I’m combining all my other blogs’ content to this site. Please bear with me as I post older content. 🙂
Way back a few months, Fi and I visited my parents, and as a result she got her fill of dog exposure. Studies are still looking into the impact of early dog exposure (e.g. the first year of a baby’s life) on the child’s risk of asthma, allergies, and eczema later in life, and preliminary data seems to suggest that dogs have a positive effect in decreasing the risk of all three.
One study even found a higher correlation of eczema reduction for black children as opposed to white children from dog exposure, which could be useful as black people statistically have a higher risk for eczema (especially women).
These kinds of studies highlight the need for analysis of subgroups (e.g. race, gender, type of birth) to really understand who is being affected specifically. However, subgrouping is only useful so long as the studies are done through non-biased non-reductionist lenses. If accomplished, such specificity would allow for more applicable research to come out that could help promote better health, wellness, and medical decisions.
Which reminds me, I also listened to a webinar from the Black Mamas Matter Alliance. It covered a lot of material, but there was one particular point that stuck out to me (besides the need for a lot of policy reform across the country). It was the need for doulas, particularly those who live in the communities they serve (called community-based doulas).
Doulas act as support people for mothers, providing nonjudgmental (and non-medical) advice to moms from pregnancy to postpartum, making sure moms understand their rights and options. A doula from one’s own community would invaluable as they would understand the dynamics behind the community, as well as having firsthand experience with how the medical/clinical facilities are.
The webinar also talked about the need for insurance coverage for doulas (especially under Medicare), so that more mothers can afford them. I couldn’t agree more, especially as doulas correlate with better outcomes and statistics for the mothers overall.
The webinar is up on the BMMA site if you want to listen to it.
And lastly, I also read a book by a black midwife called Listen to Me Good, which was a book about a less well known figure in women’s history named Margaret Charles Smith. She was a midwife in Alabama who worked from the 40s to the 80s.
She never thought she’d become a lay midwife, as the hours were terrible and the pay even worse, especially for a black woman in the south. She learned traditions of birth and postpartum care through her grandmother and other “wise women”, and then later got standardized training through the nearest hospital, which allowed her to assist more women in a systemically recognized and medically approved fashion. She still continued to serve women as best she could without putting her neck on the line (she also helped deliver white women’s babies, which was a contentious point at the time).
The book also reflects on the various struggles black women faced in trying to work as midwives in Alabama, first due to explicit racism, but in later years, also due to systemic racism and prejudice through the worlds of healthcare and medicine, as doctors sought to get rid of lay midwifery (and devalued nurse-midwifery too in some areas). Many women, like Miss Smith, continued to try to care for women regardless, as they were the only option for hundreds of miles, and because white doctors were generally not interested in making the trip to aid poor black women give birth.
It really puts into perspective that even today, black women in America are still three to four times more likely to die during childbirth (or the first week immediately after) than white women. Food for thought.
One thing that could help bridge this increasing gap is better sensitivity training and education for medical practitioners. I was curious about different traditional practices and beliefs around postpartum care which led me to some interesting studies. One such study covered a few Central American countries and their beliefs around both the perinatal and postpartum periods.
I do think it’s important to know of the different roots behind postpartum treatments to help understand why a family may act/react the way they do to particular medical practices in western birth facilities (like hospitals). This is the way, in my opinion, to create a culture of care that uses a mom’s background/culture along with the medical evidence based practice to put the best interests of moms first, rather than of healthcare premiums.
I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth, I just no longer subscribe to the spacetime continuum on it. But you’ve heard enough of my excuses about why I’m so untimely and inconsistent with posting, so let’s just skip that rerun.
Today’s topic is things that suck. But literally suck, as in suction, not in that they are uncool. The latter is way too arbitrarily subjective for me.
