Thursday, December 27, 2012

Back Pain Update

I wrote in posts on this blog over the last few months about trouble that I was having with back pain due to psoriatic arthritis and what steps I was taking in my quest to reduce the pain. Well, I am pleased to be able to now write that my back is almost pain-free. It is an ongoing process, of course, but I think that I have a pretty good understanding of what did the most good for me.

I think that it was carelessness on my part that caused my back to trouble me as much as it did. I have had back problems from when I was about 12 years old, after a fall of about 6ft that landed me on my knees on a hard floor. I was treated by a chiropractor and slept on a 4" coir mattress on a solid wooden base for the next 10 years as part of the remedy. It was very rigid and unyielding, so it was funny when friends visited and flopped down onto my bed, remembering with a jolt how hard it was.

That kept my back happy for decades and I became complacent. I didn't take care of it the way that I should have, so eventually it grabbed my attention and I had to pay for it. The final straw was about 18 months ago while working on a vintage car that I am rebuilding. I pushed and twisted at the same time and threw my back out very badly. Against the advice of my chiropractor, I was back surfing and sailing again within 10 days, albeit in a back brace, although he recommended that I lay off for 6-8 weeks.

I have come to realise that there is another contributing factor. I have always relied on my surfing, sailing and hiking on the mountains to keep me fit. That worked well in Cape Town, where there is surf almost all the time, it is warm enough for year-round sailing and I was surrounded by mountains. Not so here in Virginia Beach. The only mountain is a converted refuse dump something less than 100ft high, the winters are too cold for regular dinghy sailing and the occurrences of decent surf few and far between. Here I need to supplement with regular sessions on my home exercise equipment. Work pressures get in the way of me exercising as often as I should, so my core muscles can sometimes get a bit lazy. The result can be a sloppy posture, followed by back pain.

OK, so what have I done that has improved the condition of my back?

  1. Stretching my back. I mentioned that I had a trapeze bar in my home in Cape Town and used to hang upside-down by my knees. The weight of my upper body pulling downward stretched my back and allowed it to realign. I have not figured how to rig that in my home here in Virginia Beach, so had to come up with a different plan. I bought an inexpensive ($20) exercise bar that hooks onto the head of a door frame and I placed it in a doorway where it could stay there permanently. At least 7 or 8 times each day I stop under that bar and do 6-8 pull-ups (chin-ups) before continuing whatever I was doing. I do it with my legs straight but sticking out in front of me at the best angle that I can manage. The hanging stretches my back and I hear the vertebrae popping back into alignment. They are also pulled apart, allowing my disks to suck back into their rightful positions and reinflate, thereby helping to keep my vertebrae further apart. Sticking my legs out in front of me loads up my abs to strengthen my core, helping to keep my back properly aligned.
  2. Doing core-strengthening exercises. Aside from the abs exercise mentioned above, I also do various other core-strengthening exercises and stretches, all aimed at keeping my spine supple and in proper alignment. These include push-ups, squats, body twists and using the rowing facility on my exercise machine. Getting the strength and flexibility back into my core muscles gives proper support to my spine from all sides.
  3.  Supplementing with hyaluronic acid (HA). This substance is the primary ingredient of synovial fluid, the lubricant and cushioning material in our joints. It is also in our ligaments, tendons, skin, lips, eyes and almost everywhere else in the body. It lubricates, binds, fills and makes flexible. As we age, our bodies produce progressively less HA, so our joints bind, tendons and ligaments weaken and lose elasticity, our eyesight weakens and our skin wrinkles. I have found that the right HA supplement has helped to return flexibility to my joints, so maybe I will also see improvements in other parts of my body. I had read that the most effective form is in the patented complex named Biocell Collagen. I found a few brands with Biocell Collagen and chose the brand Hydraplenish, mostly because it was on reduced price special at the time. It worked and I started to feel improvement. When the bottle was empty I decided to try a much cheaper brand, just hyaluronic acid and vitamin C. Within days I felt that I was going backwards a bit, so went back to the Hydraplenish brand. In future I will stay with brands that contain Biocell Collagen.
  4. Further increasing my intake of anti-oxidant foods. This is mostly by increasing the amount of colourful vegetables, combined with reduced red meat intake. Red meat and processed foods generate toxins in the body and anti-oxidants break them down and remove them from the bloodstream. This results in reduced inflammation throughout the body. Reduced inflammation results in improvements in all parts of the body, including joints.
Overall, my back is now way better than it was a month ago. Pain is less than 5% of what it was not long ago. Aside from a mild pain immediately after getting out of bed, I am virtually pain-free. I feel that I am on the right track and will continue along this path.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Friendships & Inflammation

I said that I would no doubt be writing about inflammation in the future but didn't expect it to be this soon.

Yesterday I read an interesting article by Carole Jackson of  Daily Health about research that has been done into the effects of friendship on our health. The results are quite fascinating.

A study was done of British men and women by Dr Noriko Cable over a 5-year period to establish the effects on mental well-being of having or not having many friends. A previous study had already shown that having friends reduces inflammation in the body and this new study sought to build on that earlier study.

The participants were asked to say approximately how many friends they had, with whom they met at least once a month. Five years later the study followed up to establish their psychological well-being. The results showed that people with more than 10 friends had a higher level of confidence and contentment than those who had less than 10 friends. That can be translated into feeling less stress if you have more friends. Read the full article here.

Many people who have psoriasis, arthritis and various other auto-immune conditions find that it is aggravated by periods of increased stress. We knew this was an effect of stress but not why or how it happens. These two studies seem to hold one possible answer, in that friendships reduce stress, which reduces inflammation.

A few months ago I wrote a blog entry about inflammation showing in X-rays, both on the skin (where it appears as psoriasis) and internally on various organs. Psoriasis involves inflammation in and on many parts of the body. Arthritis involves inflammation in the joints. For these conditions, inflammation plays a major part in creating the discomfort and pain that can make the lives of people with these conditions anywhere from mildly inconvenient through to thoroughly miserable.

We need to do whatever we can to minimise that inflammation and, according to these studies, increasing the number and quality of our friendships can help in that quest.

The quality of your friendships is important in this because we all know people who are simply more trouble than they are worth. They are in the friendship for what they can get out of it rather than to simply be a good friend. Or they are negative about themselves, us or their situations, with nothing positive to say about anything. These people drain us and can be unpleasant to have around; they create stress rather than alleviating it.

Friendship is a two-way street, with both parties needing to feel good about the relationship. If you regularly come away from meeting with such a friend feeling stressed in some way then you have to ask yourself if that friendship is worth maintaining into the future. We need to get such people out of our lives and to rather build up friendships with people who have a positive attitude, people with whom we share common interests and pleasures. When we associate with people who make us feel good about ourselves we feel less stressed. The lower stress levels will translate into less inflammation, which will ease the symptoms of your psoriasis and/or arthritis.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Reumofan Plus Supplements

Just a quick post this morning.

Those of us with arthritis in any form, whether psoriatic or otherwise, know the stiffness and pain that comes with the condition, which can be debilitating. Sometimes we might feel the need for a painkiller or two to help us through the day. Personally, I stay away from painkillers as much as possible because of the side-effects that can aggravate my psoriasis.

I do supplement though, with glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid to boost the synovial fluid in my joints. More fluid translates into more cushioning and more comfortable joints. We tend to trust the labels that we read on the supplements and medications that we take, basing decisions on what ingredients are listed on those labels. And it is right that we should be able to trust what is printed on those labels.

The health supplement industry is mostly unregulated, so it is worrying to learn of companies that are abusing the system, or the lack of an oversight authority to which they might otherwise have to answer. One of those companies taking advantage appears to be Riger Naturals in Mexico, which produces and distributes products under the names of Reumofan Plus and Reumofan Plus Premium. They are claimed to be all natural and the labels list only natural ingredients. They are marketed as supplements to ease joint and muscle pain.

However, after reports of various health problems and even deaths, the FDA has analysed these products and found varying amounts of three unlisted ingredients that are not natural and are actually prescription drugs. They can conflict with other prescriptions and can cause serious bodily harm. To make it worse, it is dangerous to stop cold-turkey with one of the unlisted ingredients, so it must be gradually reduced instead.

This was reported months ago but a quick search on the Internet still brings up companies that are selling these products. If you are using them, please read whatever information you can find about them and speak to your doctor about how to safely wean yourself off them and onto something that is less risky to your health.

You can read more about this at Daily Health News .

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Still More on Inflammation

Following on my previous posts on inflammation, here is another. I don't want to bore anyone with this subject but it is so far-reaching in its effects that it needs to be explored as far as possible.

I have had problems with tendons for many years. As a very active person, I thought that it was all caused by the repetitive actions of some of my activities.

In the 1980s I was building a big boat, by myself. That involved lots of carrying of heavy parts, with attendant stress on my bones, muscles, joints and the tendons and ligaments that tie them all together. I did not use many powertools aside from saws and sanders, so there was lots of hammering and there were many, many screws to be driven by hand. I lived in an area of strong winds and spent many hours sailboarding, which puts heavy loads onto arms, shoulders and legs. As if that was not enough abuse of my body, I was also playing squash a few times a week, with massive impact loading on feet, knees and hips, as well as sharp twisting movements of elbows, wrists and shoulders.

