Magic of the neti pot

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

I want to tell you about the Aladdin’s lamp of nasal health, the neti pot. Shaped like a little lamp or teapot, it is a simple and perfectly designed way of delivering salt water into irritated nasal passages. You put a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, more or less, in the neti pot, dissolve it with warm, clean water, then with your head over the sink and turned to the side, simply pour the solution into each nostril. This flushes out mucus, debris, pollen, and inflammatory cells and molecules.

The sinuses are like little side closets off the nasal passages, with tiny openings called ostia.This little door into a bigger room can easily be blocked by inflammation, swelling and infection. The nasal saline wash can help open these portals and facilitate drainage from the sinuses. A buildup in the sinus of mucus, fluid, and pus can lead to the excruciating pain and facial pressure of sinusitis. While antibiotics can occasionally be useful in this condition, establishing drainage is a first principle. Continue reading

No-calorie soft drinks, weight and your gut bacteria

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Do you know anyone who drinks a lot of diet sodas and just cannot seem to lose weight? It has been known for some time that these artificial, no-calorie sweeteners not only do not encourage weight loss but may actually promote weight gain and even diabetes by continuously stimulating our desire to taste sweetness. When they were invented by the food industry, these new-to-nature molecules promised to offer a positive option to sugar. They seemed to be a healthier alternative that promised to change our habits and health risks from drinking the high fructose, sugary soft drinks that have defined American billboard culture since the 1950s. However, there are issues.

Sweet foods, it turns out, activate a set of digestive processes, enzymes and hormones like insulin that promote weight gain and diabetes. No-calorie sweet drinks do the same. This is very different from the gut and endocrine response to more bitter or alkaline foods such as vegetables, grains, legumes and other plant-based foods. So despite no calories, these sweeteners have not been so helpful in weight loss as a substitute for the sugary soft drinks. They also are not helpful to diabetics for these same reasons. There is now another reason to suspect that there are other problems with these beverages. It turns out that no-calorie soft drinks change the profile of bacteria in our gut, part of the so-called microbiome. These bacteria, which may in aggregate weigh three to six pounds, constitute one of the largest “organs” in the body. They actually contain about 150 times as much DNA as our human genome. The key issue for our diet is that they are essential to the process of healthy digestion. Many foods, especially plant materials, cannot be adequately metabolized and absorbed without a healthy gut bacterial population. When artificial sweeteners alter this profile, our ability to utilize our food effectively is impaired. We still feel hungry. Continue reading

Find your inner peace

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu once said, “Stillness and tranquillity set things in order in the Universe.”

The Danish sage Søren Kierkegaard likewise encouraged us to times of quietude: “Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good.”

This is a remarkable attitude in our very busy, constantly moving world where activity, productivity and busyness are equated with our value as a human being. Is this really true?

Perhaps the things we busy ourselves with are not all that important, taking too much time and effort while accomplishing little or nothing in service of others or in helping us achieve our major life goals.

In my daily medical practice, I often encounter people who are busy, very busy. They attest to being too busy to exercise, to shop for and cook healthy meals at home, to attend to important relationships — and too busy, for sure, to center their minds by relaxation or meditation. In other words … too busy. Continue reading

Enjoy veggies in a nice smoothie

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

When a recent freezing cold front blew in, I decided to get out and harvest my winter garden.

Besides mustard greens, lettuce, herbs, and Swiss chard, I had some beautiful lancinate blue-green kale. Well, right away I made a nice kale salad, described in another article on this website. However, the gift of a fresh turmeric root from my chief resident inspired me to use some of the kale to make a smoothie.

I had seen these before and even tasted a kale or spinach smoothie a time or two. It turns out to be a great way to start your day and getting on your way to getting the recommended five to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables (shoot for 30 percent fruits, 70 percent vegetables) we ought consume daily for optimal health. Continue reading

Rainforest is a reservoir for new medicines

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Lives

On a recent trip to Brazil, I immersed myself in an exploration of the richly diverse Amazonian rain forest. I was awed to learn that so many of the plants that filled this paradise have been used throughout human history to make medicines, poisons, hallucinogens, rubber, building materials and so much more.

While it makes sense that native people use the plants to support their lives, it is astonishing to learn that approximately 70 percent of the new drugs introduced in our country in the past 25 years are derived from nature. Despite the expanding sophistication of bioengineering, Mother Nature retains the crown as the world’s greatest drug engineer.

The indigenous healers in the Northwest Amazon have used more than1,300 species of plants for medicinal purposes. Today, pharmacologists and ethnobotanists work with native shamans to identify potential drugs for further development. Continue reading

Getting some sunlight is good for you

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

As the days grow shorter, we become more aware of the role of light in our life. Light has certain obvious benefits. It keeps us from falling down and hurting ourselves or bumping into each other.

