Top Techniques for Head-to-Toe Complaints
Like many women who experience baffling medical conditions, 49-year-old massage and polarity therapist Kathy Johnson didn't know what to make of the bone-crushing tiredness that started to creep over her. It affected her whole body, making her feel perpetually achy and tired. And when it lingered for more than two weeks, she went to see her doctor.
According to her doctor, Johnson displayed many symptoms of the condition known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Most tellingly, she had headaches, asore throat, short-term memory loss, muscle and joint pain and extreme tiredness.
"All the doctor told me to do was go home and rest," she recalls. "For the first year, I could barely move or do anything. I couldn't stand for longer than five minutes."
Johnson recalls how she felt, after a year of nearly total inactivity, when she found a new doctor who said he could help her. "I just sat in the doctor's office and cried tears of relief. I thought that I'd never work, never play and never read again. It was like being in a living coma," she says.
The doctor's next step was to put her on Cortef, a prescription anti-inflammatory supplement to ease her symptoms. To complement the medication, he also began giving her weekly vitamin B12 shots and started what Johnson describes as a "huge megavitamin and mineral regime" that included magnesium, iron, manganese and copper. On her doctor's recommendation, she drank at least eight glasses of water a day.
"Getting sick was like piling bricks on a wheelbarrow. You pile them on and on until one tumbles you over into illness," she says. "Getting back to health was like pulling one brick off at a time and figuring out what I needed. I had to look at my whole system to get better. I re-evaluated my mental, emotional and spiritual life and reorganized my life priorities."
Today, Johnson continues her regime, except for the B12 shots. She rates herself a "number seven on a scale of one to ten, with ten being great." The week that she found herself whitewater rafting and hiking in Colorado, Johnson knew that she'd won a major victory in her battle with CFS.
UNRAVELING THE SECRETS OF WELLNESS
Johnson was actually lucky to be diagnosed in the first place, says Arthur Brownstein, M.D., medical director of the Princeville Medical Clinic in Princeville, Hawaii. Conditions like chronic fatigue, body aches, chronic pain, insomnia and fatigue are often puzzling because they affect the whole body and it's difficult to pinpoint specific problems.
"Unfortunately, conventional doctors today aren't too familiar with how the body works as a whole," observes Dr. Brownstein. "Healing systems in other cultures have more of an awareness of the interconnectedness of everything in the body." Because of specialization, that's far less likely to be true in Western medicine, he notes. "Here, someone like a cardiologist may know everything there is to know about the heart but very little about what's going on in the rest of the body."
Here's a typical sequence, as Dr. Brownstein describes it: "A doctor will say, 'Well, it's not a kidney problem, so we'll send you to a neurologist.' The neurologist says, 'I can't find anything wrong with your brain, so I'll send you to a psychiatrist.' And you end up on industrial-strength tranquilizers. It suppresses your symptoms but crushes your spirit."
Chronic fatigue is a hard-to-diagnose medical puzzle. Other whole-body problems, such as insomnia, general aches and pains and nicotine addiction, are easy to diagnose but difficult to treat.
But where patent prescriptions and conventional therapy might not address such problems effectively, natural therapies can step in to help relieve whole-body problems. (Or, in many cases, work in concert with mainstream medicine to optimize recovery.) Acupuncture, for instance, triggers the release of brain chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin, which can help relieve chronic pain and even counteract nicotine addiction that comes from smoking. Meditation and visualization both help calm your nervous system to reduce pain as well as stress and tension. And yoga, which relaxes, stretches and tones your body, helps ease body aches while easing fatigue.
"In alternative therapies, practitioners realize that the last expression of disease is the body. It started somewhere else, maybe with stress or anxiety or sadness, and is finally expressing itself physically," says Dr. Brownstein. "You need to look at the whole person--lifestyle, diet, family relationships and everything that affects her life--before you can begin to cure what's ailing her."
