or the eye itself.

Do not apply AHAs or BHAs to dirty skin. Use them after you have washed the skin, and, if you are using one, your toner has dried. Apply AHAs and BHAs before you use sunscreeen, foundation, moisturizer, or eye cream.

Get your AHAs and BHAs in a liquid or a gel, not with your moisturizer. You don't need moisturizer every day. There will be times you need to exfoliate but not to moisturize. Save money by getting the products separately.

Never buy cleansers that contain AHAs or BHAs. Water-soluble cleansers are too easy to get in your eyes, where AHAs, in particular, but also BHAs can cause inflammation and worse. Additionally, AHAs and BHAs have to be absorbed into the skin to begin their work. If you get them in a cleanser, you may wash them away before they do your skin any good. And you should never leave a cleanser on your face to let it soak in.

Finally, more is not better. If you have one good exfoliant, that's enough. Concentrated AHAs and BHAs do not work any better than 8 to 12 per cent solutions, and you need either AHAs, or BHAs, or maybe PHAs (polyhydroxic acids), but not some mixture of all three.

Polyhydroxy Acids for Skin Care - What They Are, Who Should Use Them

Millions of women (and men) who use skin conditioners have tried alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) to lift off the tired, dry, flaking layers of sun-damaged or winter-weary skin, but many people find them too harsh. AHAs, such as citric acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, and tartaric acids, have to irritate the skin just a little to lift away old cells. For people who find even that little bit of irritation too much, there are polyhydroxy acids (PHAs). Here's an explanation of what they are and who should use them.

The PHAs are really AHAs that do not penetrate quite as deeply into the skin. Gluconolactone and lactobionic acid are two acids that lift tired, dead skin, but because their molecules are larger than the AHAs, they do not penetrate as deeply. Acids that do not go as deep into the skin are less likely to cause side effects, because they work on less skin.

So, are PHAs really better for your skin that AHAs? That depends on your skin type.

Most people won't notice any difference between exfoliants and skin toners formulated with PHAs and exfoliants and skin toners formulated with older, more familiar AHAs. Dr. Mark Rubin, who is both a professor of dermatology at the University of California at San Diego and a practicing clinical dermatologist, published a lecture stating that PHAs penetrate the skin only about 6 per cent less than AHAs.

Dr. Rubin says his research found that gluconolactone is less irritating than the AHA ingredients, but just a little. He did not study lactobionic acid.

Still, that 6 per cent reduction in the penetrating power of the exfoliant may be just what you need if you have mild irritation from your current product. Just be sure that you never purchase any product that contains other irritating ingredients, such as alcohol, camphor, citrus, menthol, mint, or citrus of any kind, and be sure to avoid getting any skin care product in your eyes.

Exfoliating Oily Skin

Exfoliation is essential for healthy skin. This process of removing the outer layer of damaged skin is necessary for every skin type, but different skin types benefit from different skin products. Here's the 4-1-1 for exfoliating oily skin.

Oily skin typically has clogged pores. The sebum in clogged pores can oxidize when it is exposed to the air to from blackheads and blemishes.

Ordinarily, sebum is a naturally soft wax that is released from pores to form an invisible thin barrier of protection across the skin. But when skin is oily, it produces too much sebum, so there is a tendency for the sebum that normally would just slough off to clog up pores. In oily skin, pores that should be releasing sebum every day instead trap it inside.

Cosmetics makers would have you believe that if a little is good, a lot is better. But the fact is, overwashing is the enemy of oily skin. There are masks, toners, peels, sponges, brushes, and washcloths all designed to exfoliate oily skin. But remember:

  • Washcloths and brushes do a good job of exfoliating oily skin, but they are almost impossible to keep clean.

  • Abrasive loofah sponges are just too irritating to use from the neck up.

  • Scrubs contain abrasive fragments. Scrub too vigorously and you will break the skin.

  • Masks are great for exfoliating, but you need to exfoliate every day, and a mask is something you should use just occasionally. Masks contain other clays or silicones or vegetable juices that lift dead skin cells, but they usually contain chemicals that irritate the skin.

  • Alcohol, eucalyptus, mint, peppermint, and wintergreen feel tingly when you put them on, but can cause burning and itching later.

  • And, finally, use exfoliating products that contain BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids) rather than AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids). BHAs are soluble in oil, while AHAs are soluble in water. BHAs can dissolve the oil that clogs pores. AHAs just wash off oily skin. People with oily skin should exfoliate with BHAs like salicylic acid ratter than AHAs like citric, glycolic, lactic, malic, or tartaric acids.

    What Makes a Great Moisturizer?

    In these days of budget consciousness, are there any ways of making sure the moisturizers you buy for your skin care routine are the very best for the money you pay? There are, and although I don't sell any skin care products myself, here are some suggestions for making sure the moisturizer you buy is the best for your skin.

    Any cosmetics chemist can tell you that there are at least 50,000 possible ingredients to put in moisturizers. Estee Lauder alone sells 300 different anti-aging skin care products. The first thing to know about any great moisturizer is:

    If the manufacturer of the moisturizer tells you that one single ingredient works for anybody's dry skin all the time, beware.

    It's true that alpha-lipoic acid, beta-hydroxy acids, grapeseed extract, green tea, beta glucans, mushroom extracts, and kelp all help moisturize dry, itchy, flaking, sun-exposed or winter-weary skin. But there is no single ingredient that is the absolute best for every moisturizer all the time.

    So how do you know what makes a great moisturizer?

    Great moisturizers bind water to the skin. They contain water-binding agents, known in the industry as natural moisturizing factors or NMFs. These are the ingredients that repair the intercellular matrix, that is, the scaffolding or connective collagen of the skin, and retain water in the skin as a whole.

    What are some NMFs? Look for lecithin, cholesterol (yes, it's good when it goes on you), collagen, elastin, glucose, sucrose, fructose (once again, we are talking about topical application), phospholipids, glycogen, glycosaminoglycans, glycosphingolipids, polysaccharides, and hyalouronic acid, just to list a few. Every great moisturizer has a great NMF.

    But an NMF is not the same as a humectant. The purpose of a humectant is to draw water to the skin, not so much to keep it there. Skin cells that are not damaged don't need humectants, but skin cells that have been dried out by sun, heating, or air conditioning need that extra boost. But a humectant without an NMF is meaningless. It's not enough just to draw water to the skin, you have to keep it there.

    Another component of a great moisturizer is antioxidants. Often viewed as a panacea for skin problems, antioxidants not only help the skin avoid and repair sun damage, they keep skin cells in literally good shape, plump and round and well hydrated. Just a few of the skin cares that are showing in skin care nowadays are vitamin A (which may be labeled as retinol or retinyl palmitate), vitamin C (usually in the more readily absorbed form ascorbyl palmitate), vitamin E (not just alpha-tocopherol but also other tocopherols and tocotrienols), coenzyme Q10, curcumin, alpha-lipoic acid, rosemary bioflavonoids, and various green tea extracts.

