Ancient Remedies

As a MD, I am fascinated by ancient remedies.   I am particularly interested in the writings of Maimonides (1135-1204).  I will most likely write about him in another post as he is one of the most interesting and accomplished men in the history of the world.   What I find interesting about these remedies and treatments is that by and large, they really don’t hold much value to us in modern times.  

Why is this so?  Because though we are quite the same humans, the factors that make up our health, change dramatically and I would say change a lot faster than we think, especially these days.  As discussed prior, there are 4 basic factors to our health, those being nutrition, mental state, movement / mechanics, and environmental influences.    These 4 basic factors impact our overall health and change on a daily basis.  They also change over time.   

There is a reason why in the 12th century Maimonides was highly sought after as a physician!   It was because his treatments for many things worked!   That they don’t work that effectively by and large today (though his writings on what constitutes moderation and diet are worth noting) has to do with the four pillars above.   

One could imagine an analogy here being a lump of clay on a potters wheel spinning waiting to be made into a vase that has four people’s right hands working together to create the vase.   As each one pushes and pulls against the others the shape of the final vase will change dramatically.  So it goes with our internal environment.

Our overall health and balance / homeostasis each day, century, epic, places its fingerprint on us which means that we respond to external remedies differently.   Given our environmental toxin levels and electronic stresses, we are even different than 20 years ago, I believe this is why some natural treatments that used to work don’t appear to work as they did. 

What remains constant throughout the centuries?  Simply this, that you take a look at the 4 pillars we discuss and understand how they interact in your life.   You must take account of all 4.

Everyone wants to be a superman

There is a certain perniciousness that comes with the quotes that people post on their social media.   Most of these quotes are like mind viruses, memes so to speak, that people swallow and they become in a sense like an ideology that speaks in place of the person, because they have not critically evaluated or experimented with these quotes.

One of the most pernicious meme’s is that everyone is a genius in something, that we need to find that part of our lives we are geniuses at.   While I think this is true, that we all have talents that remain undiscovered, they often remain undiscovered because of the definition of genius.   

Our society worships the uber-mensch, the superman as described by Nietzche,   But make no mistake, as Valentin Tomberg wrote “The world is divided.   There are those who worship the gibbor, the strong hero – Nietzsche manifested with force and talent that this is so – and there are those who love the tzaddik, the righteous man.”

It is not the tzaddik that these meme’s are talking about.  They are talking about the superman.   The person with unusual skills that make him a “success.”  It includes the superman Stoic philosophers or to quote Tomberg again, also “the superman of India plunged in contemplation of eternity”   Earning a livelihood and a career does not require you to find out what you are a genius in!  It just requires you to have a practical mind and to use your common sense to determine your strengths.  Many a young person is led astray with dreams of being a superman when good paying jobs are available but are not ones that are associated with this ideal.

 And what about the righteous man?   What about the people in this world who strive for perfecting their moral life?  There are geniuses in kindness, geniuses in patience, and geniuses in charity to name just a few traits of the moral life.   Each is a perfected skill some born with innate talent that has been honed.   Those are not considered supermen by the world, yet those are what the world most desperately needs.   Next time you get caught in the worship of the superman, remember that there is an alternative.

In Memory of My Teacher, Gerald Epstein, MD

I posted this on FB in March, but wanted it here : In 2004, I had a life-threatening illness. It was during those times that each day I woke up seemed precious given the uncertainty of my future. I was so thankful to God for giving me another day. It was as Charles Dickens said, the best of times and the worst of times. Everything seemed to sparkle though, my dreams were otherworldly and filled with messages, and I was appreciative and expressive more than ever of the love of my family and those who cared for me. As I got through that illness by the grace of God, my life changed for the better, I had a better appreciation of illness, was more thankful for the love of those around me but as life came back to normal the sparkle of those days seemed to fade, where my connection to the Source of all Life was palpable.

I knew deep in my soul, that I had been given a precious gift, and that sparkle of life was there for each of us. In my case, God needed to get my attention with an illness to see it, for each us, we are given an opportunity just the same but as Winston Churchill said “Men occasionally stumble over truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” As this sparkle faded, I knew that I needed to find a teacher and mentor.