ACHES: EASY STEPS TO RELIEF
Sometimes it feels like someone stole the spring out of your step and replaced it with a rusty hinge. Soon the aching has clipped your knees and snagged your shoulders, and at its worst, the feeling of affliction just won't go away.
What causes these body aches? Aging is certainly a factor, but there are other explanations as well. The biggest cause for the avalanche of aches as we age is inactivity rather than the passage of time, says Dr. Brownstein. "We've discovered that 98 percent of the pain of arthritis comes from the muscles around the joints being rigid, stiff and tight from lack of movement and stretching."
And even if you don't have arthritis, you're just asking for aches if you stay inactive. The health of the knees, hips, shoulders and back is determined by the condition of the muscles around them, says Dr. Brownstein. "If you stretch the muscles around the joint, you increase the joint's range of motion, which improves the flow of the synovial fluid in the joints that lubricates and nourishes them, reducing aches and promoting healing."
If you both work your body and baby it afterward, you can make body aches a part of your past. Here's what works.
Stretch with yoga. Doing yoga stretches can help ease or even prevent most body aches, says Richard C. Miller, Ph.D., yoga instructor and psychologist in San Rafael, California, co-founder of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and founder of the Marin School of Yoga. You should do yoga stretches for the back, legs, shoulders and hips--the major areas of the body, he recommends. Here are the stretches that he suggests.
* Stand with your arms over your head, feet shoulder-width apart. Then bend to the left, exhaling as you move. Hold this pose for three seconds and inhale as you return to an upright position. Repeat the stretch, bending to the right. Repeat three or four times, alternately bending left, then right.
* Place your hands on your lower back and lift your chest, gently bending backward, inhaling as you go. Hold for a few seconds, then come upright again, exhaling on your way back up. Repeat three times.
* With hands still on your lower back and your legs shoulder-width apart, bend your knees slightly and lean forward, as far as is comfortable. Exhale as you bend forward. Remain in the pose for three seconds, then straighten up, inhaling as you come up. Repeat three times.
Move your body. Get out and walk briskly for 30 minutes or more at least three times a week, suggests Adriane Fugh-Berman, M.D., former head of field investigations for the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. She recommends walking instead of driving whenever possible and climbing the stairs at work instead of taking the elevator. Regular walking and climbing help prevent aches.
"About 90 percent of all your aches are a result of not moving your body," agrees Dr. Brownstein. "People store tension in their shoulders and upper backs, which over time results in aches. Movement and stretching help to release that tension."
Spice up your baths. Want a quick relief from aches? Sprinkle powdered ginger into a tub of warm water and climb in for a good, long soak, suggests Mary Muryn, aromatherapist and certified teacher of polarity and reflexology in Westport, Connecticut. She recommends an ounce of powderedginger (available in supermarkets) sprinkled into your bath, for a 20-minute soak.
"For some reason, when ginger is combined with water, it gives the feeling of heat, which warms up your body and your bones and eases aches," Muryn notes.
Epsom-ize your bath. Here's a way to bathe away aches and pains accompanied by minor swelling: Pour six cups of Epsom salts into a tub filled with warm water, dissolve it well, then soak for 20 minutes and rinse with cool water, suggests Charles Thomas, Ph.D., administrator of the Desert Hot Springs Therapy Center in Desert Hot Springs, California.
For general aches, this treatment should be done no more than three times a week, always allowing one day of rest in between. (According to Dr. Thomas, Epsom salts lowers blood pressure, so after a series of three or four treatments, you may feel fatigued. If this occurs, do not repeat the treatment, he advises.) Epsom salts, chemically known as magnesium sulfate, helps to draw out carbon--one of the waste products of your body--through your pores. When the waste is removed from your muscles, your aches feel better, says Dr. Thomas.