    The third component of a great moisturizer is an anti-irritant. As a general rule, any skin care products that makes your skin feel all tingly is irritant, not anti-irritant. Look for ingredients that help the skin heal--and that you don't feel when you apply them. Some possibilities are aloe, allantoin, burdock root, bisabolol, grape extract, glycyrrhetinic acid (licorice), chamomile (although be careful if you have hay fever), white willow, and willow bark.

    And, finally, every great moisturizer contains a great lubricant, or emollient. The lubricant that's most like the sebum in human skin is lanolin. Other emollients include olive oil and other plant oils, shea butter, cocoa butter, petrolatum, emu oil, mink oil, and cholesterol.

    Emollients may be labeled as stearates, myristates, palmitates, and triglycerides. They possess a waxy texture but given the finished product a silky feel. Silicones are also used as emollients and to "waterproof" the skin, but you get the most skin protection from a combination of silicones and a plant oil or lanolin.

    There are literally millions of potential combinations of these ingredients. Just like there is no one best chocolate truffle, there is no one best moisturizer. Just make sure your moisturizer contains an NMF, an antioxidant, an anti-inflammatory, and an emollient, and don't hesitate to return any product that does not work for you.

    Do You Need a Moisturizer?

    Some marketers would tell us that everyone, women and men, old and young and in between, people in desert dry climates and people in rainy snowy climates, needs a skin moisturizer all year round. Many of us really do need moisturizers, but not all the time. Here's how to choose.

    Dry skin is a condition that is as simple as it sounds. Dry skin is caused by an absence of moisture in the very outermost layers of the skin. Typically drying of the skin is combined with a failure of the skin's intercellular matrix to make the sebum that keeps skin lubricated.

    Sebum, in the right amounts and moving through pores freely, acts something like a raincoat. This healthy natural skin oil keeps irritants and water out and natural fluids in.

    Why would you want to keep water out of your skin? The problem is temperature. Your skin, like the rest of your body, operates best at its internal temperature of about 98.6 degrees F. Cells that are too hot or too cold operate poorly or quickly die. That's why letting hot water or cold water into the intercellular matrix of natural fluids between skin cells damages the skin.

    How can you tell if you need to moisturize?

    If you use a gentle skin cleaner, and you do not use any other inflammatory or irritating skin care products, and your skin feels dry several minutes after you wash, you should use a moisturizer. If you use any kind of skin care product that makes your skin tingle or burn, then the problem is that skin care product, not the absence of moisturizer. Stop using products that make your skin itch, redden, tingle, or burn before you begin to moisturize.

    Also, if you skin feels dry, tight, or uncomfortable from low humidity by noon, or at the end of the day, you need to make use of a moisturizer. It will improve fine lines, especially around the eyes. The thing to remember is, when it comes to moisturizers, lighter is better. You want gentle hydration of your skin, not globs of cream dripping oil.

    Should you use a product with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs)? These natural healing ingredients gently lift the outer layers of dead skin as the lower levels are stimulated and hydrated. What you want to avoid is stimulating the lower, basal layer of the skin too much. Don't use alpha-hydroxy acids if you have a problem with red, itchy, or especially, psoriatic skin.

    And it's also important to consider that several chronic skin conditions cause dry skin but are not brought under control just by moisturizing: eczema, actinic keratosis (pre-cancers of the skin caused by sun exposure), and skin cancer demand medical attention. And flaking skin after sunburn heals faster with the help of moisturizer plus AHAs.

    Tuesday, January 20, 2009

    Allergies to Skin Care Products - What You Can Do

    Wouldn't it be nice to have a complete list of every ingredient in every skin care product that could cause an allergic reaction? That way you could go down the list and be sure that your skin care product was safe. Unfortunately, each and every human being has a unique immune system that keeps changing through life, and each and every person will react just a little differently to allergens that wind up in skin care items. Fortunately, there are things you can do to make allergies a far less frequent event.

    The way to tell that a skin reaction is an allergic reaction is experience. If you get a skin reaction, and you get it after using a skin care product, then it's possible it's an allergy. Just because you have used a product for years without any bad reactions does not mean it is not causing allergies now.

    If you get an adverse reaction twice, take a quick look at the list of ingredients on the label. See if there are any fragrances, like wintergreen, lemon, citrus, ylang-ylang, or cardamom. If you use nail polish, check the label to see whether the product contains any natural resins.

    See if there are any natural ingredients you know you are allergic, too. See if anything on the ingredients list rings a bell, if it is something that is also in another product that has caused you to break out.

    Then stop using the product. Consult your doctor if the allergic reaction is systemic. Get someone to take you to an emergency room if you have trouble breathing. And when the allergy subsides, go back to your skin care basics.

    Wait until the allergy subsides before you put anything on your skin. Then use just a cleanser for several days. Add a tiny touch of moisturizer if the skin is dry. Stay out of the sun. And consider a bit of over-the-counter cortisone cream to reduce irritation.

    Then switch to a different product.

    Remember, an allergic reaction is not your fault. Do not hesitate to return any product that you are allergic to. Returning the product gives the cosmetics manufacturer essential information they need to make better products in the future.

    Fragrances in Skin Care Products - Are They Safe?

    Cosmetics manufacturers do not always tell you the whole story about the ingredients they put into their products and how they affect your skin. If you have ever had your skin "go crazy" after using a skin care product, if it has tingled, burned, swollen, blistered, reddened, bruised, or just plain felt bad, the product may have been the fragrance you thought just smelled good.

    The European Commission has a committee on cosmetics and non-food products. Over nine years ago the European watchdog agency warned that the most common cause of contact dermatitis in Europe was fragrances. More than soaps, more than detergents, more than nickel, more than latex, the chemicals dumped into skin care and personal care products to make them smell good damage healthy skin.

    And in the United States, a Dr. Pamela Scheinmann told the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology that "hypoallergenic (is) nothing more than a meaningless marketing slogan" in the USA. That's because even a product that otherwise offers a positive benefit to the skin goes bad when its formulated to contain an irritating, inflammatory, allergy-provoking scent.

    Which scents are dangerous to the skin? If you see cardamom, cinnamon, lemon oil, ylang-ylang, or wintergreen, watch out. These are the most common offenders. But almost any citrusy, lemony, or minty fresh scent, especially if it makes your skin feel all tingly, can cause more harm than the rest of the product does good.

    Aromatherapy is great for your emotions. And rose oil can actually relax and revitalize your skin. The next time you admire any other fragrance in your skin care regimen, think twice. A pleasant aroma is great for your nose, but it's likely to be hard on your skin. And even if the source is natural essential oils, the effect on your skin's well being is likely to be the same.

    Anti-Inflammatories and Anti-Irritants for Your Skin

    It's important to avoid irritants and inflammatory chemicals in your skin care products, and to avoid extremes of hot and cold to protect your skin from wrinkling and the appearance of tiny veins, but there are also some things you can do stop inflammation and irritation from ever becoming a problem in the first place. Here is a quick overview of key ingredients to look for to keep your skin in glowing good health.

    Free radicals damage healthy skin. Most antioxidants nourish the skin and perform as anti-irritants. Alpha-lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10, and vitamin C are among the key antioxidant nutrients for healthy skin. You can get a broader range of free radical fighters from products containing allantoin, bisabolol, borage, chamomile, dogwood, comfrey, fireweed, gingko, black tea, green tea, grape seed extract, licorice, and rose hip seed oil.