Eventually I started to experience sharp pains in my right wrist and pain in my right elbow followed. Being right-handed, this was naturally the more heavily loaded side of my body. I started wearing wrist and elbow braces but the pain got worse. The solution was simple, or so I figured. I changed over to working left-handed and playing squash left handed as well. My game suffered badly, of course, but it is good for a boatbuilder to be ambidexterous. My left arm is not as powerful as my right, so it didn't take long for my left wrist to start giving the same problems.

The doctor diagnosed tendonitis in my wrists and classic tennis elbow in my right elbow. He advised that I get myself an electric screw-driver to take the heavy rotational loads off my wrists. So I bought myself a reversible electric drill and that piece of equipment did good service for me, relieving my wrists for many years and allowing the boat to be completed.

It all came to a head when I was slalom waterskiing and overloaded my already damaged elbow. I rested it as much as possible but continued surfing and sailing. My wrists improved but were not cured and my elbow remained very painful. Then I was offered a crew position to sail in the 1993 Cape to Rio trans-Atlantic yacht race. I knew that my elbow wasn't up to it, so had a tennis-elbow operation done on my right arm. That cured my elbow problem and magically the pain in my right wrist disappeared as well. My improved right arm meant that I no longer had to use my left arm as much, so that improved as well.

I have also had occasional bursitis problems in my elbows but remain convinced that this was due to impact injuries incurred while surfing and sailing. Psoriasis may have aggravated this but was not the cause.

A more persistent problem has been my left Achilles tendon, which has been painful and a bit swollen for a few years. It prevents me from running and seriously limits the shoes that I can wear. I can only wear shoes that put no pressure onto the back of my heel. I thought that this was a sports injury from too much squash, until I read in Vol 3 No 2 of  Health Monitor last month that tendonitis in the Achilles tendons is common among psoriatics.

That helped me to the realisation that my tendonitis through the past 30 years has been closely tied to my psorisis. It started a year or two before psoriasis started but may have been the first sign of internal inflammation. More recently I have done a small amount of internet research into associations between tendonitis, bursitis and psoriasis. It seems that there is a strong connection and some of it is stated on the talkpsoriasis website, which has useful information.

I think that my realisation of the psoriasis/inflammation connection has been an important one. For a long time I have been progressively moving my diet further toward foods that have anti-oxidant properties, for the resulting anti-inflammatory benefits. That was before I realised that psoriasis appears to be almost entirely an inflammation condition. Now I am moving more resolutely in that direction. For example, I have used turmeric in my cooking for a few years but in fairly small quantities (making yellow rice or sprinkling into soups and stews).

Now I am also taking turmeric capsules as a supplement. I increased my hyaluronic acid supplement intake at the same time (to boost the synovial fluid in joints and disks) and the two in combination seem to be helping considerably. Reinforced by increasing my core-strengthening exercises, the result is that my back pain is now less than 25% of what it was only a month ago.

I will no doubt post on this subject again in the future, hopefully with  positive results from my changes to diet and supplement intake.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tribute to Doreen Faure

When I was diagnosed with psoriasis many years ago, I had no idea what it was. I had to ask the dermatologist to spell it to me so that I could write it down to research later in an encyclopedia. There was no Internet, so I couldn't Google the word and receive instantaneous information, research was much more time-consuming than it is now.

By happy timing, there was a program on South African national TV a few months later that was to change my experience completely. It was mainly an interview with a fine lady named Doreen Faure, intended to spread information about psoriasis, where to go for support and treatments that were available. Doreen was Secretary of the Cape Psoriasis Association, a regional body that was affiliated with the South African Psoriasis Association. She had psoriasis herself, was the mainstay of the Cape Psoriasis Association and was trying to educate South Africa about the condition.

I contacted Doreen and attended the next public meeting. I learned a lot and was able to meet others with the same skin condition as me. I attended almost every public meeting, where I was able to swap success and failure stories with other members. A year later I was coaxed onto the committee and very soon learned just how much work Doreen did on behalf of others with psoriasis.

She worked tirelessly to educate others, communicate with health authorities in SA and psoriasis authorities internationally and to organise public meetings. Among a host of other things she also gave support to those with psoriasis with information, transport to/from meetings, dealing with non-supportive family and colleagues and any other problems that they might have had. We on the committee threw in ideas and helped where we could in our busy employed lives but Doreen was the one who did the bulk of the work. She did it all with a smile and with intense compassion for the sometimes overwhelming problems that others were having.

The following year the Chairman, Tiny Jones, needed to step down due to business pressures and Doreen convinced me that I should make myself available for the position. I became the figurehead standing up front and running the public meetings but Doreen was the force behind me and the others on the committee that made it possible.

Due to Doreen's endless work, the Cape Psoriasis Association was the most active psoriasis body in South Africa. Under Doreen's guidance, it later absorbed the almost dormant South African Psoriasis Association and took on that name, with the national body moving from Pretoria to Cape Town.

For me personally, Doreen changed my life. She helped me to define and get my psoriasis under control. More importantly, she talked me into the Chairman position and that released me from my absolute dread of public speaking. After that all sorts of opportunities opened up for me in my business and sporting life, enhancing my stature in both and improving my future. I am very grateful to Doreen for her role in cutting open my cocoon and yanking me out of my little comfort zone.

Doreen Faure affected the lives of so many people, all in a positive way. Anyone with a problem related to psoriasis could contact her and she would help them in whatever way she could. Eventually Doreen moved to a retirement home and stopped driving, so was no longer able to be as actively involved. She passed on a few years ago, I believe from a heart attack. She had made helping those with psoriasis her life's work and she did a wonderful job of it. Doreen's leagacy is the South African Psoriasis Association and they continue her work.

Monday, October 15, 2012

More on Inflammation

This post is, to some extant, a continuation of my last post, with definite links to what I said last month.

Since I wrote that entry I have been away on business, driving long distances and staying in hotels. That always leads to me getting out of my normal habits of home-prepared healthy meals that contain lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, prepared in a healthy way. Quick stops at fast food joints along the road, many sugary sodas consumed to keep me awake while driving and rushed meals ahead of or between convention sessions became my diet. Of course, it didn't take long for all this junk food to proceed from my lips to my skin, emerging as expanding red patches.

Back home again and back onto my healthy diet, my skin is rapidly coming back to its normal condition, with minimal evidence of psoriasis. Remember what I said last month, this is all due to inflammation within my body, a reaction of my immune system to what I was consuming. If I put bad fuel into my engine it shows up as deterioration in the state of that engine.

I referred last month to research that showed up inflammation in the bodies of test subjects who had psoriasis, inflammation that resulted in diseases in various organs of the body other than the skin. Today I have read in Daily Health News of other research that has linked psoriasis to another worrying condition, one which is very prevalent in USA and is spreading rapidly in all countries that have adopted an American style diet. That condition is type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is not the type that one might be born with, it is the acquired version of the disease and is mostly as a result of bad eating habits, habits that lead to obesity and ultimately diabetes. The research has found that people with psoriasis are at greater risk for type 2 diabetes than the general population, whether or not they are obese. They found that people with mild psoriasis had a small (11%) increase in risk of diabetes, which increases to 46% with moderate to severe psoriasis. This is a considerable increase in risk and good reason to keep your psoriasis symptoms to as low a level as possible. This is thought to be because the inflammation in a person with psoriasis interferes with the proper reaction to insulin in the body, which triggers type 2 diabetes.

The upshot of this new finding is that it highlights even more the need for us psoriatics to control very carefully what we put into our bodies. We have to always keep in mind the potential harm that we are doing to ourselves in the longer term. If you have psoriasis and don't want to end up with the compounding problems that diabetes will bring with it, please get your diet under control right away.

The article in Daily Health News also recommends that we have our blood sugar levels checked as part of our regular medical check-ups, as an early-warning sign of impending problems. It also recommends exercising regularly and losing excess weight.

I ma an active person, I eat healthy and I am the same low weight now as I was 40 years ago. I am working hard to minimise the effects of psoriasis and hope that these efforts will be successful. However, knowledge of this research will keep me even more vigilant to keep my diet on the healthy side of normal.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Funding for research about psoriasis has not been a high government priority, so funds are scarce from government sources. Also, most people and many doctors consider psoriasis to be an aesthetic or cosmetic problem rather than the much deeper physical problem that it really is. The National Psoriasis Foundation took the bull by the horns and gathered donations to kick-start research, some of which is producing interesting results.

One of the programs that they started is funding research by Dr Nehal N Mehta, a preventive and nuclear cardiologist at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. He has used some very fancy electronic equipment to look for inflammation in the bodies of people with and without psoriasis, to see if there are differences.

As expected, the scans showed extensive inflammation in the areas of skin that showed psoriasis on the surface. Of more importance though, they also showed inflammation in other parts of the bodies of people with psoriasis that was not there in patients without the condition. These included joints, blood vessels, heart and liver. The joint inflammation is linked to arthritis but the inflammation in other organs can also be tied to problems and potential failure in those organs in the future. When the joints are painful then it is inconvenient or uncomfortable but when the heart or liver fails or the blood vessels become blocked then the body is in serious trouble.