Anyway, so I’ve been pondering about my skin health, especially that of my feet. As a whole my skin has improved immensely; so much so that going outside in 20 degree weather does not reduce me to being a miserable shivering mess any longer. I feel like each day, despite my diet not being on point and my sleep amounts being wonky, my skin is developing a more human luster again. Obviously this is exciting beyond proportions, however, my feet in particular still look horrendous and itch aggressively at times. Many areas, especially where the foot skin meets the plantar skin surface (bottom of the foot), there is a tough thickened layer of scarred skin, much like a callous but not so strong and mostly still flaky. From staring at it collectively for hours (and talking with my sister, who is good at thinking about skin care), I have come to the conclusion that I sorely lack blood flow in those areas, and so the trick now is figuring how to remedy that. I’ve been trying massage techniques as part of a bedtime routine and maybe it’s working, but at any rate I started envisioning a new “quick fix” direction: leeches!
Here me out. Leeches are small and single purpose-y: they bite to latch to human skin, secrete a light numbing type chemical, and then they start sucking and drawing blood to satiate themselves, and when they are done their fat content selves detach and they fall off. Well, what if they were applied to those thickened eczema spots, like on my feet? Could their ability to draw blood work in my favor to get the needed blood flow to that area to promote better healing? Would it reduce the thick skin build-up?
I then got curious if any medical practitioners have tried using leeches for eczema and recorded their findings. Turns out the answer is yes, but so far only in India (or that I could find). The study I did find had no control group (so no way to control for placebo effects or to compare in general) but they did find that leeches helped the eczema spots. Honestly I’m not sure why though. The study mentioned the leeches’ secretion having a microbial effect and the penetration of the epidermis and dermis layers of the skin, as well as the increased bloodflow the leeches provoked, so maybe I was on to something there.
The next thing that sucks isn’t a thing at all, but my baby. As a breastfed baby, my little one practices her sucking multiple times a day (I don’t pump honestly because I’m not good at it, so it feels like it takes forever just to get a low yield), meaning my schedule is worked around her needs. While I don’t mind this, it has caused me to wonder how I could have a career, as there are not many jobs I could take her along with me in this day and age (or at least not that I know of).
In short, I started coursework to become a postpartum doula. It will probably take me a few years to finish it all, mostly because you need to spend 5 hours minimum with 4 separate families and Fiona isn’t ready for that duration of separation yet, plus I don’t have any families lined up. That and also Fiona has developed complete object permanence, and so we are drastically having to readjust her sleeping routine again.
In other news, I have also started a role as a research writer for a site called PPDJourney, which features stories from moms about their experiences with postpartum depression. I’ll be doing monthly pieces on things that relate to maternal mental health.
Also I may be possibly developing a course with my favorite herbalist group, but I’ll keep that under wraps until it becomes more concrete.
Lastly, yes I know the cover picture is a slug, not leech, but in the immortal words of Rick the Hormone Monster “What’d ya gonna do?”
With everything that’s been going on, I completely forgot to note that it’s been a year since I’ve been off topical steroids!
It was about this time last year that I found out I was pregnant and thus decided to give up topical steroids cold turkey. I had read that using them during a pregnancy could result in developmental delays of a fetus (if using too strong a dose for too long, or over too large of skin surface area), so instead I decided to completely cut it all out. Long story short, my eczema has been complicated by topical steroid withdrawal since that point, like I’m on some sort of a topsy-turvy roller coaster ride.
In fact, last night I had to have Jake cut my wedding band off my finger because my finger got so swollen and neither ice nor lubricants helped bring swelling down or get the ring off respectively.
It was a sad and frustrating moment where I realized that despite all my perceived healing, I still cannot even wear any jewelry (minus my tragus piercing, which I think is only fine because it’s an area of the ear that has more cartilage than skin or nerve endings).
Necklaces, earrings, bracelets, everything else tends to bother my skin (or be scary to wear like in the case with the ring yesterday).
I’ve also been struggling with bouts of intense nighttime itching, which has resulted in me scratching myself open more, (even when wearing gloves) as I have less mental fortitude to prevent myself from doing so late at night. The worst I’ve done so far was on my leg the other day, which definitely warranted some wound care attention.