    Also, in protecting your skin from the effects of hot water, "organic" ingredients tend to be more protective than synthetic. About 80 per cent of hand creams contain variations of silicone. There's no doubt that silicone protects against what was once called "dishpan hands." A team of research dermatologists at the Rigshospitalet Research Center in Denmark found that hands protected by silicone suffered 20 per cent less damage from hot water.

    When the researchers tested a combination of shea butter and silicone, however, the combination blocked over 75 per cent of hot water damage. Silicone works. Silicone plus an organic ingredient works even better.

    Everyone has sensitive skin. The skin can flake, wrinkle, chafe, burn, or crack. it can itch, redden, blotch, and break out, even under the best conditions. Give your skin a healing boost by choosing skin care products with these active anti-inflammatory ingredients.

    Heat Is the Enemy of Your Skin

    People can spend fortunes on skin care products while overlooking the number one cause of skin irritation, heat. But the good news is, this source of skin damage is almost completely avoidable.

    Especially in the dead of winter, heat feels good. We all know the skin feels great when we get out of a hot shower, or a sauna, or a Jacuzzi. The problem is, hot water burns skin and cold water shocks it. Either hot or cold can leave skin itchy, irritated, and dry.

    Dry heat is obviously dehydrating. Whether it's the dehydrating heat of a summer afternoon in the desert, or just a blast of hot air from the furnace, dry heat pulls water straight away from the skin. No matter what you skin type, dry heat is bad for skin health.

    Wet heat is a little more deceptive. After soaking, skin cells become engorged with water. If your fingers are all swollen and wrinkly, water has found its way inside. If that water is hot, it can burn the skin, even though you don't have a burning sensation.

    How hot is too hot? Generally speaking, if water is hot to the touch, it's too hot for the skin. Unfortunately, if water feels good, it's bad for your skin's health. Either temperature extreme twists and distorts skin cells, pulls moisture out of the healthy layers, and causes capillaries to find their way to the surface.

    To keep your skin healthy, always wash with tepid water. Never soak too long. And be careful you do not remove protective calluses from injured skin. Let your skin heal on its own for quickest recovery for injury.

    How to Be Gentle to Your Skin

    I've written several articles telling people that the prime directive for successful acne treatment can be summed up in two words, "Wash less." Constant rubbing and drying of the skin not only does not cure acne, it can dry out the skin, shrink pores, and trap sebum inside. But everybody does need to wash every day, and when we do, we need to be gentle. Here's how to avoid the skincare culprits that irritate and inflame as they cleanse the skin.

    There are certain kinds of products that simply always irritate skin. Don't use them! The list includes:

  • Abrasive soaps, such as Lava

  • Astringents and toners that "tingle"

  • Icy-cold water

  • Steamy hot water

  • Loofahs

  • Steam treatments

  • Bar soaps and cleansers

  • And even when the product itself is gentle to the skin, certain ingredients are always a no-no. Look on the label and avoid any product that includes:

    • Ammonia
    • Arnica
    • Balsam tolu
    • Bentonite
    • Camphor
    • Cinnamon
    • Citrus
    • Clove
    • Eucalpytus
    • Eugenol
    • Fennel
    • Fire
    • Geranium
    • Grapefruit
    • Lemongrass
    • Linalool
    • Menthol
    • Orange
    • Papaya
    • Peppermint
    • Sandalwood
    • Sodium C14-16 olefin sulfate
    • Sodium laureth sulfate
    • Sodium lauryl sulfate
    • Thyme
    • Wintergreen
    • Witch hazel
    • Ylang-ylang

    You'd be amazed how often these irritating ingredients show up in "gentle" skin cleansers. Sometimes their inclusion is intention. "Anti-itch" ingredients like alcohol, camphor, menthol, mint, and phenol are included because they sting and burn. The idea is, if it burns, it doesn't itch. And that's right. You just don't want it on your face.

    So here's how to know the product you are getting is gentle for your skin:

    If it burns, stings, or even tingles, it's doing more than just cleansing your skin. If it irritates your skin, don't use it twice.

    Like every useful rule, there is an exception. Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) tingle when the begin to work. That's also true of Retin-A, Renova, Differin, and azelaic acid. But cut back if there is more than just a little tingling, and stop altogether if there is redness or worsening inflammation after repeated use.

    And if you want to be really, really gentle with your skin, consider homeopathy for acne.

    Ayurvedic Skin Care

    Does the venerable Indian practice of alternative healing known as Ayurveda offer breakthrough discoveries for the health of your skin?

    While Ayurveda is not the panacea some marketers would have you believe, there is a growing scientific understanding of how its products work.

    In the ancient theory of Ayurveda, the body was seen as composed of three mental doshas, three body doshas, seven dhatus, and malas. The vata, or nervous system, and pitta, or enzymes, and kapha, or mucus must be in balance for the body to achieve health. The satogun, or godly attributes, and rajas, or kingly attributes, and tamas, or evil attributes, must be in harmony for the mind to achieve health.

    That's not the sort of thing you can test with science.

    What you can put to a scientific test is the way the herbs used to balance vata, pitta, and kapha work with the body as it is understood in Western research. In October of 2008 the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine published clinical studies of Ayurvedic oils and their ability to regulate emotions and the immune system. It published an article of how essence of lavender in sesame oil could raise the temperature of and stimulate circulation in the skin. And there are beginning to be American university studies of Ayurvedic preparations for acne and wrinkles.

    It's important to note that Aveda, the brand of cosmetics, is not the same as Ayurveda. The founder of Aveda is himself a devotee of Ayurveda, meditation, and yoga (and sometimes gives his business partners secret mantras to stimulate their health), but not every product by Aveda is Ayurvedic.

    If the ingredient is "sodium lauryl sulfate derived from virgin natural coconut oil," for example, it is true that the ingredient began as virgin natural coconut oil. The lauric acid was extracted, then boiled in sulfuric acid, and neutralized with ethanolamine. It began as a wholesome, natural, organic Ayurvedic healing plant product. But by the time you buy it, organic is the last word you would use to describe it.

    So, if it's Ayurveda, is it good for you? The principles of Ayurvedic healing have been around for 5,000 years. They wouldn't last that long if they did not ever work. Just be sure the product you buy is really natural and really based on Ayurveda.

    Monday, January 12, 2009

    Five Dangerous Myths About Antibiotics

    After the anthrax attacks of 2001, thousands of Americans took the antibiotic Cipro (ciprofloxacin) prophylactically in fear that they had been exposed to the deadly anthrax bacterium.

    Unfortunately, while fewer than one in 5,000 had actually been exposed to the disease, about one in five users of the antibiotic suffered serious side effects, including hives, swelling of the throat, and difficulty breathing.

    Even though many people think that antibiotics are harmless, these potent infection fighters actually can endanger your health and the health of your family if they are not used properly. Here are the top five myths about antibiotics and why not having the facts can cause you harm.

    Myth number 1: It's a good idea to stock up on antibiotics in case there is a shortage when you get sick.