These results came out of a pilot study and more research must be done to expand the knowledge that comes out of this work. The  National Psoriasis Foundation needs funds to finance further research, so if you have psoriasis and are not a member, please visit their website and consider joining.

My little psoriasis blog does not have the importance to psoriasis that Dr Mehta's research has but something that I have said a few times is reinforced by these findings. I have said that psoriasis is not only a skin condition and cannot only be treated with topical creams or anything else that treats only the symptoms. The inflammation that was found in the body scans comes from inside the body, not through the skin. Don't expect to treat a problem that originates inside the body by rubbing on some magic cream that you have bought either over the counter or the Internet.

Those creams can and should form part of your overall treatment regimen to alleviate itching, redness and scaling but they are treating the symptom and not the cause. For long term positive results you must treat the cause and that means treating it from inside.

Inflammation is one of the body's defence mechanisms, triggered by the immune system. Over-active immune response in any part of the body is an auto-immune problem or imbalance and needs to be treated at the source. Auto-immune problems are generally rooted in the digestive system, so that is what needs to be corrected. The human body is not a mechanical device that can be adjusted by turning a screw, it must be adjusted by changing what is put into it as fuel and which is turned into the building blocks of the cells throughout the body.

Anything that you can do to improve your digestion and speed up elimination is likely to help reduce inflammation. To this end, consuming colourful fresh vegetables and fruit with anti-oxidant properties will go a long way toward correcting the imbalances, particularly broccoli, spinach and other cruciferous vegetables, as well as carrots, butternut and similar brightly coloured produce. Aside from tasting good, they also brighten your meal and make it more appealing. On the other side, cut down as much as you can on red meats, replace them with poultry and cold water fish.

Cut down or eliminate artificial bastes and sauces, they also contain stuff that is not good for psoriasis or any other auto-immune condition. Replace them with herbs and spices to add zest to your meal. Many of those herbs and spices, like ginger root, black pepper, paprika and turmeric are also natural anti-oxidants and will work toward improving your condition.

Also cut down or eliminate the junk that you consume. That means most fast food, sodas (regular and diet varieties) ice creams, candies and highly processed foods like white bread, cold meats, TV meals etc. If you don't want to give up these things, that is your own decision. However, at least educate yourself about what they are doing to your body so that you can make the decision with your eyes fully open. Your public library will likely have much info available for you to read on the subject.

So, please visit the  National Psoriasis Foundation and be careful what you put into your body.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Easing Arthritis Symptoms

Most of my self-treatment of my psoriatic arthritis is aimed at improving the inner workings of my body, to improve it at the root rather than at the surface where it is seen or felt. This tactic has done wonders to improve both the psoriasis and the arthritis aspects of the condition.

However, there always remains some discomfort that needs to be treated where it is felt. For the skin this can be in the form of topical lotions, moisturisers etc. For the joints it may be the use of heating pads, infrared heating devices and similar methods, or the normal smelly arthritis rubs to deaden the pain.

The problem with this condition is that you might well have psoriasis on the skin in the same area that you have joint pain. If you apply one of the muscle and joint creams onto psoriasis lesions the result is likely to be intense pain and cause you to rush to the bathroom to wash off the cream. Been there, done that, felt the pain and got the T-shirt. It gives new meaning to the saying used in gyms that you should "feel the burn".

Aside from my daily consumption of glucosamine/condroitin/hyaluronic acid, I do something else to ease my joint deterioration, thereby attempting to keep my joints serviceable for many years to come.

I noticed years ago that my joints seemed to be wanting to always go to the bent position. I also noticed that the people with the worst arthritis conditions were bent over or had very bent joints. I did some research on it at the time but can't remember where I found the info that I wanted, which brought me to my conclusions. Wherever it was, it was enough to make me experiment by keeping my joints straight whenever possible. The result has been long-term easing of my arthritis symptoms, although ageing will probably eventually cause natural deterioration to start catching up again.

Observe your own habits and think about how they may be aggravating your arthritis symptoms. I noticed various that I will list below.

Hands. At rest my hands naturally go into the closed position of a loose fist. Look at most severely arthritic people and you will see that their fingers are curled like claws. Once they get to that stage it is very difficult to do even simple everyday tasks because your fingers will not do what you want them to do. I changed my resting and sleeping habits to remedy this. Instead of letting my hands rest as they naturally would, I lie them palm down against a flattish surface, like the bed, top of the settee or my thigh. In this position the fingers must straighten and to help them do this I spread them apart against the surface. Each time that I wake at night I put them back in those positions if they have moved. It did not take long before I would wake to find them still straight.

I also actively stretch my wrists and fingers regularly by pressing them hard against a wall or door frame, with fingers spread and arm at 90 degrees to the surface. This stretches the ligaments to help the joints stay straight. It is also very good for carpal tunnel syndrome, if you spend too much time at the keyboard.

Spine. In bed it can be very comfortable to be curled up in a ball, with legs pulled up toward your chest. This is not good for your spine, which will gradually grow into the curved shape and not want to straighten. I try to always sleep with my back straight or slightly arched backward. I find it particularly beneficial to arch my spine backward as far as I can for a few minutes immediately before I get out of bed. I will have less back pain when I stand up than if I don't do this.

Legs. Getting back to curling up in a ball in bed, this bends your hips at 90 degrees or more one way and your knees even more the other way. This will not help your hips or your knees. I found it best to sleep on my side with a small amount of angle, maybe 20-30 degrees, to my hips and knees. This stops me from falling over onto my back or stomach and is near enough to straight that my joints don't freeze into a bent position when I want to get up.

Sitting for long periods is bad for spine, hips and knees. All end up bent and may not want to straighten up later when you need to stand up. I try to limit the periods that I am sitting by standing up and walking around for awhile. Changing from a sit-down task like computer work to a stand-up task like filing documents for awhile helps big time. Doing some leg and back stretches when you change from the sitting to standing work also helps.

So, think about your posture habits and what you can do to improve them. Your joints will thank you by serving you longer and without shouting painfully at you.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hotel Room Dangers

Today I was reading in Daily Health News what the four dirtiest surfaces are in an hotel room, aside from the obvious toilet and bathroom sink and floor. They turned out to be:-

  1. Main light switch
  2. TV remote control
  3. Bedside lamp switch
  4. Telephone keypad

I have never worried with cleanliness of hotel rooms unless they looked really gross. I grew up eating snails and all sorts of things that would petrify a mother in today's sterile world, so I have a strong immune system. Mine is an obviously unbalanced immune system, evidenced by my psoriasis, but I am generally pretty resistant to disease.

However, something struck a chord with me in that article. It was the statement that "exposure to any pathogens (germs that carry diseases) raises your risk for getting sick, especially if you are immunocompromised". Think about that statement; you are more likely to become sick if your immune system has been weakened by anything.

Remember that the biologic treatments for psoriasis and arthritis work on exactly that principle, they weaken your immune system. So, if you are on one of those wonder drugs, remember that this is the result and take
additional precautions when you are travelling.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

More on back pain

When I first visited a new chiropractors office a few years ago, they did a very thorough check of my body, including many measurements and X-ray images. The results were very interesting.

1) I had lost a full 1.5" in height from my nearly 6' 3" when in my 20s to 40s.

2) My left hip was considerably higher than my right hip.

3) I had a slight lateral curve in my spine, no doubt linked inextricably with the two points above.

They also told me of the links between spine misalignments and particular conditions due to constriction of various nerves as they exit the spine in those misaligned areas. According to the chart, misalignment at the T12 vertebra can result in skin conditions. You can believe or not, to suit yourself. I believe that if one shuts out any idea then you are closing out a possible solution to a problem. I am happy to accept that my misalignment is possibly a contributor to my psoriasis, so I will do what I can to correct it.

Chiropractor visits are rather costly, so I set a limit on my treatment and now save it for when I have hurt myself beyond self-treatment. While going through that treatment I gave much thought to what may have caused my skewness.

I have an excellent memory of my childhood, going back to before I was 4 years old. I remember a very staid old great aunt telling me not to sit with one leg over the other because my body would grow up skew. Of course I didn't believe her. I remember her also telling me to sit with both feet flat on the ground. Why would I follow that advice either?

Now that I knew myself to be skew her advice from nearly 60 years ago came back to mind. I often sat with my left leg over my right knee. Tall and slim people do this, we wrap our long limbs around each other like vines. The result, a tilt of my left hip above the level of the right. I tried wrapping them the other way, with right over left. It was seriously uncomfortable, to the point that I could not do it for more than a few minutes at a time.

I thought further about my habits and realised that when I was standing around in shopping queues or for whatever reason, I invariably placed most of my weight on a straight left leg and relaxed my right leg. This habit also tilted my left hip above the right.