Along with this experience, in which I had decided to go against some of the suggestions of my doctors, I started learning more about natural healing. I came across a program called The Natural Laws of Self-Healing by Dr. Gerald Epstein, MD of blessed memory. After listening to this program, I reached out to Dr. Epstein, something I have never done with any book or program I have ever consumed. In a very brief call, he asked me very matter of factly, how he could help me, I said, I just came through an illness and the sparkle that I experienced seemed to fade, I thought maybe you could help me regain it. He said ”Not maybe, I can help you” just like you would expect from a confident guy who grew up tough on the streets of Brooklyn. I said I was going to be in NY and made an appointment to see him.

The day before seeing Dr. Epstein, I visited the burial site of holy saint, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, with one request to God, that I find a teacher to help me to grow spiritually, to find a teacher as it says in Ethics of the Fathers “ Make yourself a teacher, find yourself a friend, and judge everyone person on the positive side.” The next day I saw Dr. Epstein in his office. We discussed my experience with illness and that I felt a calling to grow spiritually and that this sparkle I experienced was directly associated with my connection to God. He re-affirmed this and led me through what is called a ‘waking dream’ that was meant to trigger a vivid dream which we would review the following day. As this was happening, I felt that I was being initiated into a tradition of healing and growth, and I felt deeply that I was in the right place. That night, I had an intensely vivid dream as he had said, and I returned to his office where I had another waking dream experience, going back into this dream and as I would learn, using imagination, as tool of perception to discover things about myself I never could in a strictly rational sense.

After the experience, which Jerry could tell was deeply profound for me and brought me to levels of consciousness I have never experienced before, Jerry invited me to sit into a class called “Becoming Your Own Authority.” That one class changed forever the way I interact with my patients. As a doctor, I learned it is my responsibility to teach my patients to become their own authorities over their illnesses. I am to be a guide and resource for peoples healing.

After the class, Jerry called me over and introduced me to Fran and handed me a book and said for the next 48 weeks Fran and I would be discussing this book with him week by week. Here I am, I just met Jerry the day before and now for the next 48 weeks without charging me a penny, I was instructed in a course that forever changed me for the better and helped me to regain that sparkle. In fact, the sparkle I was seeking, was really only the beginning. How do you thank someone who devoted this amount of time to you to help you to find both happiness and meaning in your life in ways that you never expected were even possible?

Fran and I both had a life changing year discussing these teachings with Jerry. Thus began my learning from Jerry which continued until his passing. Jerry was always there for me when I had a difficult decision to make that I couldn’t seem to find an answer for. I visited him from time to time in person when I was in NY and each time, I came away with a life-changing insight some of which weren’t pleasant but then truth, sometimes isn’t so pretty. He was blunt and to the point as a teacher who loves his students must be and you always knew his allegiance was to compassion and Truth with a capital T. It was clearing away illusions and unearthing the truth that leads to freedom.

Rachel, his wife, in an email I had with her shortly after his passing said to me “adaptability and bearing loss well was at the heart of his teachings.” I know that he would want us to re-affirm that it is the teachings that are important and not the container that held them even though he loved living and would want to be here. It doesn’t even need to be said that he would expect me to share what I have understood even though I feel like I only learned a small percentage of what was possible to have learned from him.

The last time I spoke to Jerry in depth was during a live class I attended around a year ago in NY. There was one part of the class that I was having trouble with and I stayed around after to discuss it further. He said to me, “Your job is to report the Truth, don’t interfere and try to correct others in their journey by placating or hiding the Truth, your job is to be awake to it and report it, don’t shy away from that.” Jerry got me back my sparkle and gave me a good shake to wake me up if that was required. What he taught me and continues to teach me from the volumes of audios and written material left behind will continue to inspire and guide me.

He was always available by phone if you needed him for everyone as I learned from interacting with his other students. Now it falls on all of his students and his family to continue onward. My thoughts go to his wife Rachel as she finishes editing his last magnum opus which will certainly be life changing and to his children who surely know that their father was a great light to his many students and patients. After I finished 48 weeks of study with him, I thanked him for what he did for me, not knowing at the time that that was only the beginning.