Massage it. Getting your muscles massaged is a relaxing way of overcoming aches, notes Vincent Iuppo, doctor of naturopathy and director of the Morris Institute of Natural Therapeutics in Denville, New Jersey. Massage helps release lactic acids--substances produced during the processing of fat and glucose (a simple sugar in the body). When lactic acids build up in muscles due to overuse, they cause soreness, says Dr. Iuppo. "Massage releases the lactic acids and lets them be carried throughout your system." Eventually, the lactic acids are carried out in your urine. Somassage helps your body rid itself of lactic acids faster.
ALCOHOL OVERUSE: NO MORE HANGOVERS--EVER
If you reach for a glass of wine every time you're stressed, are you an alcoholic? If you have to drink before every social gathering to "get your courage up," does that mean you're an alcoholic? Not necessarily, but it could mean that you have a drinking problem, says Jean Kirkpatrick, Ph.D., director and founder of Women for Sobriety, an organization of support groups for women alcoholics, headquartered in Quakertown, Pennsylvania.
A problem drinker, according to Dr. Kirkpatrick, is anyone who has come to rely on alcohol to deal with her problems, such as stress or social shyness, but who can still quit. The need to drink hasn't yet become overwhelming and compulsive, the way that it has for an alcoholic, she says. "Good advice for problem drinkers is to check for patterns, like needing to drink every night to unwind when you get home from work. Those are the patterns that can turn into alcoholism if not brought into check."
It's nearly impossible to track figures on how many women are problem drinkers because they're usually in denial about it in the first place, says Dr. Kirkpatrick. But more women than men seem to have a problem with negative self-image, says Dr. Kirkpatrick. And she links that to problem drinking, noting that a lot of women start drinking to feel less shy, to lose their inhibitions and to gain confidence.
One thing is certain: Even moderate drinkers--women who consume two glasses of alcohol a day--are at increased risk of developing such health problems as esophageal and liver cancer, high blood pressure and cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle).
If you would like to get some help before your drinking spins out of control, you have many support groups and cutting-edge therapies to choose from. If you've become compulsive about drinking or your need for alcohol is overwhelming, you should seek professional treatment. Here are some experts' recommendations, which work well as an adjunct to therapy for problem drinkers.
Build that self-esteem. Cognitive therapy sessions with a counselor can help change the negative way that you think about yourself so you won't be as compelled to drink, says Judith Beck, Ph.D., director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research and clinical assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
"At the bottom of alcoholism is a terrible self-concept or sense of helplessness that makes people want to drink to change who they are or their reactions to life circumstances," Dr. Beck observes. (To find out how cognitive therapy can help you develop a more positive self-image, see page 79.)
Mix in some acupuncture. You can curb cravings for alcohol with acupuncture, according to Lixing Lao, M.D., Ph.D., licensed acupuncturist and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.
"Acupuncture causes the brain to release chemicals such as dopamine, which acts as a transmitter for the body's nervous system, and endorphins (the body's natural painkillers), which may help squash the desire for alcohol," he says. These soothing chemicals also ease symptoms, such as anxiety, irritability and insomnia, that heavy drinkers often experience when they stop consuming alcohol. Acupuncture helps you through these withdrawal symptoms by helping you to relax.
Handy Hints for Healing Hangovers
Welcome to Hangover Hell. It's a place where the sound of a newspaper rustling can make your head throb, a plain saltine cracker is too rich for your nauseated stomach and your bed is the only place that offers comfort.
Hopefully, you rarely visit this land of headaches, upset stomachs and general shakiness. But on occasion, one too many glasses of champagne can leave you with severe regrets--and symptoms--the morning after.
Hangovers sound harmless, but they're actually caused by toxins, says Paul Mittman, doctor of naturopathy in private practice in Enfield, Connecticut. When your liver breaks down the alcohol that you've ingested, toxins are released into your blood that contribute to the headaches and stomachaches, he notes.
Just how much alcohol is too much? "Some people drink just two drinks and get a hangover," says Alan Rapoport, M.D., director of the New England Center for Headache in Stamford, Connecticut, and assistant clinical professor of neurology at Yale University School of Medicine. "For others, tolerance is much higher. It has to do with how much you're used to drinking."