I resolved to reverse both of these habits and hoped that it was not too late to correct the problem. I persisted with crossing my legs the way that they did not want to go. I had to repeatedly catch myself sitting the other way and switch legs. It took about a year before I was comfortable sitting right over left but my hips have corrected enough for it to now be comfortable to sit either way. I now also sit with both feet flat on the ground whenever I remember. I try to stand straight, with my weight squarely spread on both feet.

I don't know yet how much I have straightened my hips and spine but they are more comfortable. Reinforced by the hanging from a bar that I described in my last post, my back is feeling much better than it has for a long long time. In the process, I hope that I have done some realignment of the important T12 vertebra and any others that could affect other aspects of my health.

If you are in the habit of sitting with one leg over the other and always the same way around, try switching legs. If you find it very uncomfortable then I guess that you are also skew and could benefit from changing legs to straighten yourself and possibly improve your psoriasis in the process.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Back Pain and Ibuprofen

For someone with psoriatic arthritis, painful joints are just a part of life. We do what we can to cope, to extend the life of our joints and to reduce the aches and pains.

About the same time that I was diagnosed with psoriasis, I was also feeling awful pain in some of my joints and a serious reduction in mobility in my knees. I had not heard of any connection between psoriasis and arthritis (not that I had ever heard of psoriasis either) and did not even mention painful joints to the dermatologist.

I put my painful knees down to the fact that in my teens I had surfed many times in water that was below 10C (50F) without a wetsuit. I sometimes could not straighten my legs when standing up after catching a wave because my knees had seized. This was before short surboards, so we knelt on them and I had massive surf bumps on my knees and feet. When my knees started giving me problems 15-20 years later I naturally linked the two. During that intervening 15-20 years I had a click in my right knee at every step, so expected that knee to have limited life. Eventually it deteriorated to the point that I could no longer bend it past 45 degrees.

It was about that time that I first heard about glucosamine and condroitin, starting to supplement with that. It provided slow but steady improvement and I found that the formulations that included hyaluronic acid worked best for me. Over many years my joints improved so much that now, 25 years later, I can bend  my knees 180 degrees. I sometimes have some pain in my hips and I regularly have pain in my spine at about the level of my lower ribs.

I refuse to let either psoriasis or arthritis control my lifestyle, so I am a very active person, considering that I am now 63 years old. I surf whenever I can and I sail a very athletic dinghy that few guys much younger than me are happy to sail by themselves as I do.

Me on my Paper Jet dinghy. Billy Black photo

When we lived in South Africa and were surrounded by mountains, I took my dogs for long strenuous walks up the mountain at least 3 times a week. I sailed 4 trans-Atlantic races, including one in which I cracked a rib half-way through the race and immediately followed that with another trans-Atlantic race without any healing time between the two voyages. I know that I have been rather abusive to my body but on the whole it has tolerated me pretty well. I regularly strain it past what it likes and it tells me so in the form of muscle and joint pain.

Two years ago I was trying to free up the seized engine of a classic British sports car that I am rebuilding. I wrenched the muscles alongside my spine and the chiropractor ordered me into a back brace and not to surf or sail for a month. Not being one to take orders well, I was back to sailing and surfing 10 days later.

Since then I have built a large shed single-handed and done various other projects that involve heavy lifting. The current job is extending the wooden deck in our back garden. I have found that it is the heavy lifting that does the most damage. I know that I am guilty of pushing myself too hard at times but that is how I get things done.

A few weeks ago my back started giving me more pain than normal and I also started to feel intense pain running down one leg, which I figured to be my sciatic nerve being pinched by a herniated disk. The pain was excruciating, so I decided to fall back on ibuprofen for some relief. I did not want to do that because I found from very early on that ibuprofen affected my psoriasis very badly, and so it did this time too. However, I was in lots of pain and all that I wanted was to get more comfortable. I consider ibuprofen only as a short-term solution because of the bad side-effects so I seldom resort to it.

Within a day I was starting to itch and another day later I was starting to flake on my elbows and the other small patches of psoriasis that I have. The pain did reduce considerably and I was able to think more clearly again, so I started to rationalise what was causing the pain. I figured that I had done too many things that were compressing my spine and needed to do some things that would stretch it back toward where it should be. I also needed to dislodge that pinched sciatic nerve from wherever it was stuck and causing the worst pain.

In South Africa I had a trapeze bar that I would hang from by my knees, upside-down. I would do that for 15-20 minutes a day, to good effect. I have not set up a trapeze bar in our current home but last week I tried a different solution. I bought a basic exercise bar that hooks onto a standard door frame. I hooked that onto the frame of one of the spare bedrooms, where it can stay as long as we don't have guests. Almost every time that I walk past that door the bar catches my eye and reminds me to stop for a few seconds and hang from it.

The benefit was almost immediate. I hang from the bar with my arms bent at 90 degrees and pull up my legs at 90 degrees, with my knees bent. While hanging like that I turn my legs to left and right a few times, twisting at the waist. Within one day the sciatic pain had completely disappeared. I still have the normal arthritis ache in my spine but that is bearable and I hope that it will also reduce as the hanging stretches my spine back to its proper length and allows the disks to decompress. I expect this to reduce the friction between adjacent vertebrae for long-term benefit.

I will keep at this tactic and see how much benefit I get from it. The initial response encourages me to make myself a new trapeze bar so that I can hang upside down again. I expect that will be of more benefit for lower back pain than the exercise bar.

The main aims of this post are to encourage you to stretch your spine if you have back pain of any kind and also to stay away from ibuprofen as a long term solution. My skin took a few days to return to its previous state after I stopped the ibuprofen.

I will continue to use it as a short-term pain solution, which will probably be each time that I do something that is both physical and incredibly stupid.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Psoriasis Blog Award

Today I received an email to tell me that my Psoriasis Spot blog has been selected by Healthline as one of the Top 10 Psoriasis Blogs for 2012.

I know that what I say in my blog is sometimes going to be at odds with what the medical profession says about psoriasis but I speak from my heart and from years of living and coping with a condition that can sometimes be very uncomfortable. I speak from experience and not from a platform that is influenced by the vested interest of drug suppliers. I have to live with any decisions that I take about my lifestyle and anything toxic that I put into my body.

I took responsibility for my own health many years ago, when I realised that my own vested interest in my personal health far outweighs the conflicting vested interests of some practitioners in the medical profession or those who simply follow outdated text books or have a closed mind to alternative treatments.

I don't ask you to do what I do, I ask only that you try the methods that have proven positive for me. If I can help just a few other people to better health then the work that has gone into blogging is well worth the effort.

Thank you to  Healthline for including my blog in their list.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Nutrition, Nutrition, Nutrition

Those of you who read this blog are aware that I am big on eating properly. I believe strongly that the root of many diseases and unhealthy conditions is in the bad eating habits of most of us. For some people this is a matter of necessity, due to the circumstances in which they live. This may be due to poverty or tight finances or it may be that food for a better diet is simply not available where they live. For others it might be too much reliance on convenience foods rather than cooking from fresh.

I recently came across a blog about nutrition, more particularly a post about countries around the world that have a problem with inadequate nutrition. Whenever this subject is discussed we expect it to be about the poor people of Bangladesh, Africa or other under-developed or developing parts of the world. Believe it or not, some of those people are probably eating more healthy diets than many people in more affluent countries.

Anyway, when I looked at that list of countries with poor nutrition, I was surprised to see that it included the United States of America. Take a look for yourself at this article on countries that have nutrition problems.

This is the opinion of the authors rather than the result of scientific research but the more that I think about it the more I believe that it holds a large helping of truth. If you live in the USA (or any country that has adopted the American lifestyle and diet) then think about your eating habits and how you go about preparing your meals. If you rely more than occasionally on TV meals, take-outs and canned food then you are undoubtedly putting plenty of unhealthy food into your body and you may be part of the nutrition crisis. The same applies if you drink lots of sodas; they seriously affect how your body handles the foods that you eat along with those drinks.

The modern world has us all under massive time pressure but some of it is self-inflicted. We don't have enough time available to cook a healthy meal from fresh produce, so we spend time in the drive-through of our favourite fast food franchise on the way home from work instead. After we have wolfed down that meal too fast for healthy digestion we will spend an hour on Facebook or email or playing on-line computer games with people far away, some of whom we will never meet. Is it more important to feed yourself and your family properly in the interests of long-term health or to exchange pleasantries with people on the other side of the world? It is important to maintain good contact with friends and family far away but modern communications has changed that contact from a monthly or annual telephone call or letter to daily chats about much of little importance. We have overdone the contact and need to step back a bit to take care of other important things in life.

I have found over the years that my psoriasis becomes worse any time that I let my nutrition slip. When I look after my nutrition my skin is almost clear, with no more than a square inch or two of psoriasis to be found. It has been that way for the past 18 months since I decided to be more diligent with my eating habits.

If you and psoriasis are at war constantly, please look at your diet. Fast food and sodas may be a big part of your problem. Change your outlook on cooking. Take time out to enjoy preparing a healthy meal from scratch.