In one of the books that he often quoted it talked about how developing a spiritual life allows the transition from this life to the next to proceed smoothly like a gentle curve on a graph instead of a sharp abrupt, traumatic right angle for those immersed to heavily in the physical. In the Talmud it describes, the ease of transition for saintly individuals already attuned to the spiritual world as transition being as easy as a hair being plucked from a glass of milk. I know that his transition was easy and he is now immersed in the eternal reward he deserves for the intense light he shared with everyone. I miss him greatly.

Saints and Sages of the Healing World

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks  describes these so eloquently :  The sage follows the “golden mean,” the “middle way.” The moral life is a matter of moderation and balance, charting a course between too much and too little. Courage, for example, lies midway between cowardice and recklessness. Generosity lies between profligacy and miserliness. The saint, by contrast, does not follow the middle way. He or she tends to extremes, fasting rather than simply eating in moderation, embracing poverty rather than acquiring modest wealth, and so on.”  

Here you can see two version of living and two versions of recommendations for healing as well.   There are times when you need take on the both of these versions of living.   My teacher of blessed memory, Gerald Epstein, MD (Jerry) would often recommend people adopt the complete opposite behavior for a period of time to correct a character trait, in this case, adopting an extreme in order to correct an extreme so that you can then become a sage for yourself.   There are also those, like Jordan Peterson who to heal his body has adopted the behavior of the saint in adopting an all meat diet.    I explained these extremes in another post where I discussed raw vegans and those who choose the 100% carnivore diet.    

What we have here are two ways of being for those embarking on a path of self-mastery, a life of your own making, where you become your own authority.   You can’t blame people who wish to gain control over their lives to choose the way of the saint, in a way it is the easiest to understand and is a bold way of proclaiming your intentions to the world and to yourself.    The sage, on the other hand, which is what I advocate for the long run is done by learning balance which is much harder, but as stated in a previous post is the “long shorter way.”  

Those who choose neither for themselves are constantly as my teacher Jerry used to say “laying themselves down on the alter of another’s desires or the desires of the man-made world.”   What I love about the distinction above is that it presents for the one that is looking to gain mastery of their life and health a very distinct and understandable choice, the choice between saint and sage.   The way of the saint might be worth it to correct excesses of the past but for your own health, it’s really the task of most of us to become our own sage, understanding the middle road.   

Palate Rehabilition

Unless you live in the woods, grow and hunt for your own food, your palate, your ability to appreciate natural foods has been damaged.  As discussed previously, your palate is like a thermostat.    Give it artificially sweetened foods and the set point, like the temperature setting on your thermostat is raised.   What this means is that the pleasure you could be getting from natural fruits like blueberries is diminished.    It’s really quite simple, just give your palate a rest from overly sweet foods for a couple of weeks and you will see that your appreciation for mother natures bounty is increased.  You will be healthier as well.   Many artificial sweeteners are toxic.

This doesn’t just pertain to sweetness, it’s also important for salt.   One anecdote that really comes to mind.  I had a patient that I saw for a drug reaction in the hospital.  He was in the hospital for malignant hypertension.  After he was discharged, he came back to see me to follow up on the rash and he said to me that he needed to stop eating so much salt but nothing tasted good without salt.  I explained this principle to him and understanding it, had the motivation to stop for two weeks, as I told him “Your palate will wake up in a couple weeks, and you will start appreciating foods without so much salt.”    He came back ecstatic, the principle worked for him and he now knows he has more control over himself than before.

As an aside, there seems to be a lot of misinformation on the internet now stating that salt is not dangerous at all.   Well, for some it isn’t as dangerous as once thought but if you have a specific variant of the ACE gene which many have, your risk for high blood pressure is greatly increased with increased sodium intake.

As you can imagine, this thermostat like function of your palate is also impacted with fatty foods as well.    In this case there is also a genetic variant here as well, called the CD36 gene.    On top of this is the brain effects of the combination of excessively fatty, sugary, salty foods that cause your brain to release dopamine and experience pleasure, when it is bad for your body.    