I remember as I scratched that I felt it start to weep but it was still so excruciatingly itchy, almost as bad as when I get hives, that I couldn’t stop.
So what’s a girl to do especially with the winter onset and the heater constantly running? Make a skin plan of course!
My current plan is as of now comprised of the following steps (in no particular order):
Get a new dermatologist (we’re moving soon) and make sure to request bloodwork and a skin prick test (the latter if my back can stay flare-free enough to do so)
Research about best emollients and supplements that include essential components for skin and skin healing (like ceramide and filaggrin) and confirm with new derm
Consult an herbalist to work in more herbs into my diet, bath, etc and to help address my sleep issues more naturally
Figure out more about the endocannabinoid system and what else helps it besides CBD oil since said oil is quite pricey
Take the dermatology technician certificate to get a better clinical understanding of dermatology and what doctors think (without having to go to med school and then through a dermatology residency)
Get myself moving more again. Brave the cold and go for more walks and seriously get back into intense yoga because it helps
Avoid all added sugars including honey and maple syrup until my inflammation has dissipated a bit more
Contemplate seeing a psychologist to address my excoriating disorder and stress issues
Fix my diet overall which includes following seasonality, eating a more diverse array of vegetables, and keeping track of what I eat too
Read more books on eczema including ones whose contents I am on the fence about
Learn more about newer treatments including dupixent and eucrisa
Get my life together enough that I can participate in calls in the online eczema community program I am involved with
There are probably more pieces of my plan that I’ve forgotten and a better step-wise way to present them but I’m too worn out to care right now.
Sometimes the constant skin drying out or the fear that what I ate is hurtng me, or the annoyance at having to adjust so many commonplace day-to-day activities like how my husband can touch me or how I can hold my baby really get to me. I can see why it’s so easy to turn to a medication that can quickly get rid of symptoms, yet for many of us, our skin conditions have become the result of such medications, which feels like a betrayal of the modern medicine world, like science has failed us.
I need to do a post on topical steroids soon, and how they work, and then read and talk about how the newer medicines on the market work and how they are faring. There is no miracle cure to illnesses and quick acting solutions can come with a price. It seems more and more important to show that there will be some level of struggle involved for those unlucky enough to be susceptible to this kind of condition.
“Hello darkness my old friend”… today’s post was started during the witching hours of the night, not because of insomnia (yay, progress!) but because of Fi-somnia… aka my 4.5 month old baby, Fiona. She’s a much cuter reason to have a disturbed REM cycle.
Anyway let’s talk about the health elephant in the room: detoxing. I have heard more and more talk about various detoxification methods and I am just not sure what it all means, so today’s post is about clearing my system (pun intended) of these questions.
First off, what are the theories around detoxification? One theory I have heard for those who have eczema goes as followed: our organs (specifically the liver and kidneys) become over-taxed by our modern diets and exposure to heavy metals and other toxins, and at some point it becomes all too much and our bodies cannot flush-out said toxins, so instead, the build-up of toxins show off their toxic love by wrecking our skin.
Well, bodies have some ability to create compounds out of heavy metals, to bind them chemically to make them less dangerous to the body (which is the function of the liver, remember?), as was supported in a study in 2004 on seals, porpoises, and albatross. Generally heavy metals can end up in cells in the body: in the cell’s fluid, mitochondria, nucleus, etc (in the case of the study, they were talking about liver cells). But how specifically do bodies deal with heavy metals; or in other words, what gets the liver to start neutralizing these toxins? A study done in 2004 on mice looked at something called the metal responsive transcription factor 1 (or MTF-1). Side note:a transcription factor is a protein that helps turn on/off genes. The study’s results showed that a developing fetus that lacks Mtf1 (the gene that MTF-1 can turn on/off) will die because its liver won’t be able to form properly, but an adult that lacks Mtf1 will have difficulty handling heavy metals and will have low lymphocytes (the cells that help clear bad germs and materials out of our blood). This MTF-1 also is used to deal with when the body has hypoxia (not enough oxygen) or oxidative stress (too many free radicals in the body). What this all means is that our liver is able to function properly because it has this protein that turns on whatever genes are needed to get the liver to deal with toxins (metals and free radicals).