If you are a woman you probably think that I am only a man and don't know what I am talking about because I don't cook. Wrong!! Yes, I am a mere man but I do most of the cooking in our home. I do this precisely because my wife likes to take the easy route and pull a box from the freezer. I prefer to eat healthy so I took over the cooking and watched the psoriasis fading from my body, as you can do as well.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Slippery Elm Bark

I have been extremely busy with preparations for a boat show and exhibiting, then catching up with business after the show. That has kept me from posting on this blog the past two weeks.

I have said it before but it bears repeating. Psoriasis is caused by an unbalanced immune system. I treat my psoriasis by doing everything that I can to get my immune system in balance. One of the major factors that affect the condition of the human immune system is the state of the intestines, particularly the large intestine or colon.

Proper elimination is important to maintaining this balance. Waste products contain toxins and the longer that they remain in the body, the greater the chance of the toxins being reabsorbed into the bloodstream. Those toxins can play havoc with the immune system and any conditions that depend on its health. If you have constipation problems then you can be sure that there are other health issues that are related to it.

I start the day with a full glass of filtered water as soon as I get out of bed. This is very effective at flushing out the intestines. Some people make this a cup of warm water for even better cleansing effect.

Most mornings I follow the water about 20 minutes later with a cup of tea made from slippery elm bark powder. This is something that was recommended by Edgar Cayce for psoriasis treatment because of the colon-cleansing effects of slippery elm bark. I tried it, as well as other Edgar Cayce recommendations. I did not see any benefit from the others but the slippery elm bark tea seemed to help, so I continued with it.

I used to buy my slippery elm  bark powder from The Heritage Store in Virginia Beach, which they prepared in-house. Recently they have changed to an outside supplier and seem to be having supply problems. I have had to find a new source and have settled on More Than Alive . Their product seems good and effective.

It needs hot water to dissolve it because it clumps if mixed into luke warm water. I stir about 1/4 teaspoon into a 1/4 cup of boiling water, then stir in another 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cold water. Leave to stand for a few minutes, which allows it to gel a bit before drinking. This should be taken 20-30 minutes before breakfast, to allow it to work before consuming any food.

I recently discovered another benefit from slippery elm that I did not know. I saw on a Dr Oz show that he recommended taking slippery elm for fighting colds as soon as you feel that itchy and scratchy discomfort in your throat. That was when I realised that I have not had a cold or flu since I started taking slippery elm more than 2 years ago.

Give  slippery elm a try, you may benefit with reduced psoriasis symptoms and fewer attacks of winter ailments.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Biologic Treatment of Psoriasis

Would you intentionally put into your body substances that you know will do you lots of damage in the long term? Many people do, without thinking twice about the effects of what they are doing. Smokers do it all the time. Drug addicts trash their bodies every day because they cannot break free of their extremely destructive habit. The sad part is that at some stage most of them were in really good health and took the insane decision to start putting these poisons into their bodies, knowing full well what they have done to other people.

Getting back to my question and rephrasing it somewhat, would you intentionally put medicinal substances into your body that you know will harm you and may well kill you, maybe in 6 months or in 10 years? Would you do this on the say of your doctor without first researching for yourself what the implications are? It is all very well to take a decision to go ahead after you have all of the info but don't do so just because your doctor tells you to.

I'm referring here particularly to the biologic drugs that have become very fashionable for treating psoriasis and arthritis. The range of conditions for which they are now being prescribed is expanding, with digestive and other conditions now also included. I am not going to mention any trade names, you need only to watch the TV advertisements to see them for yourself. When you see those advertisements, pay close attention to the side effects that are listed for them. They include some very dangerous conditions, some of which can be fatal. In plain and simple English, these drugs can and sometimes do kill people.

The manufacturers are required by law to declare these side effects because they are a definite risk. It doesn't mean that only one person has died and it might have been from the drug, it means that there are multiple cases. A lady who I knew started treatment with biologics for arthritis. Within 6 months she had lung problems, contracted TB and had died. She, or her medical insurance, paid a lot of money to the drug company for her treatment and it killed her.

The warnings for these treatments include to not start them if you have any infections, cold, flu etc because they weaken your immune system, which may not be able to fight the infections after the treatment begins. Why would I want to weaken my immune system? Am I crazy? My immune system is what protects me from all sorts of bad things in the air, in the water, on the ground, on any surfaces that I touch, in the food that I eat. Weakening my immune system opens multiple doors to bad things that I do not want to host in my body.

They use these treatments based on the argument that psoriasis, arthritis and many other conditions are rooted in an over-active immune system. It really is an immune system that is out of balance rather than over-active. There may be an over-active trigger that kicks in psoriasis or arthritis but we should be weakening that trigger, not the whole immune system.

There are many foods that work to balance the immune system and there are many others that harm the immune system. Rather than taking artificial chemicals to weaken the immune system we should be eating more of the foods that balance the immune system and less or none of those that harm it. It also costs a lot less money to eat properly than to inject these very expensive chemicals.

You may think that the risk of serious disease or death is worth the easy route to treating your psoriasis. My choice is to rather eat properly and stay away from those drugs.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Balancing your Immune System

Psoriasis is a skin condition that afflicts around 2-3% of the world population. That means that you probably know a few people who have psoriasis and you might not even realise that they have it. It is probably only if someone has a very bad case of psoriasis that you will become aware of it because most sufferers keep the affected skin covered up and don't talk about it.

It appears as red patches on the skin that become raised above the surrounding area, then can become dry, scaly and itchy. They appear mostly on the lower back, knees, elbows, scalp and in the groin but can appear almost anywhere on the body.

Areas with scars from old injuries seem to be the most likely sites for psoriasis. When I first broke out with psoriasis, it appeared in pretty close to the reverse order to the skin injuries that I had inflicted on myself over the previous 35 years through sports, falls etc. It eventually worked all the way back to my oldest scar, from circumcision at a few days old.

If left untreated the psoriasis patches go beyond redness and itchiness and can crack and bleed. A psoriasis itch is not the mildly annoying little itch that often occurs on normal skin, it can be a painful and very persistent itch. A normal itch will generally go away as soon as it is scratched. A psoriasis itch stays with you, no matter how hard you scratch it. In fact, scratching it can change it from an itch to a burning sensation. The best way to deal with the itch is to resist scratching it. The itch is easier to tolerate than the burn from scratching, so leave it alone. Instead, wipe on a dab of moisturiser or hydro-cortisone cream to soothe the area.

What is happening to cause the redness and raised patches of skin is that the skin is growing too fast in that particular area, at about 6 times the speed that it should. The immune system has received an incorrect message that the particular area is damaged and is trying to repair it, hence the rapid growth. The new skin is pushed toward the surface faster than the natural wearing down and sloughing of the skin can get rid of it, so it builds up the thickness.

In biblical times, psoriasis was thought to be the same as leprosy. So, when you read of lepers being ostricised by society in ancient times, many of them were psoriatics rather than lepers. Be glad that you live in modern more enlightened times but be aware that there are still many people who are shunned by their families and friends due to lack of knowledge.

Psoriasis is entirely non-contagious. Nobody can catch it from anyone else, no-matter how close the contact between them. You cannot catch it by touching someone else, wearing their clothes or even exchanging body fluids through kissing, sex or using the same utensils.

It is an auto-immune condition. It is a defect in the immune system of the person who has psoriasis. This puts it into the same category as arthritis, lupus, type 1 diabetes and many other conditions that have no obvious cause and cannot be passed from one person to another.

It seems on casual thought that the immune system is too strong, trying to repair something that is not damaged. However, this is not so. The immune system is out of balance rather than being too strong. If you treat it by weakening it, you will weaken all aspects of the immune system and open up opportunities for bad things to attack. Instead, you should do all that you can to balance your immune system. Balancing your immune system will weaken those aspects that are too strong and are over-reacting to stimuli and it will strengthen those aspects that are too weak, closing the door for possible infections through those weaknesses.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Education is King

Ignorance may be bliss but it is also very dangerous and can be the cause of great pain. This applies to so many situations in life. We do or say something that is terribly stupid simply because we do not know any better. The best way to prevent this from happening is to know everything about absolutely everything, so that we can always act and talk from an enlightened position.

This is, of course an impossible goal. We cannot possibly reach that level of knowledge, so we bumble along in life, tripping over situations that result from limited knowledge.

There is a way around this. It is to make no assumptions about anyone with whom we come into contact but to get to know them and their situation before we make up our minds about them as people. That needs us to keep an open mind about people and their situations, rather than to jump to conclusions then act stupidly.

I was on the committee of the Cape Psoriasis Association in Cape Town, South Africa, for a long time. I was also chairman of that body for a few years. During those years we on the committee came to learn of and meet various people who had psoriasis and who were very badly treated by friends, family, colleagues and people on the street. They were treated this way because those people did not know how to process what they saw in front of them.

There was a gentleman who came to our public meetings regularly. He told us that at the office where he worked, his colleagues refused to have lunch with him and would not even use the same telephone that he did. They were petrified that they would catch psoriasis from him.

He was no better off in his own home. His wife would not allow him to share a bed with her. She did not like to be near him with his flaking skin, nor to have the tiny flakes of skin that he had shed in the bed in which she was sleeping. She also would not tolerate the stains on the bedsheets that were left by the moisturisers and medicated creams that he applied to his skin to ameliorate his condition. She kept a special set of crockery and cutlery to be used only by him, he was not allowed to use the same as used by the rest of the household.