    The number one fear of survivals is an outbreak of bird flu. Although there undoubtedly would be uses for antibiotics during a bird flu epidemic, antibiotics would do nothing to treat that particular viral infection. Moreover, storing antibiotics past their expiration date causes unpredictable variations in their potency. An antibiotic like Cipro you have had sitting on a shelf at room temperature for 2 or 3 years may be less potent or so much more potent that it costs deadly drug interactions. Antibiotics that are used after their expiration date may even cause kidney or liver damage.

    Myth number 2. Antibiotics will help you get over colds or flu.

    The only microorganisms antibiotics kill are bacteria (and not every antibiotic is effective against every strain of bacteria). Colds and flu are caused by viruses that are unaffected by antibiotics. Doctors used to accede to patient requests and prescribe antibiotics anyway, but nowadays the problem of antibiotic resistance is so great most doctors will refuse to prescribe them when patients present viral symptoms.

    Myth number 3. Antibiotic resistance is itself a myth.

    Unfortunately, the ability of bacteria to gain resistance to antibiotics is very real. Especially when someone takes just part of their prescribed pills, a few bacteria will survive treatment. These virulent bacteria can then exchange their genetic material with weaker bacteria, creating a superstrain that no antibiotic can handle. That's what has happened with MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, the devastating skin disease that can be spread in locker rooms, hot tubs, hospitals, and jails.

    Myth number 4. It's OK to take antibiotics even if you aren't really sick.

    Any time you take any drug you risk side effects. If you are taking an antibiotic prescribed for someone else that's been on the shelf for an extended period of time, you are risking serious side effects. And if you try to use antibiotics when are not infected with disease-causing bacteria, you (1) kill the symbiotic bacteria that digest fiber and manufacture B vitamins and vitamin K in your colon and (2) potentially create a strain of bacteria that previously was benign.

    Myth number 5. It's OK to stop antibiotics as soon as you feel better.

    If you stop taking antibiotics before you have finished your prescription, you may feel OK for the short term but risk a much more serious infection in the long term. If you take just enough antibiotic to kill 99 per cent of your infection, you will likely have a 99 per cent reduction in symptoms. The problem is, that last 1 per cent of bacteria will have survived the first few days of treatment, and can pass on its offspring so that they too can survive the first few days of treatment. Next time, you or someone you infect will not get relief as quickly from antibiotic therapy, and maybe not at all.

    It is not easy for scientists to create newer, stronger antibiotics. Only by using antibiotics carefully and completely can we keep them effective against new infections in the future.

    The Simple Steps to Preventing Side Effects of Common Prescriptions

    In 2009, side effects of prescription medications will account for an estimated 115 million doctor visits. These side effects will result in 8.5 million hospitalizations. As one of the leading causes of death, side effects from improperly prescribed prescription drugs will result in loss of life of over 100,000 people in the United States alone. And most of these deaths will have been preventable.

    Side effects of prescription medications are almost always related to dosing. The larger the dose, the greater the risk of side effects. So it would seem to be a simple matter to reduce the risk of complications. Just lower the dosage!

    But the problem is that most doctors do what they were taught to do in medical school, prescribing whatever dose is listed in the Physicians' Desk Reference (PDR), with a bias toward prescribing more drugs, not less. It's a rare doctor indeed who makes a serious effort to limit the amount of medication given to patients to manage their conditions. The problem doctors face is, the minimum effective dose for one patient may not be nearly enough for another.

    The recommended dose of the anti-ulcer drug Prilosec (omeprazole), for instance, is 20 milligrams per day. This dosage can cause constipation, diarrhea, headaches, joint pain, and nausea. But clinical research has shown that 10 milligrams a day works for many people, and some seniors do well with just 5.

    Prozac (fluoxetine) is prescribe for depression in a usually dosage of 20 milligrams per day. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine, however, found that a dose of 2.5 to 5 milligrams a day--one-fourth as much or less--often works better. The higher dose can cause a condition known as serotonin syndrome, when the brain kicks into overdrive in a kind of mild mania. The anxiety, attention deficit, mood swings, and headaches caused by a 20 milligram dose may not occur on 2.5 to 5.

    The ACE inhibitor lisinopril is a relatively inexpensive generic drug for high blood pressure. The problem with all the ACE inhibitors for blood pressure (you can recognize their names by the ending -il) is that they can cause constant cough and dizziness.

    The PDR recommends doctors start their patients on enalapril (Vasotec) in a dosage of 5 milligrams a day. The Joint National Committee on the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood pressure, however, suggests starting at 2.5 milligrams per day. And the difference in dosages is even more extreme in the case of Zocor (simvastatin) for high cholesterol. The starting dosage of Zocor is usually 10 milligrams a day, and some people taking it develop muscle pain and memory problems. What your doctor may not tell you is, many users of the drug achieve adequate cholesterol reduction with as little 2.5 milligrams a day.

    So what do you do to make sure you don't become a statistic of prescription drug overdosing?

    Encourage your doctor to start you with a low dose. Ask you doctor if he or she cannot prescribe the least effect dosage.

    Try intermediate dosages. If the low dose doesn't work, don't go immediately to the highest dose. Ask your physician to prescribe an intermediate dose. This may require you or your pharmacist to use a pill splitter, but it may prevent side effects and save you money.

    Ask you doctor about maintenance doses for diabetes and blood pressure. Sometimes as you get control over your health through other means, you can manage blood sugars and blood pressure with less medication. Just be sure you are making any changes in medication with your doctors, not independently of them.

    And, if you have to take a higher dose, see if it can't be divided so you take a smaller dose 2 or 3 times a day. A single dose of a pill is convenient, but it may not be best for your health. Ask your doctor about dividing a pill into two or three doses a day.

    The Hidden Dangers of Gum Disease

    Bad breath, cavities, and loose teeth. These are the consequences of gum disease everyone knows. But did you know that gum disease can also pose a danger to your heart and even cause pneumonia?

    The culprit in gum disease is plaque, the slimy sticky film of bacteria that accumulates on the teeth. When the inflammation along the gum line is mild, the condition is known as gingivitis. When plaque migrates beneath the gums and causes painful pockets of infection, the condition is known as periodontal disease.

    Gingivitis and periodontal are not just a problem for your teeth and gums. They can trigger the body's production of cytokines, inflammatory immune chemicals that the liver converts to C-reactive protein (CRP). Many doctors now believe that CRP is the best indication of risk for heart attack, better than the more commonly measured total cholesterol and LDL.

    A healthy CRP level is 0.8 milligrams per liter of blood. Gingivitis and periodontal disease can increase CRP levels to 400 to even 1,000 milligrams per liter in the most advanced cases.

    This increase in CRP due to gum disease heralds a 200 to 400 per cent increase in the risk of heart attack and a doubling of the risk of stroke. Gum disease and high CRP are also associated with blood clots in the legs (DVT, or deep vein thrombosis) and in the lung (pulmonary embolism).

    So what can you do to prevent these serious consequences of gum disease. The most effective way to prevent gum disease is to brush after every meal and floss once a day. Burshing, flossing, and using mouthwash will not eliminate gum disease, but they certainly help.