And people who weigh less tend to get worse hangovers, says Dr. Rapoport. In a smaller person, the alcohol is more concentrated and not as diluted by bodily fluids, he explains. That could explain why a woman who weighs, say, 125 pounds, may feel worse after a night on the town than her buddy, a 200-pound guy.
The best way to avoid a hangover is not to overindulge in the first place--or to have fewer drinks spaced over a long period of time. But if you're heading out for a night on the town where champagne is flowing freely, or any alcohol for that matter, Dr. Rapoport recom-mends keeping overall alcohol content low by diluting your drinks with water. Make sure that you drink at least 12 ounces of water an hour while you're drinking alcohol, he says. "Also, before you go to bed on a night that you've been drinking, you should drink as much water as possible."
It's also wise to eat cheese or drink milk before you start drinking. These foods give your stomach a protective coating against alcohol, says Dr. Rapoport. And you'll be better off if you consume fructose, a natural sugar found in fruits and vegetables, before you start drinking, he adds. Fructose may break down the alcohol in your bloodstream faster so it won't be as strong. He recommends eating apples, grapes and tomatoes or drinking apple, grape and tomato juice.
But what if you do get a hangover, despite all your precautions? Here's what experts advise.
Take time for tea. Spearmint or peppermint tea soothes a case
Press the point. Pressing on an acupressure point on your wrist can momentarily control the nausea of a hangover, says Dr. Dean. "Find the midway point on the inside of your wrist and press on it with your thumb for 20 to 30 seconds. That acupressure point on the wrist is the meridian that corresponds with your stomach."
Activate your alpha waves. Biofeedback can curb your alcohol craving by altering your brain waves, says Dale Walters, Ph.D., former director of education in the Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback Center at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. When you're in the first stages of relaxation, alpha waves are dominant, but once you're extremely still and drowsy, theta waves become dominant, he notes. Beta brain waves, however, dominate your brain when you're actively thinking and doing things, just as delta waves dominate when you're sleeping.
For some reason, alcoholics' brains tend to give off the activity-oriented beta waves more often than the relaxing alpha or theta waves, Dr. Walters notes. "If alcoholics want to really let go and relax, they often don't have the relaxing brain waves to do it. So what do they do for relief and comfort? They drink."
Research suggests that low doses of alcohol intake are related to increases in alpha rhythms and that moderate to high amounts increase delta and theta rhythms.
Biofeedback helps teach alcoholics to increase alpha and theta waves through relaxation instead of drinking, says Dr. Walters. With electrodes attached to your scalp, you hear a high-pitched tone when alpha waves are present. As you practice relaxation--by repeating phrases like, "My mind is quiet," or focusing on slow breathing--you learn to increase the presence of that brain wave more often as indicated by the tone, he explains.
It usually takes an average of thirty 30-minute brain-wave training sessions (five a week for six weeks) to produce a nearly normal brain-wave function as indicated by increased alpha waves, says Dr. Walters.
A study compared ten alcoholics who had brain-wave biofeedback for two weeks with ten who did individual and group therapy for one month, notes Dr. Walters. After 13 months, 80 percent of the biofeedback group was still sober. In the other group, 80 percent had gone back to drinking.
Seek a support group. Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Women for Sobriety have chapters in nearly every city in the United States, Dr. Kirkpatrick points out. "Support groups are like a surrogate family. You spend time with people who have the same problem, with whom you can discuss the most intimate details of your life, without being judged."
Picture yourself alcohol-free. Visualizing yourself rejecting a drink can teach you how to avoid alcohol, says Dr. Walters. "We teach people to picture a scene where they're ready to buy alcohol at the store, then turn around, take a deep breath and walk away. We also have them visualize being confident and at ease in a social setting, since many people drink to overcome social shyness." This imagery can be done for a minute whenever the craving for a drink pops into your head, he says.