We also came to learn of a teenage boy who was ostracised by his family because of his psoriasis. They would not allow him to live in the family home, not to sleep or even to take his meals inside. Year round he lived in a tiny shed in the back yard of the home, in intolerable conditions, through summer heat and winter storms.

These situations exist because of closed minds and ignorance. The more educated a person, the more open their mind is likely to be and the more tolerant they are likely to be to others less fortunate than them. Those of us with psoriasis must appreciate how we appear to others who do not understand the condition. The worse the condition, the stronger the reaction that there is likely to be from other people and the more important knowledge about psoriasis becomes. Educating ourselves about the condition does two things.

First, it allows us to take whatever steps are needed to improve our skin. In the process we will become more healthy overall and improve our lives in general. Improving our psoriasis also reduces the visible impact when we are seen by others, so they will have less reason to be put off by what they see.

Second, it empowers us to spread the education wherever we go, into everyone with whom we come into contact. It equips them to interact with us with more confidence, in the knowledge that they and their families are not at any risk of breaking out all over with spots and scales. When they have that knowledge in their heads, they will pass it on to others, so the knowledge will spread.

There will be people who will not want to listen, not want to learn about psoriasis. Personally, I have never discussed psoriasis with anyone who did not want to learn more about it. If you do come across anyone who does not want to listen, who insists on treating you badly, move on and leave them behind. They are not worthy of wasting your time.

In your own interest, as well as of everyone else who has psoriasis, try to educate your family, friends and colleagues about the causes and results of psoriasis. I allow psoriasis to have minimal impact on my life and most of this is a result to educating myself and those around me about the condition.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Plastics and you

In recent posts I have mentioned the dangers of chemicals migrating out of polyester clothing and plastic liquid containers and onto or into your body. The dangers of plastics go further than that though.

We don't know which plastics present the most danger of leaching plasticisers into what we eat and drink. The plastics manufacturers aren't going to give us a straight answer, their business success depends on selling as much as possible of their product. The food manufacturers aren't necessarily going to tell us the truth either until they know that their packagings are truly safe because a bad answer will knock their sales.

We have to depend on government or independent testing laboratories, with no ties to the plastics or food processing industries, to supply honest answers. The testing that they have done has shown that there are chemicals that escape from the plastics, particularly under elevated temperatures and that this applies to many types of food packaging. Some of these chemicals are proven carcinogens, i.e. they cause cancer. Carcinogens in the digestive system are bad news, resulting in cancers of the various parts of the digestive system, most importantly the colon. This is where the bad chemicals are likely to spend the most time before being eliminated from your system.

The chemicals in the colon also affect the immune system, putting it out of balance. This can result in all sorts of autoimmune conditions, including psoriasis and arthritis. It is worthwhile to improve this situation by:-

1) Minimising the intake of chemicals out of food packaging

2) Getting them out of your body as fast as possible by ensuring that your digestive system is working properly

These chemicals may come out of any plastic containers that you use to cook or heat food in your microwave. That includes plastic packaging containing TV meals and other frozen pre-prepared meals that you either cook or heat in the microwave. Carcinogens have also been identified in coatings used to preserve the inside surfaces of food cans and have been proven to migrate into the food.

The problem is that we don't know fully which packaging does this and which doesn't. Until the food packaging industry cleans up its act this danger will exist. In the meantime I try to minimise consuming products that have been both in contact with plastics and at elevated temperatures. Many of these products are over-processed and bad for health anyway, so minimising them can only be a benefit.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Drink Pure Water

One of my tactics for clearing my psoriasis has been to try to eliminate any potential sources of unhealthy chemicals or products that might have been entering my body. I am quite diligent about reading any material that comes into my hands about things that are good and bad for health. I try to maximise the good things and minimise the bad stuff. You cannot do that without knowing which is good and which is bad, as well as what makes them good or bad.

One tends to believe that the water in USA is top class and that in Africa it is very suspect. My experience from living in Cape Town and Virginia Beach has been that the water in Cape Town is probably of more consistent high quality than in Virginia Beach. Here the water taste varies considerably from month to month. Sometimes it tastes muddy and other times it has a strong chlorine taste. I have little confidence in it being free of bad stuff.

We investigated a whole-house filtration system but it was very costly. We tried a small filter that attaches to the outlet of the faucet, which helped but is lacking in the number of heavy metals and other contaminants that it removes. Eventually we changed to an under-sink two-stage filter that removes a wide range of particles, chemicals and heavy metals and I use that for all drinking water, even if it is to be boiled. I think that the only way to get water that is more pure would be to distill it myself or buy distilled water.

Filtering your own domestic water from the city or county water supply is much cheaper than buying bottled water. It also gives more confidence about the source of the water that I am drinking. There have been a few TV programs and reports of investigations into the sources of some of the brands of bottled water sold in stores. Some of them are suspect or are just water bottled by a small supplier from the public water supply and fraudulently sold as spring water.

The other concern is that plasticisers in the plastic containers will contaminate the liquids that they contain, particularly if the bottle is heated in any way. This may be due to the bottle being inside a hot vehicle or lying on your towel on a hot beach. The toxic chemicals will migrate into the liquid that you will drink, which enables those chemicals to enter your digestive system and then every cell in your body. You can keep your bottled liquids cool to prevent this happening but it might be a long journey from the bottling factory to your mouth. If any supplier in that path is less than careful in storing the cases of bottles in cool areas and out of direct sunlight then the chemicals might have been in the liquids for days or weeks before you even buy the bottle.

Heavy metals and toxic chemicals can show in the human body in many different forms, from psoriasis to cancer or Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. There is no guarantee that any person will not contract those conditions anyway but it is worthwhile to minimise the chances by drinking good clean water, without dangerous contaminants.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Wear Natural Fibres

Have you ever noticed how plastic items that are new are generally flexible but old plastic items break easily because they have become hard and brittle? You may also remember vinyl tile flooring of a few decades ago that shrank as it aged, so that the once tight joints gradually became larger and larger. New clothes made with man-made fabrics are strong, soft and flexible but as they age they become more stiff and are much easier to rip.

This is because plastic contains plasticisers and those plasticisers gradually migrate to the surface and evaporate off into the air. The plasticisers are chemicals that are included in the mix when making plastic raw materials for processing into all manner of objects for use in modern life. This includes a wide range of fibres that are further processed into threads to be woven into fabric to make clothing.

The plasticisers are chemicals that are good for plastic but bad for any living body. Man-made fibres put those fabrics on the outside of your body. On cool days this may not do you much harm, if any. Any plasticisers that are released might simply evaporate off into the air. In hot weather this changes because you will start to perspire. The warmer temperature will also increase the rate of release of the plasticisers from your clothing. Your skin becomes moist with sweat, which absorbs plasticiser from the fabric and you soon have a chemical solution on your skin.

Imagine that you are out jogging, cycling or exercising at the gym, in sexy tight stretch clothing made from man-made fabrics. Everything that you are wearing is pulled tight against your skin and is flexing with every movement of your body, like a second skin. Your own skin is oozing salty liquid in the form of sweat. Your second skin is soaked in that liquid and is itself releasing chemical plasticisers into that liquid, helped by the increasing temperature both from your body and from the environment. The water evaporates off but the salt and chemicals stay behind, gradually strengthening the mix until you have a concentrated salty chemical soup being rubbed against your skin by the fabric.

With psoriasis (and many other skin conditions) your skin is affected by what is contacting it from the outside. It is adversely affected by many chemicals. In the scenario described above you have toxic chemicals that are not only in contact with the psoriasis but they are being artificially held there by the fabric and the fabric is also rubbing it into the surface. This is a bad situation for any skin problem.

Here are clothing principles that help to keep psoriasis to a minimum.

1) Check the labels before buying any item of clothing. Stay with natural fibres wherever possible. That means buying mostly cotton or wool articles. Some fabrics are a combination of polyester and cotton, try to keep the polyester to a very small percentage.

2) Make sure that any underwear worn is cotton and not polyester.

3)Loose underwear is less likely to aggravate perspiration than tight-fitting versions. Your skin needs to breathe so that it is cooler and perspires less.

4) Loose outer garments are also better, for the same reasons. They are not held against the skin to trap moisture but allow it to evaporate off.

5) If you must wear man-made fabrics for some reason, such as a sports uniform, get out of it as soon as you can, shower to wash away any perspiration and dress in natural fibre clothes.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Eat Natural

The most healthy way to nourish your body is to give it food that is as close to its natural form as possible. This does not imply that you must eat anything raw that should be cooked but it does mean that you should try to minimise the amount of processing that happens to that food between the time that it is reaped or killed and when it enters your mouth.

Keep in mind that the manufacturers are in the business of feeding the masses for their own benefit, not yours. They exist primarily to make a profit. If there are ways for them to make that profit by using inferior produce or by using a cheaper alternative that will taste as good, they may well do so. Even when reading the list of ingredients and nutrition information you cannot be sure exactly what is in that can of soup or frozen meal because low levels of additives don't have to be reported. You can be sure of what is in your meal if you prepare it yourself.