    Secondly, see your dentist at least twice a year for scaling and planing to remove plaque from below the gum line. Preventing plaque buildup goes a long way toward preventing periodontal disease that can affect the health of more than your teeth.

    And for even more ways to maintain healthy gums, read about Gum Disease & Yogurt and Vitamins & Healthy Gums.

    What You Need to Know About Baby Aspirin for Your Heart

    A daily dose of a "baby" 81-milligram aspirin is the most common prescription in American for ongoing heart health. But a baby aspirin a day does not always keep the heart doctor away. Here's what you need to know about how much aspirin some people need to take, what kind to take, and when to take it.

    Cardiologists prescribe aspirin to prevent formation of clots that can lead to heart attack, but researchers have found that about 50 per cent of people who take the 81-milligram dose of aspirin every day do not get the anti-clotting effect they need. Sometimes the dose simply is not high enough. Some people need the larger 325-milligram adult dose.

    And sometimes the problem is the coating. The hard yellow coating you sometime see on baby aspirin is put there to prevent stomach irritation and ease digestion of the tablet. The problem is, digestion of the tablet is so limited that up to 65 per cent of adults who take coated tablets don't benefit from them.

    So what can you do? Taking vitamin C with aspirin limits irritation of the stomach and makes the hard yellow enteric coating unnecessary. If you can take vitamin C, and almost everybody can, chances are your stomach can tolerate an adult aspirin. A 250-milligram vitamin C capsule or tablet is enough.

    And most people who take aspirin for heart protection will get better results if they wait until just before bedtime to take the pill. A study of people with mild high blood pressure found that taking their baby aspirin just before bedtime lowered systolic blood pressure (the first number) by an average 7 mm/Hg (points) over 3 months.

    Your doctor will be able to tell you if you are getting the results you need to maintain heart-healthy levels of clotting factors. Be sure to ask if low-dose aspirin is really for you.

    How to Keep Your Hips Healthy as You Age

    Every year more than 150,000 people in the Untied States alone undergo hip-replacement surgery. Many of these surgeries could be postponed or avoided altogether, however, with proper hip care. Here are the essentials.

    1. Get a bone density scan if you are a woman over 50 or a man over 60.

    The leading cause of hip fractures is osteoporosis, the gradual thinning of bone that strikes both men and women as they age. In its early stages osteoporosis does not cause pain, so medical diagnosis is essential. As your doctor to order a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) procedure if you have risk factors, especially if you are a man or a woman who has ever used steroids, you have fair skin or work at night, or if you are a woman past menopause. The DEXA scan detects bone loss at its earliest stages and will give you an early start on treatment.

    2. Do your best to maintain a healthful weight.

    With every step you take, your hips bear three times your body weight. Every pound you lose takes three pounds pressure off your hips.

    3. Avoid high-impact exercise.

    Jogging, running, basketball, and squash can cause problems if your hips are weak. That's why you need low-impact exercise at least half of your sessions during the weak. Walking strengthens the abductor muscles in the outer thigh that hold the body straight and upright. Moving the hips gently helps maintain the circulation that nourishes cartilage.

    4. Try water exercise.

    Workouts in the pool are the safest form of exercise for fragile hips. You get all the benefits of moving your hips through their full range of motion while water holds up your body, minimizing stress. Standing in waist-high water reduces the stress on hips by about 50 per cent. Standing in chest-deep water reduces the stress on hips by about 70 per cent. Just walking backward and forward in a swimming pool is great exercise for your hips. If they begin to hurt, just move to deeper water.

    5. Watch your posture.

    Try not to sway or stoop when you walk. Poor posture adds pressure to the hips, and the additional pressure increases risk for fractures and falls. To see if posture is a problem, try walking toward a full-length mirror. If you sway from side to side, there is a high probability that the abductor muscles of your outer thighs need conditions.

    And finally, don't ignore hip pain.l When pain flares up, try gentle moist heat several times a day to reduce inflammation to injured hip joints. If you have persistent hip pain, go to your physician for advice.

    Avoiding Knee Pain--Without Knee Surgery

    There are many factors that predispose the knee to injury, bad alignment, different leg lengths, and loose joints to name just a few. You can't do anything about those knee pain risks on your own. There are many small changes to your lifestyle, however, that will prevent "bad knees" from becoming painful knees.

    1. Drink fluid throughout the day.

    Sometimes the simplest cure for sore knees is staying hydrated. Adequate fluid intake nourishes the cartilage supporting the knee and leg muscles by increasing circulation. It also makes it easier for the bloodstream to remove the lactic acid that makes muscles "burn" after intense exercise.

    You don't really have to drink eight glasses of water every day to promote knee health. The goal is constant hydration, not trying to flood your tissues with water. Drink throughout the day to keep tissues hydrated.

    2. Replace your exercise shoes every 300 to 400 miles (480 to 640 km). Constant wear and tear on your shoes makes them less flexible, leading to constant wear and tear on your knees. It is especially important to replace shoes regularly if you are active in high-impact sports like basketball, jogging, or tennis.

    3. Exercise at different times every day. This gives your knees a chance to adjust to varying conditions. It also helps prevent overexercising with the release of the stress hormone cortisol.

    4. Avoid "knee killing" motions. Jumping, bending at the knees, and deep squats are the most common causes of knee injury. Any exercise that uses springy or bouncing movements to lengthen muscles can cause the muscle to contract rather than to stretch. If you have a history of knee pain, do safer exercises like biking, walking, or swimming.

    5. Get glucosamine, chondroitin, and calcium. Glucosamine and chondroitin help cartilage stay in shape. Calcium, which you shouldn't take in doses of more than 500 mg at a time, is essential bone density that prevents fracture and strains on the ligaments, tendons, and muscles that support the knee.

    Wednesday, January 7, 2009

    Is Healing High Blood Pressure by Fasting Possible?

    A reader asks, "Is healing high blood pressure by fasting possible?"

    And my answer is, it depends. In the short term, completely avoiding the stress of arteries induced by a "dump" of fatty acids and glucose about 2 hours after eating a high-fat meal will improve endothelial (artery lining) function. And if you do a juice fast, the potassium from fruits and vegetables will improve your blood pressure, your heart rate, and even your complexion, in three or four days.

    The problem is, most people cannot fast more than three or four days, and some people cannot fast at all. But there is another approach that also helps.

    Sometimes high blood pressure caused by stress improves if you just manage to get about 14 hours between your last meal of one day and your first meal of the next, and preferably 18 hours. It doesn't make a lot of difference if you "load up" when you do eat, as long as you aren't loading up on foods that are high-fat or high-sodium.

    When scientists tested intermittent fasting with human volunteers, they found:

    Long-term calorie restriction reduces body fat. Intermittent fasting also reduces body fat.

    Long-term calorie restriction lowers body temperature (slowing down the process of oxidation). Intermittent fasting also lowers body temperature.

    Long-term calorie restriction lowers blood pressure and slows the heart rate. Intermittent also fasting lowers blood pressure and slows the heart rate.

    Long-term calorie restriction lowers blood insulin levels. Intermittent fasting also lowers blood insulin levels.

    Long-term calorie restriction increases HDL (the “good” cholesterol). Intermittent fasting also increases HDL.