Write an alcohol-free anthem. Songwriting can help you to understand yourself and your drinking problem, says Barbara J. Crowe, a registered music therapist and director and professor of music therapy at Arizona State University in Tempe. "You can write songs about feelings of anxiety and fear, which may have led you to start drinking."
Play a sobriety sonata. Music itself can be a drink substitute, says Crowe. "We show people that there are ways of getting a high other than drinking." From a music therapist you can easily learn to play such instruments as hand drums or conga drums. Sometimes people with drinking problems meet in a music therapy group session to play the drums. That helps give them the sense of community that going out to bars may have provided, she notes.
For Women Only
An Alternative to AA
Though Jean Kirkpatrick, Ph.D., had been to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, she felt that they always lacked something. As a woman surrounded by men, she never felt comfortable talking about problems involving deeply personal issues.
So in 1976, she founded Women for Sobriety, based in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. It's an all-woman support group, so women can seek help with their drinking problems and feel secure in the knowledge that they're surrounded by other women.
"It became clear to me that women need something different for recovery than men do. I'd say 50 to 60 percent of women alcoholics have problems with sexual abuse and incest--not something you'd talk about in a mixed group," she says.
Today, you can find some 300 Women for Sobriety programs around the world, including Australia and Ireland, with membership totaling about 5,000 women. Groups meet once a week for 60 to 90 minutes, says Dr. Kirkpatrick.
Women for Sobriety has a 13-statement program that's the philosophical opposite of Alcoholics Anonymous' 12-step program, explains Dr. Kirkpatrick. "In AA you stand up and tell your story about how you first started to drink. That just brings back guilt. Our statement is that the past is gone forever--you need to start now to rebuild your life." Another difference is that Women for Sobriety doesn't require lifetime attendance, the way that AA does.
"Our program's basis is teaching women to be empowered and to realize their strengths," says Dr. Kirkpatrick.
CHRONIC PAIN: TAME THE ENDLESS HURT
Pain is bad enough, but what if you suffer from frequent or constant pain that makes it difficult to do your job or to do things with your family or to sleep at night? That's called chronic pain, says Stanley Krippner, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the Saybrook Institute in San Francisco.
Some of the most common causes of chronic pain are migraines, back pain, injuries from auto accidents, falls or sports injuries, joint pain, temporomandibular disorder (a severe pain in the jaw joint), endometriosis (a painful condition in which bits of the uterus grow outside the uterus), interstitial cystitis (a chronic, severe inflammation of the bladder) and irritable bowel syndrome.
Chronic pain is depressing and frustrating, says Ann Berger, M.D., assistant professor of oncology and anesthesiology at the Cooper Hospital Pain Management Clinic in Camden, New Jersey. The psychological toll can be great. Loneliness, social isolation and possible loss of job and financial support can all make chronic pain that much more intolerable, she notes.
Natural therapies help calm the body's nervous system, which feels pain more intensely when its overly aroused, says Dr. Krippner. When you're in pain, your body releases hormones from the endocrine system, such as adrenaline from the adrenal gland and other pain-intensifying hormones from the pituitary, thyroid and parathyroid glands, notes Dr. Krippner. These hormones stay in the system for a long time, essentially "reminding" your body of ongoing pain. For reasons that doctors don't quite understand, these hormones hang around if you're tense or agitated but leave your system if you're in a relaxed state. That means that the sensation of pain will fade away more quickly if you're relaxed, he explains.
And that's where biofeedback can help, training your body to relax. It's an especially effective therapy for tension or migraine headaches, temporomandibular disorder and irritable bowel syndrome, according to practitioners.
The other effective therapies are visualization and meditation. Visualization can help reduce the pain of endometriosis. Meditation can help women deal with the pain of irritable bowel syndrome or vascular disorders such as Raynaud's Syndrome or migraine headaches.
A panel from the National Institutes of Health explained the calming effect that relaxation techniques have on the body. Therapies like meditation and biofeedback calm the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates heart rate and pulse. The result is lowered oxygen consumption and blood pressure and a slower breathing rate and heart rate, the panel's report concluded.