My point discussing these is to show you that with only a little knowledge, you can see you have quite a bit of control over this and you don’t need more than a couple of weeks to prove it to yourself.    Cut out all artificial sweeteners for 2 – 3 weeks, then take a bite of an apple or have some berries, and you will taste the difference.   While sodium is a required nutrient, try reducing your sodium for a few weeks, and taste some celery and you will note how naturally salty it tastes.   

This experiment is easy and is only a few weeks long but the knowledge you have for your body and the reserve of motivation you have will be well worth it.   Become your own authority, you are your own best doctor.

If you are interested in testing your gene’s or have done 23andme and would like a review of your results, just contact me.

The Ranch Dressing Puzzle

 

Yep, it happened again.   I was discussing with a patient that they need to increase their vegetable intake and they said, “Doc, I love vegetables, but I need ranch dressing to eat them.”   Well, Ranch Dressing is not good for you and what sort of vegetables are we really talking about?  Is it that plate of raw vegetables like broccoli, carrots, celery, and cauliflower that you see to the side at an event, so the event planners can say they put something healthy out.   Right next to that boring set of raw vegetables that people general don’t like to eat, is that big bowl of ranch dressing and next to that is usually someone who looks unhappy that they are eating those vegetables, with the Ranch as the only consolation. 

I am not suggesting anyone have a raw plate of cauliflower and broccoli, but that seems to be what people think of.  Its like they are suffering from some kind of post traumatic disorder made from eating these things, from that dreaded plate at the mixer or event.   

If you can’t make vegetables tasty, then you haven’t been exposed to high quality fresh vegetables, or quality cooking.  I am sorry but that is the reality.   A few weeks ago at Keto Con, there was a lecturer (not representative of most there) who basically said almost all plants are poisons to the human body.   As he said this I reflexively looked around to see the reactions, and I saw in their faces many people feel vindicated in their dislike for vegetables.  

Which dislike is it?  Is that dreaded plate of raw veggie crudités?  Is it from being force fed canned or frozen veggies as a child?    I don’t know but it’s time for you to realize you’ve got issues 🙂  Congrats, we all do.  Just to pre-empt the messages I might get.  Yes, there are vegetables that don’t agree with everyone for valid scientific reasons, I am not talking about that issue.  

 

Raw Vegan = 100% Carnivore

Well, they are obviously not the same but the motivation behind both is the same for most people.   People are in search of gaining control over their health and seek it in absolutes and ideals.    The pursuit for perfection and imposing ideals over nature which is what this is, has in the past lead to disastrous outcomes.    It is a slow process, you start looking for perfection and those high ideals (read idols) make you want to make your diet perfect, understandable, clean in a way that is not reflective of reality, history, or science.  

A few weeks ago, I attended Keto Con, it wasn’t a surprise, I encountered several people who when I asked them about whether they are on a ketogenic diet, said something like “yes, for x amount of time, my goal though is to be full carnivore.”   You used to hear the same thing in the vegan movement but with the goal of being raw vegan.

Especially beware of the 20-somethings who espouse these diets.   At that age, with enough activity, you can look pretty damn sexy no matter what you are eating and in our age of instagram, it can be very seductive for a lot of people, even older, just looking for something easy to understand hyped with sex appeal.   I’ve been watching these movements for over 20 years.   While there are some original influencers that still look great, the majority well . . . . enough said.   Of course, that might have absolutely nothing to do with the diet as we’ve discussed prior. Can you do either of these in a healthy way?  Yes, perhaps, but that doesn’t mean you should.  

Biological Machine? Oh hell no!

The premise that human’s are simply biological machines has unfortunately taken root in many sectors of society, first and foremost in the body hacking community that is becoming mainstream.

Ironically, the truth is more like an economic principle called the 80/20 rule. This was first described by an Italian economist who noted 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the landowners. And if you think this just pertains to real estate, take a look at your closet and you will see that roughly 20% of your clothes are worn 80% of the time. Am I right? 🙂

Your health is divided generally and simplistically speaking into 4 categories: 1.Mental State 2.Nutrition 3.Environmental Influences 4. Movement / Activity. Well, since there are 4 categories in this case there is usually the 25% that impacts the 75% of your health.