    Long-term calorie restriction decreases homocysteine. Intermittent fasting also decreases homocysteine.

    So my recommendation would be, if you are going to fast, fast every day, but for no more than 18 hours. You and your family can live with your diet, and it may do your heart a great deal of good.

    Read about cholesterol-lowering foods.

    A Reader Asks, Is There a Relationship Between Glucosamine and Elevated Cholesterol Levels?

    Is there a relationship between glucosamine and elevated cholesterol levels?

    Generally speaking, the answer is no. Glucosamine may, however, raise blood glucose levels which in turn lead to elevated triglyceride levels. Neither problem is very common.

    Garlic Oil and Cholesterol

    No fewer than 40 scientific studies have looked at the healing relationship between various formulations of garlic oil and cholesterol. If you lived in Germany, your doctor might even give you a prescription for garlic oil to lower your cholesterol.

    Over 30 clinical trials have found that taking a garlic supplement once a day every day for three months lowers total cholesterol from 12 to 25 mg/dl. The studies have not gone on to prove that garlic stops atherosclerosis (it's assumed), but laboratory work suggests it may stop the formation of the truly injurious kind of cholesterol, oxycholesterol. This is the cholesterol that gets "stuck" in the lining of arteries and attracts white blood cells that get "stuck" with it.

    Beyond the relationship of all forms of garlic oil and cholesterol, the "raw" or "natural" garlic oil or garlic juice also tends to lower blood pressure, slightly, and to slow heart rate, slightly. The drawback to using the pure oil is, of course, halitosis, but if you are happy with your breath you may get even better results from pure garlic oil.

    A Reader Asks, What Is the Best Cheap Cure for Arteriosclerosis?

    First of all, when you put "cheap" and "cure" next to "arteriosclerosis," I get a little nervous. What saves you a few hundred dollars in drug expense may cost you your health or life if you are ill advised, so I don't recommend anyone stop prescription medication just to save a few bucks. (On the other hand, search "lies about statins" on this site.)

    But if you are dedicated to getting better and keeping yourself under a doctor's care, there seem to be two main approaches, one for vegans and one for protein eaters.

    Dr. Dean Ornish did extensive studies of vegan diet as a means of restoring cardiovascular function in the 80's and 90's. His diet almost totally eliminates any food of animal origin, although there may be allowances for fish oil and egg white. In as little as ten weeks, Dr. Ornish found, many of his patients began to stabilize their heart rates, and after one to two years, there was measurable improvement in arteries.

    The catch to the Ornish diet is, it's more about "fresh" than about "vegan." If you start eating high-sugar snacks just because they are free of animal products, you will undo the effects of the diet.

    Another approach works for some diabetics. Dr. Robert Bernstein advises his diabetic patients to say goodbye to virtually all carbohydrates. He even counts the carbohydrate grams in a a cup of lettuce. What this does is to reduce insulin resistance, which in turn, lowers blood sugars (in type 2 diabetics, anyway), which in turn affects production of triglycerides, which in turn helps arteries stay more flexible. But neither of these approaches is a quick fix.

    There is a third approach I've seen in actual practice. There are benefits of coenzyme Q10 and statins taken together that don't interfere with standard medical treatment. Every cell in the human body makes coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) to traps electrons released as the mitochondria, the energy-making powerhouses of every cell, release energy by combining glucose with oxygen. The body makes CoQ10 by the same chemical process that uses to make cholesterol, and, (as may surprise you) like cholesterol, CoQ10 is especially abundant in the healthy heart.

    In one study, 12 patients with arteriosclerosis advanced enough to cause angina took 150 milligrams of CoQ10 a day for 28 days. Using the CoQ10 supplement reduced the average frequency of angina attacks by 53 percent.

    As supplements go, CoQ10 isn't cheap. But it's vastly less expensive than most prescriptions, and it may help your heart work better and you feel better.

    A Reader Asks, What Effects of Low Cholesterol Should I Be Concerned About?

    What effects of low cholesterol are important to health?

    There is such a thing as getting your cholesterol too low. The very lowest rates of recovery from cancer, Parkinson's, HIV, and even heart attack occur in persons whose cholesterol levels are below 120 mg/dl. The thing to understand, however, is that the diseases and the drugs doctors give for them make have stressed the liver so that it does not make enough cholesterol. That is, the disease may cause the low cholesterol rather than the other way around.

    A Reader Asks, What Is the Linus Pauling Cholesterol Cure?

    What is the Linus Pauling cholesterol cure?

    The rights to Linus Pauling's name were purchased in the 1990's by Irwin Naturals, so I'd guess that officially that the privilege of naming a product the Linus Pauling cure for anything belongs to them. The late Dr. Pauling, who died in the 1990's in his 90's, was a big believer in vitamin C. And the antioxidant power of vitamin C may contribute to cardiovascular health by slowing down the formation of cholesterol plaques that make arteries inflexible. His cure, however, would now be made by Irwin Naturals.

    Recent reader questions:

    Q. Can strenuous exercise before cholesterol test increase LDL?

    A. Can strenous exercise before a cholesterol test increase LDL in reality? No, but the way LDL is measured can make it look like it does, especially in diabetics.

    The lab doesn't actually measure LDL. It estimates it, using this formula:

    Total cholesterol - HDL - 1/5 of triglycerides = Estimated LDL.

    Strenous exercise over the long run raises your HDL and will lower your estimated LDL. Strenous exercise the day before or day of drawing your blood for testing will lower your triglycerides and raise your estimated LDL. Sometimes the difference will be enough that your doctor will want to put you on a statin like Lipitor that you don't actually need.

    Tuesday, January 6, 2009

    A Reader Asks, What About a Bump on My Penis that Feels Like a Pimple

    Balanitis and balanoposthitis are two conditions of penile inflammation are surprisingly common and, for many men, exasperatingly persistent. Sudden and severe symptoms of penile inflammation, however, may be signals of the much more serious condition MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

    What are the symptoms?

    Inflammation of the tip of the penis, followed by:

    • Foul-smelling discharge

    • Small red ulcers under or on the foreskin

    • Non-erectile swelling of the entire penis

    • Painful foreskin and penis Balanitis is an inflammation of the glans or tip of the penis.

    In the related condition balanoposthitis, the glans becomes inflamed and irritated, usually as a result of infection with the bacterium Mycobacterium smegmatis, although it can also be caused by the microorganism that causes Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferii, human papillomavirus (HPV), and the yeast and Trichomonas species that cause women’s urinary tract infections.

    The foreskin exudes a mixture of dead skin cells, glandular secretion, and dead bacteria known as smegma. If the condition goes unchecked, painful, small red ulcers may form under the foreskin. In severe cases, the entire penis may become infected.

    About one out of nine urological patients in the US has balanitis; it even occurs in about 1 in 30 prepubescent boys. In adult men, diabetes is a predisposing factor. At any age, the condition is aggravated by poor personal hygiene, use of petroleum jelly or strong soaps, reactions to antibiotics, and obesity.

    Balanoposthitis is far more common in uncircumcised than circumcised men. The appearance of the disease in circumcised men usually indicates a serious underlying health problem such as immune deficiency or diabetes. Standard medical treatments for the disease include circumcision and laser surgery.