The food manufacturers add all manner of additives to their products and not all of them are good for your health. Some are added to maximise taste, for example salt and sugar. Personally, I find most prepackaged American foods much too salty for my palate. I think that they have progressively added more salt to their recipes over the decades to keep ahead of the American palate becoming accustomed to it, so their product always seems flavourful to taste buds that have already been sensitised by too much salt. Read the information labels on your cans to see the high salt content of some of these products. Salt absorbs water from its surroundings, so too much salt makes your body hold excess water. It also increases bad cholesterol levels in your blood. Not good for your health.

Various manufacturers have heeded the call from health authorities to reduce salt content but some of them have replaced it with more sugar, to enhance the flavour. The are compensating for lost saltiness by increasing sweetness. That is also bad for your health, the extra sugar translates into more calories, which make more fat if you don't burn them off. Also, read in an earlier post Watch What You Mix what the effects are of combining excessive sugars with proteins in your meals.

Bread choice is somewhere that you can improve the amount of processing in what you eat. Many of the choices are little more than air and highly processed white flour. They are not even tasty or pleasant to eat and they are awful toasted. The packaging tells that it is enriched with various vitamins and minerals. Frankly, it has to be enriched because so much natural goodness has been removed in the processing that it has little nourishment left in it. This stuff also has preservatives to stop it from going stale. You can forget a few slices in a packet in the back of your bread bin and it will still be soft 2 weeks later. You will have better digestion if you choose wholewheat and multi-fibre breads ahead of white air bread. It is also more filling, so you will feel that you have eaten something more substantial.

Salads made from fresh ingredients are always nice in hot weather. They are filling, have lots of fibre and the colourful ingredients are full of antioxidants. The fibre will improve your digestion and the antioxidants will help to ward of cancer by getting rid of free radicals in your system. The same applies to lightly steamed vegetables.

Food cooked at home from fresh is far more healthy than buying prepared frozen dinners from the supermarket. Many chain restaurants are just as guilty of over-salting their food as the manufacturers of canned of frozen dinners. You can continue eating this way out of convenience but think about what it is doing to your health.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hair Washing thoughts

There is a variety of shampoo options available for treatment of psoriasis and it is up to you to find which products work best for you.

I settled on two types. One is a tar shampoo and the other is a salicylic acid shampoo. I find it best to alternate between the two for best results, using one the one day and the other the next day.

Years ago I was having a haircut and my hairdresser told me that I should rinse my hair more thoroughly because she could smell the chemicals on my hair and she thought that was bad. A few months later we had a Psoriasis Association public meeting and the speaker was a leading Cape Town dermatologist. I asked her how thoroughly the shampoo should be rinsed out and she said that it is more beneficial to rinse very briefly than to rinse thoroughly. She said that keeping some of the chemicals on the scalp makes it work better.

There are a few other points that I have learned over the years to help keep the psoriasis on my scalp under control. So, here are points in no particular order of importance.

1) Medicated shampoos need to be on the scalp for awhile to work, so it helps to wet the hair and rub in the shampoo a few minutes before getting into the shower. Maybe lather up, then brush your teeth, shave etc before entering the shower.

2) The shampoo is needed on your scalp rather than in your hair. No problem if your hair is short but if it is very long then you can lose a lot of beneficial shampoo in your hair. Concentrate on massaging the shampoo into your scalp with your finger tips.

3) Don't overdo the rinse. A quick rinse with warm water is all that it needs. Don't make the water too hot, excessive heat will aggravate your psoriasis and also remove more of the chemicals than warm water.

4) Salt water helps my skin. If I have been in the ocean then I don't rinse with fresh water when I leave the beach but rather allow the salt water to air-dry. I don't wash my hair the next day but leave the salt on my scalp for another 24 hours.

5) It helps for the sun to get to my scalp, so I seldom wear any sort of headgear unless I will be in strong sunlight for many hours. I want the sun to penetrate through my hair. I keep a cap handy to wear if I feel that my scalp has had enough sun.

6) Being somewhat of a skinflint, I don't like to have my hair cut too often. When I have it cut, it is with a razor and #4 or #5 attachment. That is short, so it lets the sun through. When it grows to about 50mm (2") I have it cut back again.

Using these methods, my scalp is generally pretty good. It is still worthwhile to wear mostly light coloured clothing to be sure that there are no flakes of skin showing on my shoulders. Black is out, charcoal is OK, grey is good and white is great.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Don't hide away

When I was diagnosed with psoriasis I was very aware of how ugly it made my skin look. My immediate reaction was to hide it.

My first reading about the condition was in encyclopedias and medical books because there was no Internet yet. All of my reading described how people felt ashamed of it and hid it away with long sleeve shirts and long pants. I also read that it benefits from exposure to UV rays.

I came to the conclusion that hiding it away is the worst thing that can be done because it will reduce exposure to sunlight and aggravate rather than help. So, I quickly went back to my customary shorts and T-shirts or shorts only. My wife asked if i wasn't worried about what my friends would think or say. I said that I was not concerned and would educate them about psoriasis if needed. I had decided that if any friend objected to seeing my skin then they were not worthy of my friendship. As I expected, nobody objected and all wanted to know more about it.

I continued to spend lots of time on the beach and in the ocean. If anyone asked about my blotchy skin I politely explained that psoriasis is non-contagious and benefits from exposure, so should not be hidden away. Nearly 30 years later I still hold the same opinions and follow the same habits as I did then, they have proven to work.

I believe that it is very important for everyone with whom you are regularly in contact, i.e. family, friends, co-workers etc, to understand what psoriasis is and that it has no detrimental effect on anyone else. They must understand that you cannot harm them, there is no need for them to feel afraid that they or anyone else will catch psoriasis from you. As long as you have people around you who don't understand this you will experience incidents when they don't want to be near to you or to touch something that you have touched.

Psoriasis is no more contagious than a broken leg but can be much more debilitating in your daily life if you come into contact with people who want to persecute you because they do not understand what they see. A broken leg they can understand but red and silver blotches on the skin can conjure up images of all sorts of tropical or other contagious diseases that they don't understand.

So, my advice is to wear light and comfortable summer clothing that lets the sun get to your skin. Take every opportunity to educate those around you about psoriasis, so that they know exactly what it is and can easily accept it, rather than preferring to exclude you from their circle of contact. Your skin will improve from the exposure and you will feel better for not being a hermit.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Anti-Inflamatory Drugs

In the 90s I was on my boat and the crew were packing away sails. I stepped on a sail on the foredeck, not realising that they had not closed the hatch over which they had spread the sail. I fell through the hatch, with my fall broken by my elbows hitting the deck. Aside from the inevitable painful joints, I also had a massive swelling that developed rapidly overnight on an elbow and was extremely painful.

Next day I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with bursitis and given a prescription of anti-inflammatory tablets that lasted for 2 weeks. The tablets worked a treat in sorting out the problem and I was all set for the Cape to Rio trans-Atlantic yacht race that was to start a few weeks later.

A few days after I started the anti-inflammatory treatment I noticed that I was starting a flare-up in my psoriasis. No-matter what I did to improve it, the flare-up just grew worse. It continued a few weeks after the course of tablets was completed, then slowly tapered off back to normal.

Next visit to the doctor, I mentioned the psoriasis flare-up and she said that it could well be a side-effect of the drugs. That put me on notice to watch it in the future. Next time that I had a bursitis problem I was again prescribed anti-inflammatories and again experienced a flare-up. Both times the drug used was ibuprofen.

Since proving that I have this reaction to ibuprofen, I have tried to minimise my use of the drug. I prefer to use an aspirin or two for pain instead of ibuprofen but don't know if it is as effective as an anti-inflammatory treatment for injuries. If I have sports injury then I still use ibuprofen but at a minimal level to minimise the aggravation.

I expect that most people who have psoriasis will have a similar reaction to anti-inflammatory drugs. Millions of people take these drugs for pain relief from arthritis and other painful conditions. If you are one of those people and you have psoriasis that you can't seem to improve then it is very possible that the anti-inflammatory drugs are aggravating your psoriasis. In that case it will be worthwhile to do some testing to find the answer one way or the other.

Speak to your doctor about it. My doctor changed me to another drug when we realised that I had a problem but I don't remember what the new drug was. We have both emigrated, to opposite sides of the world, so I can't call her to ask what it was. Your doctor should be able to advise a suitable alternative.

This problem will also apply to other medications. The important thing is to discover whether or not you are adversely affected by the medications that you take. If you find that they are aggravating your psoriasis then you should try to find an alternative that will not affect you or to use the medication at the lowest level that you can.

Monday, April 30, 2012

More on Sunshine

A couple of years ago I was at a local psoriasis supporters meeting and was chatting to a guy who was very depressed about his bad psoriasis. It was an interesting chat and i was glad to be supported in my opinions by a lady who had similar experiences to what I have had.