How many ill patients do I have to see who can’t understand why they are ill when they tell me how perfect their diets are? Meanwhile, their faces show the strain of mental stress.

Diet is important and maybe in our society it is the most important, but this an arguable point and is anyway a point of public health and this blog is about YOU, and that means its up to you determine things for you. This blog is not for people who are want to follow “general public policy guidelines.” It is up to you to find out which category is most important for you. Once identified, then start learning and gathering information.

The critic will say that since we have identified categories, then it is just a matter of time before each is fully explained and then it’s just a matter of manipulating them in a scientific fashion. Why is this not so? Because the importance of these categories varies over your life and in some cases by the day. You are a remarkable changing human being and it is something that is wondrous that you can be thankful for. Are you starting to see why only you can be your own authority?

The PubMed Maze

Yes, you can search for just about anything on Pubmed as it related to medicine and health. If you have no background in a good “journal club” then you are being led down a road that is complicated but not impossible. What is this like? For most, it is like the guy at the race track that has a complicated table of data in which he thinks he can figure out which horse is going to win. Maybe that is a slight exaggeration.

That doesn’t mean I don’t see the value in PubMed. It is important that this information is available, so you can become as I say, your own authority for your health, and this involves you doing your own research.

The problem becomes when people make decisions based on just the abstract, which is the summary of the scientific article and they have no background in evaluating the study. What is this like? It is very much like making a decision on what movie to watch based on the coming attractions. For movies, yes, sometimes, for making decisions for your health, not so much.

And what is a “journal club?” It is what we do in medical residency training when we tear apart articles as a group. Most can be humbled like a white belt masquerading as a black belt because for the overwhelming majority, that is exactly the situation you have.

Be cautious with drawing conclusions from PubMed. Enough said! It is a starting point, not a place to draw conclusions.

The Front Line

Imagine the front line of war.    Soldiers battling and pushing forward and back.   At this front line is a no man’s land where the fighting takes place.  This line is constantly moving up and back.   Now imagine a tug of war.  In the middle is that handkerchief as one side pulls and then the other, this handkerchief moves forward and backward.   

The first analogy / parable was used by Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler to illustrate a point and was what he called the “Behira point.”  It is the constantly moving front line where we are being challenged.   When the front line moves forward, what was once a difficult dilemma or decision no longer is a struggle.   The example given is of a person who was raised by thieves and pick-pockets.   While the temptation for you to steal something from someone is minimal and causes you very little stress, for someone raised in that culture who is attempting to grow morally, that temptation is real and difficult.  That is their front line, their “behira point.”  For you, your line of maximal difficulty in growing ethically and morally is somewhere else.

First and foremost, this analogy gives us a deeper compassionate understanding for people.   Often, we see people judging others for things which hold no temptation for the person judgeing, since for them it is so easy to avoid.   But seen through this lens, we can realize that it is simply that they are at their own front line.   

On the other hand, there are people who have advanced their front line so far ahead of us, that the challenges that they have are inconceivable to where we are now.   Each of us is at his point of maximal challenge, some ahead on some issues, some behind.   The battleground of life presents us with challenges in all spheres, so that where we are can never be defined by another by the battleground in one aspect of life if seen through this lens. 

It is often helpful, though, to assess where we our frontline is, our “behira point” is on the levels of our life, those being physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and social.   Next time you are tempted to judge someone because they don’t get up at 5 am like you to exercise or are still having trouble giving up that piece of cake that is keeping them from losing weight, or are suffering from addictions of various kinds, realize that they are at their point of maximal challenge as are you.  You only see one behira point, only one in a complex individual with many such points.  

The best advice ever given when you find yourself about to judge someone for being lazy or succumbing to something you find easy to avoid is to remember this parable and to heed the advice of this great (slightly paraphrased) quote by Ian Maclaren, “Be Kind For Everyone is Fighting a Great Battle.”