The panel also found that natural therapies can create more of the relaxing alpha and theta brain waves that help calm the nervous system. So if you're in the throes of chronic pain, you do have options apart from or in addition to painkilling medications. Here are some of your choices.
Meditate your pain away. Daily meditation can be the key to transforming your perception of and attitudes toward physical pain, says David Nichol, M.D., a psychiatrist in private practice in Topeka, Kansas. "As little as a minute, or preferably five to ten minutes, of meditation throughout the day can bring substantial improvements." (For more information on how to meditate, see page 233.)
Escape with music. Listening to music can also distract you from pain, says Crowe. "If you let your mind focus on the music, it can take your thoughts away from the pain, even if only briefly." You want to choose music with interesting lyrics or melodies so you can focus your attention on them. Listening to any music that relaxes you or puts you in a good mood should help ease your pain.
Breathe out. Since stress overly arouses your nervous system by increasing heart rate and speeding up breathing and pulse, learning to relax with deep-breathing exercises can tame your pain, says Thomas Rudy, Ph.D., director of the Pain Evaluation and Treatment Institute at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Practice deep breathing for a couple of minutes at least three times a day and in advance of when you know you're apt to hurt the most, he says. For example, if you know that migraine headaches usually come on right after work, find a quiet place about five minutes before the end of your workday, sit down and do your deep breathing. (For more information on deep breathing, see page 67.)
Imagine away pain. Before your body gets too tensed up with pain, you can relax considerably by using imagery, says Dr. Rudy. When your pain begins, spend a few minutes in a quiet place with your eyes closed and mentally picture a relaxing scene, like a walk in the woods or a picnic in a meadow, or create your own relaxing image of a favorite place.
Exercise your right to comfort. Getting plenty of activity is important in releasing endorphins--your body's natural painkillers, says Dr. Krippner. The endorphins raise your pain threshold, which is the level at which you first become aware of the feeling of pain. Endorphins also calm you. "They produce a sense of well-being that temporarily overrides the pain for a while after you've exercised," adds Dr. Krippner. For this reason he recommends scheduling 20 to 30 minutes of exercise six days a week. If pain increases, stop and call your doctor, he says.
A study in Norway involving 16 women with chronic pain of the muscles, bones and joints shows that exercise does lessen pain. When the women did indoor physical aerobic exercise to music twice a week, they reported feeling less pain after 12 weeks of exercise than they did when they started.
Ask for acupuncture. Acupuncture increases the body's production of pain-suppressing brain chemicals like serotonin and endorphins, says Dr. Lao. "It's very hard to explain in Western terms, but in acupuncture, you stimulate various points on the body with needles, and the body responds by sending signals to the brain, which releases the chemicals."
FATIGUE AND CHRONIC FATIGUE: BEAT THE BLAHS
Poll any group of women about their health and chances are, eight out of ten will say that they're tired. Ask them why and they'll tell you that they have too much to do and too little time to do it. Or maybe they're not getting enough sleep at night. Or maybe the cause is anemia, which is a lack of red blood cells in the blood. Other possible causes are depression or problems of the thyroid, a gland that regulates how your body uses its fuel.
But a frequent cause of fatigue is the stress that you get when you have job problems or family conflicts, says Reed Moskowitz, M.D., founder and medical director of Stress Disorders Services at New York University Medical Center in New York City.
You can attribute your reactions to stress to the fight-or-flight response, a built-in reflex in which your body produces excess adrenaline and other hormones. The sudden release of these hormones is in response to a situation that makes you tense or fearful. Your heart beats faster and these hormones momentarily energize your body, explains Dr. Moskowitz.
"This biological response was only designed to be a short-term reaction to stress. These days, we're chronically running on adrenaline, with deadlines, long workdays and traffic jams," notes Dr. Moskowitz. "We get fatigued because our bodies are not designed to run long-term on the fight-or-flight response. The expenditure of energy over time can burn you out."