This guy is an inside person. He is single and with no significant other in his life. He has psoriasis that is treated by a dermatologist. He told me that nothing that the dermatologist had tried worked for his psoriasis and he was going to have biologic injections to sort it out. I am not a lover of the concept of those injections, they are a crazy price that just pushes up the cost of health-care unnecessarily and they have potentially lethal side-effects. So I asked him a few questions about his lifestyle and what treatments had been tried. It was enlightening.

Living alone and not caring for cooking, he eats out all the time. Mostly fast food burgers, fries and sodas. I asked why he doesn't opt for the much healthier salads now offered by most fast food chains but he doesn't like salads. A diet composed almost entirely of beef burgers, fries and sodas is guaranteed to mess up your body in one way or another. For him it shows as psoriasis, for others it might cause type 2 diabetes, heart problems, morbid obesity, cancer or other nasty conditions.

He doesn't do any outdoor activities, at all. He has an indoor job and stays indoors all weekend as well. So, he gets virtually no sunshine on his body. He does not use UV light in the treatment of his psoriasis and he does not take vitamin D supplements. He was surprised to hear that UV light is a treatment for psoriasis as it had not been offered by his dermatologist. He suffers from chronic depression and is on anti-depressant drugs. He said that it was his psoriasis that caused him to be depressed.

I urged him to sort out his diet by eating more vegetables, fresh salads etc and to get out into the sun. Those changes should improve both his psoriasis and depression problems.

The human body needs vitamin D to be healthy. Most of this is processed by our bodies from exposure to sunlight. The amount of sunlight that our bodies can take is controlled by the pigments in our skin, so people who naturally lived close to the equator are dark-skinned to minimise absorption and those from higher latitudes closer to the poles have lighter skins to maximise absorption. If dark-skinned people move into areas of low sunlight they suffer from depression because they are deficient in vitamin D. They must either get more sunlight to make more vitamin D or they must take vitamin D supplements to compensate.

The answer to this depression by many doctors is to just medicate with anti-depressants. If they prescribed vitamin D instead, there would be much less need for anti-depressant drugs.

Depression is a problem in modern society for various reasons, including pressure of work, spending too much time working at indoor jobs and watching sports on TV instead of outdoors. Added to this is the concern for the dangers of exposure to UV rays, so everyone covers themselves with sunblock creams and sprays to block out the UV when they do get into the sun. Blocking out the UV rays stops your body from producing vitamin D, so you end up with a deficiency and a chance of depression. The answer is to expose yourself, unprotected, to natural sunlight for a few hours each week, preferably 30 minutes or so each day. The more skin that you can expose, the shorter the time can be. Twice as much exposed skin needs half as much sunlight time to process the same amount of vitamin D.

If you have a private garden or balcony, strip completely naked and absorb the sun all over. It will help the psoriasis in your groin much more  to be exposed to some direct sunlight than to get it indirectly through vitamin D processed through exposure of your arms and legs. It is also surprisingly invigorating to feel the warmth of the sun and the feel of a breeze on parts of your body that are normally covered.

Don't overdo it though. Sudden exposure of a pale body to many hours of sunshine will result in sunburn. Damage from repeated sunburns will build up in your body and you can expect skin cancer to be in your future. Peeling skin after sun tanning is an indication that you are over-doing it. Blisters are a major no-no and an indication that you are looking for trouble. I have been in the sun many thousands of hours in my 63 years but have not peeled in at least the last 30 years and have not blistered since I was a teenager.

Building up a tan slowly will give some protection from damage and reduce the chances of skin cancer. Maintaining a constant moderate tan will be safer than tanning excessively every summer vacation and staying out of the sun the rest of the year.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The sun is the Essence of Life

Most people who have psoriasis have used sunlight or UV light in one form or another at some time in the treatment if their condition, whether under the direction of a dermatologist or as self-treatment. It has long been known that psoriatic lesions react positively to UV light.

When I lived in South Africa I used the sun a lot. Being a surfer and a sailor, I spent many hours each year in or on the water, with my bare skin absorbing the sunshine. I have worked from home from soon after I was diagnosed, so on any sunny day I also spent lunch time naked in my back garden. Even the winter sun was able to help to keep my skin clear and it was only in late winter or early spring that my all-over tan would fade somewhat and my skin deteriorate to the point of showing lesions on my lower back and elbows. By mid to late summer they would be completely gone again.

After we moved to USA, the situation changed. The combination of a less healthy diet and weaker sunshine was bad for me. It proved to be easier to improve my diet than to convince the earth to let more UV light through for me to use. The hole in the ozone layer makes the sunshine stronger in the southern hemisphere than north of the equator. While the summer sun is hotter here in Virginia Beach than in Cape Town, the UV rays are weaker.

I found that to compensate I had to resort to using a sunbed to increase my UV exposure in the cooler months, with at least weekly visits to a tanning salon. Even that didn't fully do the job, although it did keep my skin nicely golden. Note that it is important to apply plenty of moisturiser to your skin multiple times a day if using a sunbed, or you will not only become golden but also crisply crinkled. I moisturised all over first thing each morning and after tanning. I also use a moisturising bar rather than soap in the shower.

Then one day a thought crossed my mind that maybe my body lacked Vitamin D rather than UV light. After all, our bodies produce Vitamin D from UV light. So, I went on-line and Googled Vitamin D and psoriasis. I found one reference to research that is being done into the effects of increasing Vitamin D intake to treat psoriasis, which said that the preliminary results were positive. I had also read elsewhere that there is new thinking and research into the Vitamin D requirements of the human body, which shows that the Recommended Daily Allowance that has been used for decades is very inadequate.

That prompted me to try Vitamin D supplements over the past 6 months or so. I started early autumn, when my skin should have been starting to deteriorate. In previous years I would have started to visit the tanning salon by about the beginning of December. This year I have not had to use a sunbed even once. Now, about the middle of spring, my skin is about the same as it would have been in Cape Town at this stage of the season. I have three small lesions on my back and a few tiny pink spots elsewhere. Few people looking at me on the beach would realise that I have a skin condition.

While this is not a scientific finding by any means, it is a good indication to me that I have benefitted by using a Vitamin D supplement. The drawback (there is always a flipside to the coin) is that I have to work a bit on my tan this spring, which I have not had to do before. The other flipside (this coin has three sides) is that I am exposing myself less to the risks of skin cancer without the sunbed.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Improving digestion

Psoriasis is an auto-immune condition and auto-immune conditions generally have their origins in the digestive system. That means that anyone with an auto-immune disease or condition should do all that they can to ensure proper digestion of whatever they put into their body.

Your psoriasis shows on the outside of your body. Most people reason that the problem is on their skin so that is what they treat, with topical steroids and other creams and lotions that must be absorbed through the outer layers of skin to reach the layers where the excessive cell growth is taking place. These topical medications do help but they treat the symptoms rather than the cause of the problem. Also, many of the medications have long-term effects like thinning the skin and making it more easily damaged, if used for long periods. I prefer to use the topical solutions as a backup to improving what is happening inside my body to cause the symptoms seen and felt on my skin.

Digestion doesn't only happen in your stomach and intestines, it starts as soon as you take in something through your lips, into your mouth. I am sure that most of us remember being told by our parents to eat slowly and to chew our food properly. Our teachers at school told us the same thing. Most of us heard the message but didn't really listen to it, continuing our bad habits. Most adults don't chew their food properly, even when telling their children to do so.

Have you ever noticed that many people who really wolf down their meals are over-weight and those who eat more slowly are slim. There are two reasons for this.

1) Incompletely digested food makes more fat than properly digested food. It applies more load onto the digestive system, which cannot work as efficiently. Your digestive juices cannot break down large pieces of food as easily as it can smaller pieces that have also been well and truly beaten up by your teeth, in the same way that a studded mallet tenderizes steak and allows the marinades and sauces to get into the meat.

2) It takes your brain about 20 minutes to catch up with your stomach, to receive the message that you have had a meal. Cram in lots of food in 20 minutes and you will fill yourself up to capacity, placing strain on your stomach. Eat slowly for 20 minutes and your brain will tell you that you have had enough before the food puts pressure from below on your gullet. You will feel more comfortable for it and will be much less likely to need antacids to get rid of that bloated feeling and heartburn. If you suffer heartburn regularly take it as a sign that your eating habits are possibly not what they should be.

There is an excellent saying that I keep in mind to help maintain my digestive system in good order. It goes "Chew your liquids and drink your solids". What it means is:-

A) Don't just pour your liquids (soups, fruit juices etc) straight through your mouth and down your gullet. There are ingredients in those liquids that need the alkaline juices in your saliva to kick off conversion into the good stuff that your body needs. You should swill the liquids around your mouth to mix it with saliva before you swallow.

B) Chew your solids very thoroughly to break them into smaller pieces, break down the cell structure and to mix it with saliva. If you sometimes battle to swallow a piece of meat or other food then you have not chewed it anywhere near enough. It is too large and it is also too dry with insufficient saliva around it.

If your food is well mixed and softened before it reaches your stomach then it has a head-start to being properly converted into nutrients as it travels through your system. You will get more nutrition from your food and will be more healthy as well. Your psoriasis should show some improvement and you may lose some weight along the way.