    But what can you do on your own?

    Try a licorice extract called glycyrrhizin, available in SimiCort cream.

    Glycyrrhizin is a chemical extracted from licorice that kills the Mycobacterium smegmatis and other micro organisms that can cause infections under the foreskin, including Staphylococcus aureus and the common yeast Candida albicans.

    In addition to controlling bacterial and fungal infections, glycyrrhizin reduces inflammation, making it useful in treating balanitis caused by allergy or chemical irritation. Glycyrrhizin creams do not cause side effects, and they can be combined with prescription creams containing hydrocortisone for enhanced pain relief.

    And here are some more tips:

    The bacteria and fungi that cause infections under the foreskin cannot grow in the presence of oxygen. Pulling back the foreskin every day for thorough washing and drying greatly reduces the severity of the infection. If you cannot wash under the foreskin, see a physician promptly. It may be necessary to slit the foreskin to allow drainage of fluids.

    When you take antibiotics for this condition, it is helpful to supplement 1–2 capsules of acidophilus or Lactobacillus daily. These naturally occurring bacteria produce vitamins in the digestive tract and compete with infectious bacteria for nutrients.

    Boys with balanitis should not be given Neosporin.

    Monday, January 5, 2009

    How to Make No-Sugar Ice Cream

    Thanks to an Australian reader for requesting this republication of my entry on how to make a no-sugar ice cream.

    If you’re new to making low- or no-carb desserts, this recipe for making lemon ice cream is absolute easiest way to start (and there’s a recipe for strawberry ice cream here, too). Even if you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can make this diabetic dessert in minutes for less than it costs at the store.

    This recipe for making lemon ice cream has an advantage of all store-bought brands in that you can make with the best of all the sugar substitutes for diabetes, an all-natural, stevia-sweetened version. Ice cream made with “sugar alcohols” such as mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, isomalt, maltitol, or hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH) is usually labeled as “sugar free” or “no sugar added.”

    Don’t believe it. Sugar alcohols have a negligible effect on blood sugars in the short term, but they are eventually converted to glucose, too. A day after eating your big bowl of “sugar free” ice cream you can be wondering why your blood sugars are so high. Stevia, which the FDA recently decided was safe, after all, will not raise blood sugars and may even lower them ever so slightly, 1 to 3 mg/dl (0.05 to 0.15 mM).

    Here’s all you need to make lemon ice cream:

    Lemon extract

    These are the ingredients for the absolutely zero-carb, almost-no-trace-of-artificial ingredients version. It’s sweet, it’s creamy, it will have no effect on your blood sugars other than slowing down the absorption of any carbs from other foods you eat at the same meal, and it’s scrumptious. It’s also a high-calorie food. Don’t worry, this isn’t the only version of the recipe! Two lower-calorie versions (one of them with just 20 calories a serving and no Nutra-Sweet.

    ½ teaspoon (2-3 ml) liquid stevia extract or 2 teaspoons (4 grams) green stevia powder
    2 cups (480 ml) whipping cream
    ½ teaspoon (2 ml) lemon extract

    If you really must use NutraSweet, it takes 5 packets to equal 2 teaspoons of stevia powder.

    If you are using an ice cream maker, just pour the ingredients into the chilled mixer bowl (if your ice cream maker requires you to freeze the mixer bowl first) and turn on the machine. Be sure not to add too much stevia or lemon extract. Both flavorings rely on “tricking” your palate with the slightest hint of bitterness to activate sweetness receptors. Too much stevia or lemon extract and the end product tastes bitter. I know this from experience.

    If you don’t have an ice cream maker, use a mixing bowl that’s just large enough to hold the 2 cups of cream. Pour in the cream and stir in the stevia. Cover the stevia-sweetened cream with plastic wrap and put the bowl in the freezer for 1 hour or until the mixture is just beginning to freeze around the edges.

    After the mixture begins to freeze, take it out of the freezer and the lemon extract. Give the ice cream a thorough stirring, replace the plastic wrap and return to the freezer for another hour. At the 2-hour mark, take the ice cream out and beat again. Replace the plastic wrap and allow the ice cream to freeze until it’s firm enough to stay in the bowl but soft enough to dip. This usually takes about six hours. Two cups of cream makes 6 servings of ice cream.

    The all-cream ice cream has no carbohydrate but 225 calories per half-cup serving.

    If you can tolerate about 6 grams of carbohydrate a serving and you want to cut the calories in half, then try this no-eggs, no-gluten half-and-half lemon ice cream recipe:

    ½ teaspoon (2-3 ml) liquid stevia extract or 2 teaspoons (4 grams) green stevia powder
    1 cup (240 ml) whipping cream
    1 cup (240 ml) skim milk, whole milk, or almond milk
    ¼ cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice
    1/8 teaspoon (0.5 ml) lemon extract

    Same procedure as above, adding lemon juice and lemon extract after the milk and cream mixture has begun to firm up in the freezer, if you don’t have an ice cream maker.

    How about a strawberry sugar-free ice cream? To make strawberry ice cream, use just 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of lemon juice but add 2 cups (300 g) of sliced fresh strawberries at the same time you’d add lemon.

    I’ve tried these variations with soy milk, and it works, but you have to be very careful not to use too much stevia or lemon extract. Soy milk can have a slight, bitter aftertaste that really comes out if you use too much stevia.

    Now if you are really just wanting a recipe for lemon ice, not a recipe for lemon ice cream (zero fat, 3 grams of carbohydrate and just 20 calories per 1 cup serving), you’ll need:

    ¾ cup (180 ml) of fresh lemon juice (3 or 4 lemons)
    ½ teaspoon (2-3 ml) liquid stevia extract or 2 tsp (4 grams) stevia powder
    6 cups (1500 ml) water

    Again, if you must use NutraSweet, it takes 5 packets to equal 2 teaspoons of stevia powder.

    Put the lemon juice and stevia in a pitcher or jar and stir thoroughly to dissolve add the stevia. Pour in water and stir to mix thoroughly. Place lemon juice and water mixture in a bowl as above, then cover with plastic wrap and place in freezer 1 hour. Take the mixture out of the freezer, stir with a fork, and replace the plastic wrap. Repeat the procedure at the two-hour mark and once again before serving.

    For a tart and colorful variation, replace 2 cups (500 ml) of the water with Red Zinger or hibiscus tea to make beautiful lemon-hibiscus granita. Incidentally, I tried making lemonade ice cubes and then pulsing them in the food processor. The result was closer to a snow cone than to an ice.

    Ice creams, ices, and granitas are the easiest diabetic desserts. Just be sure your ice cream freezer bowl is thoroughly frozen and, if you are making ice cream in the freezer, don’t forget to stir!

    Thursday, January 1, 2009

    Does Horny Goat Weed Really Make Men Horny?

    Does horny goat weed, the common name of the Himalayan herb epimedium, really make men horny? Well, the answer seems to be that it makes old men horny, but there are reasons for men of all ages to take it.