Now let me also quickly talk about oxidative stress, which is important to note because heavy metals can cause oxidative stress. That may be why and where the idea of some detox diets came from: if you want to detox from free radicals in the body, doesn’t it seem logical to consume antioxidant-rich foods and nothing else for a few days to cleanse? And what foods are known to have good supplies of antioxidants? Watermelons, lemons, and many fruits and vegetables that we see juiced into detox juices. So using that line of thinking I now move on to trying to better understand the support behind specific cleanses.
First I searched for the lemon detox. There’s a study that was done in 2015 on overweight Korean women that tested the lemon detox drink (a lemon, maple syrup, and palm syrup combo) versus a placebo drink versus a normal diet for 7 days followed by 4 days of food transition. According to the abstract of the study (which was all I could access freely) both the placebo and lemon drink resulted in improved BMI, body weight and body fat, as a well as improved serum insulin levels and insulin resistance scores. Hemoglobin and hematocrit levels were unchanged for those on the lemon diet, while a protein called serum high-sensitive C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) was reduced. What I am unsure of, is if the hematocrit and hemoglobin levels were within a normal range to start for the participants (which is important to know because too low indicates issues like anemia/low iron in the blood; too high can be a signal of dehydration among other things). The researchers concluded that going on a lemon drink detox for 7 days improves body fat and insulin resistance. The reasoning behind why however, they said was because the lemon detox drink is low-calorie, so essentially you are just burdening your digestive system less. So it’s more likely the fasting component that helps rather than the lemon drink having a cleansing effect.
Thus my overall concluding thoughts on detoxing so far, are that:
If you are consuming fewer calories, innately you are taxing your digestive system less so you’ll have a natural “detox” effect,
With fewer things in your digestive system, the effects of consuming foods that are rich in antioxidants probably does help remove free radicals. It also probably therefore lets your liver bind toxins and your kidneys remove waste more effectively, and
If detoxing is therefore being used synonymously with fasting, then there is a lot of evidence that it works. Fasting has been studied to, when done safely, be beneficial for everything from diabetes and obesity to other autoimmune disorders.
The reason I brought up point number 3 is because there are studies done on lemon juice and other popular detox foods that don’t include fasting, but rather just adding said food to a person’s existing diet. One such study done in 2016 tried such an experiment, by adding lemon juice and garlic to participants diets, and their results included decreased cholesterol, reduced blood pressure, and reduced BMI. In Jason Fung’s book Obesity Code, he mentions how drinking two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in water before bed helps lower your blood sugar levels while you sleep. So then one can beg the question of, are we seeing improvements to health more so because fasting allows our bodies to “catch up” and get rid of toxins, or because we are lacking nutrients and so when we supplement them we see positive outcomes to our health?
Backtracking for one last comment on juicing and raw vegetable/fruit detoxing. A study done in 2017 looked at the effects of a raw juice diet of 6 drinks a day for 3 days, varying the juices throughout, and saw a lot of positive results in changes to the gut microbiota, increasing microbiome species correlated with weight loss and other aspects. The issue still stands of whether or not it’s the food types themselves that are included in the juices, or the fasting aspect (as one consumes a lot fewer calories when juicing), that provokes said positive results.
Honestly, in my humble opinion, it doesn’t actually matter which answer is correct because if you are safely fasting on occasion (and/or reducing calories), and consuming healthy options with lots of vitamins and minerals while doing so, does it really matter which aspect is to praise for the good results?
Ending note: I hope this was apparent, but, the intention of this post isn’t to target people who do or don’t do detox diets but merely to satisfy my curiosity. I had heard a lot of anecdotal experiences on the matter and so I was curious to hear about the results from more formal studies as well. Whether or not you choose to detox is your own prerogative.