It activates vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, to keep our bones strong. Light feeds all our food crops and secondarily the animals that consume plants that serve as our food sources. We take light for granted. In fact without light, life as we know it would not exist. Yet, like so many things like water, dirt, gravity and oxygen that surround us, we often give it little thought or attention. Yet it has many more health benefits. At a recent integrative oncology meeting I attended, a psychiatrist who studies sleep and sleep disorders showed us her data on how light can be therapeutic. Her research subjects were women with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy.

It turns out these women have significant disturbances in their sleep quality, getting worse with each week of chemotherapy. By the fourth week of therapy, they have major disruptions of their daily and nightly circadian rhythms. This causes severe fatigue and other negative effects on the immune system and healing response. In her studies, she exposed some women to light in the form of bright white light boxes and the control group to dim red light. The results were nothing less than dramatic. Continue reading

Statewide event to help get you moving

Drs. Victor & Michelle Sierpina

Drs. Victor & Michelle Sierpina

Where in the heck did January go? Were you one of the 83 percent of Americans who made New Year’s resolutions that have already fallen by the wayside before this month is out?

Did you vow to improve your health, to live a more healthful lifestyle, to eat more nutritiously, lose weight and get more exercise?

Maybe a gym membership seems beyond your budget, the chilly weather prevented those outdoor activities you planned, and you haven’t found a way to jump-start your exercise regime.

Here is a foolproof, no excuses opportunity to get back on track for your own good health.

It is free. It is accessible to everyone. It is independent of weather. It … is walking.

Luckily in Galveston you can walk indoors regardless of weather conditions at places like the Galveston Island Community Center, 4700 Broadway, and a few other locations as well. Continue reading

‘Secret’ to living out dreams

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Thoreau once said, “All change is a miracle to contemplate, but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.

What kind of changes are you going through? More importantly, what kind of changes would you like to see in your life in order to achieve your best and highest expectations of yourself?

A “secret” formula to this last question is found in Rhonda Byrne’s short but very wise and practical book, “The Secret.” It is overflowing with useful, succinct quotes and stories from philosophers, holy men and women, thinkers, metaphysicians, mystics, poets, psychologists.

“The Secret” is one tool I have found to help myself and others to get unstuck in their lives, to live their dreams, to invite and accept what they have always wanted. It gives a philosophical and self-help psychological approach to renewal and growth in our lives.

It is easy enough in life to get into a rut of routines and habits, including habits of thought and expectations that no longer serve us.

Change is difficult and we often resist it because of that and because change brings the unfamiliar and is frequently uncomfortable.

But think about it. If we are not satisfied that our life is what it could be or should be, what option do we have other than change? Continue reading

Miracles happen in medicine

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series.

The other day, a lovely 81-year-old patient, let’s call her Edna, an active community volunteer, came in to see me after a bad fall.

The swelling and lack of mobility in her upper arm made me suspect that she had broken her humerus, the big bone in the upper arm. I based this nearly certain assessment on my many years of primary care and emergency room practice.

Since I don’t have X-ray eyes, I ordered an X-ray while our hardworking staff simultaneously arranged for a visit to orthopedics for the requisite splinting.

Imagine my surprise and relief later that morning to find the X-rays were normal. No fracture at all.

When I called Edna to report this happy outcome, she told me she had prayed fervently on the way to Radiology and was quite sure this prayer had had its desired effect, that things would be normal.

Of course, I could have dismissed her personal miracle, but I chose instead to reflect on this story and share it with you. Every doctor knows his or her fallibility, the limits of both our art and science. We can always be wrong though we constantly study and try not to be. Continue reading

Healing sounds

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

It had been a rough week: Ma in Hospice, the fools on the Hill in D.C., and the Longhorns just barely beating Iowa State. Iowa State, for crying out loud!

So when I heard from a friend that the Beach Boys were in town, I was lucky to grab some last-minute primo front row tickets someone had turned in at the Grand Opera House. Thanks, Judy at the Grand box office!

As we sat down to watch the performance and equally as interesting, the audience moving and grooving with the show, I thought once again about the healing power of music. One of life’s mysteries and delights is how a two-hour musical performance can bring healing, reminiscence, joy, and camaraderie to a packed house.

Music entertains, engages, distracts, elicits memories, laughter and tears. Music calms us, excites us, makes us jump up and dance, and brings us together. Healers over the centuries have used drums, flutes, gongs, ringing bowls, choirs, chorales, songs, hymns, chanting, chimes, organs, violins, guitars and every other kind of music-making instrument to reach where words cannot. Continue reading