    Russian scientists, one of whom I know personally, studied the role of epimedium in preserving erectile function in aging rats. The lab rats were given epimedium for 10 days and then given an opportunity for sexual intercourse. Rats who got the herb were capable of ejaculation in an average of 9 seconds compared to rats given placebo who needed 14 seconds, extended sexual pleasure not a function of erections in elderly rats. These findings in the laboratory tend support the finding in traditional Chinese medicine that horny goat weed's sexual stimulant effects are strongest in men over 60 (and not limited to making intercourse faster).

    But the real use of this herb isn't to treat ED.

    Epimedium plays an important role even in mainstream medicine in Japan. It is a traditional East Asian treatment for venereal infections. The stimulates urination that dislodges Chlamydia or E. coli bacteria from the lining of the urethra. The herb also activates the immune system to engulf and digest the microorganisms that cause gonorrhea.

    Japanese doctors report that epimedium promotes strength in the sphincter muscles. This helps the inguinal ring regulate pressure on the testicles, and enables men greater control over ejaculation. Sexual control, not basic sexual ability, is the use of this herb in younger men.

    Beer Drinker's Droop: The Little-Known but Leading Cause of Erectile Dysfunction in Men at Midlife

    It should not come to a shock to any of us that middle-aged men with beer bellies tend to develop erectile dysfunction (ED). But the problem may not be just the belly. It's also the beer.

    First of all, beer bellies contribute to impotence. A man with a 42-inch (106 cm) waistline is twice as likely as a man with a 32-inch (81 cm) waistline to develop ED. Men who face the battle of the bulge are more likely to suffer issues with diabetes, high blood pressure, and oxidized cholesterol that reduce erectile strength.

    But beer itself also contributes to ED. About 25 per cent of men with erectile dysfunction have an excess of a pituitary hormone called prolactin, the same hormone that encourages milk production in new mothers. Stress increases prolactin levels.

    But if men chill out with a cold brew, they may relieve stress but they increase prolactin. Hops, a plant in the same family as marijuana, contain potent phytoestrogens that raise a man's estrogen levels. The increased estrogen leads to increased prolactin and decreased erectile strength. Making matters worse in overweight men, fat cells in belly fat also produce estrogen.

    It's important that the problem isn't with drinking, it's with beer. Moderate consumption of alcohol seems to contribute to vascular health, at least in men who keep their consumption to one or two drinks a way. Red wine is best. In fact, drinking just one beer a day, in the opinion of Czech doctor Pavel Zemek, may even be as beneficial as red wine. Drinking more than one beer a day, unfortunately, cancels out all the benefits and leads to the increased prolactin levels that cause ED.

    Fighting Vaginal Dryness with Yeast After Menopause

    Vaginal drying is one of the most frequent complaints about menopause. A lack of lubrication leads to the development of red, itchy patches in the lining of the vagina and makes the vagina more subject to infection with Gardnerella, Trichomonas, and yeast. Ironically, the right kind of yeast is probably the best protection against post-menopausal dryness.

    Vaginal dryness after menopause is caused by a lack of estrogen. Estrogen stimulates the growth of epithelial cells that protect the vagina, and in the absence of estrogen, they simply do not grow fast enough to completely cover the vagina before they die, dry off, and flake.

    And in women who consume a relatively high-protein diet, especially if they eat lots of red meat, smoked fish, and aged cheese, the pH of the vagina can increase as well. When the pH of the vagina rises, cells in the lining of the vagina are less able to store energy in the form of glycogen, and they "lose their grip" on the protective yeasts such as Lactobacillus that defend against the detrimental yeasts such as Candida.

    The simplest and most straightforward natural solution to drying of the vagina after menopause is to replace the missing Lactobacilli. The beneficial bacteria have to be replaced directly by placement in the vagina. They can come from live yogurt cultures or a vaginal suppository, used once or twice a day for at least two weeks.

    Once Lactobacilli are reestablished in the vagina, they produce lactic acid, peroxides, and other antibacterial agents that get rid of the harmful microbes. They use glucose and deprive infectious yeasts of nutrients. At least one clinical study found that Lactobacilli were as infective as prescription antifungals in controlling postmenopausal yeast infections.

    What else establishes health in the vagina? Regular consumption of small amounts of fermented soy products, such as miso and tempeh, also helps. You don't have to go all out with soy. About half an ounce a day provides all the soy isoflavones your body can actually use to stimulate cell growth in the lining of the vagina. And it's also helpful to remember:

  • Douches increase rather than decrease risk of infection after menopause.

  • Cotton panties encourage air circulation and encourage growth of helpful Lactobacillus while retarding growth of harmful Trichomonas.

  • Progesterone plus dioscorea relieves inflammation, but be forewarned, the progesterone content of natural products can vary widely.
  • Quebracho for Erectile Dysfunction

    Quebracho is the South American cousin of the well-known African herb yohimbe. As more and more men discover that the Cialis, Levitra, and Viagra they have been using for erectile dysfunction (ED) won't be covered by their insurance, more and more men are seeking aphrodisiac herbs that work.

    And it's also a matter of safety. Side effects of the drugs can include fainting at the end of sexual intercourse, stuffy nose at a really unfortunate time, seeing blue where no one else does, sudden low blood pressure, and, in the most extreme cases, even death. Side effects of the right herbs mostly concern frustration when taken without ready access to sexual opportunity. That’s why more and more males turn to herbal alternatives such as the rain forest herb quebracho.

    Quebracho is the South American equivalent of the African herb yohimbe. Both herbs contain the phytochemical yohimbine. In the pre-Viagra era, yohimbine was the only FDA-approved treatment for ED.

    Yohimbine performs some of the same pharmaceutical actions as Cialis, Levitra, and Viagra but without their more disagreeable side effects. It activates the stimulant hormone norepinephrine in the nerve fibers controlling the blood vessels that allow circulation into the penis. Blood quickly accumulates and stays in the penis to accommodate erection.

    But the difference between quebracho and any of the pills for ED is that this herb is also an aphrodisiac. It stimulates desire, not just erection. It helps make sex enjoyable, not just possible.

    This South American herb, like its African cousin, acts as a mild antidepressant when taken in recommended doses. Also like yohimbe, it gets its best results when you allow it to “take the penis by surprise.” Regular use blunts its effect. Allow at least one day between uses.

    And because this herb contains yohimbe, it should not be combined with certain medications. The antidepressant medication Deseryl (trazodone) combined with this herb can cause an unhealthy erection called priapism. As you will hear on the Cialis commercials, go to an emergency room if any erection lasts more than four hours to prevent permanent damage to the erectile tissue of the penis. Don’t mix the herb and the drug.

    Quebracho is ineffective when it is combined with selegiline, and there are likely to all manner of unpredictable results when it is used with any medication for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or Lewy body disease. The hypertension medication clonidine cancels out any results from the herb.

    And here’s one further word of caution. Quebracho is sexually liberating. Many men don’t sleep when they first take it. Be ready for sexual intercourse if you take the herb. Like all aphrodisiacs, this herb is best used in the context of a stable, loving, committed intimate relationship.

    Recent reader questions:

    Q. Where can one find quebracho extract, wholesale?

    A. Try Rain-Tree Herbals in Reno, Nevada.