Hi! I'm Wren. RheumaBlog is my place to write about day-to-day living with rheumatoid arthritis. I've had this autoimmune disease since I was 31 years old--more than 24 years. RheumaBlog is also a warm, friendly place to visit, a place to learn about RA and share your own stories. I'm glad you're here!
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Yes, nuts! Eating just an ounce of them a day—any kind of nut—could save your life. So said anchorman Brian Williams last night on the NBC news at 5:30 p.m.
I knew there was a reason I love cashews so much.
No, seriously: I googled this morning. And Williams was right: a study from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Young Women’s Hospital, and the Harvard School of Public Health came to that conclusion recently. It was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“The most obvious benefit was a reduction of 29 percent in deaths from heart disease — the major killer of people in America,” said Dr. Charles Fuchs of Dana-Farber, who led the team. “But we also saw a significant reduction — 11 percent — in the risk of dying from cancer.”
Even peanuts—a legume, not a true nut—works, according to the study.
The study found that nuts were helpful in keeping pounds off, too, though it didn’t get into why, exactly. But I have a theory: nuts are packed with protein, so they’re filling. A handful of nuts instead of potato chips or cookies not only gives you a high-protein boost, they satisfy that mid-afternoon urge to munch on something. But they’re high in calories, as well, so it’s best to limit the amount you eat to an ounce or so.
The other thing that caught my attention recently was this: taking aspirin at night increases the likelihood that it might help prevent a heart attack or stroke.
Millions of people take baby aspirin or low-dose aspirin (80-100mgs) every day because it thins the blood and helps to prevent platelets clumping, thereby reducing the chance of having a heart attack or stroke. But according to a study by researchers at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, cardiac events are three times more likely to occur in the morning hours. By taking low-dose aspirin right before bed at night, you might reduce your chance of having a heart attack or stroke after rising in the morning.
Seems like an easy change to make for such a big benefit, doesn’t it?
In other news, it finally rained here in Northern California yesterday. Today, the clouds are gone, but it was very nice while it lasted. We got a decent (if wet and melty) snowfall at the higher elevations in the Sierras, too.
The quick changes in the barometric pressure have been irritating my ol’ buddy the rheuma-dragon—he’s been gnawing on my hands and hips with aggravated intensity since yesterday morning—but the good, soaking rain was worth it.
It’s supposed to be quite windy this afternoon and evening. I’d prefer more rain, but as long as the temperature stays below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, I’ll take it. Makes it easier to believe the holiday season is upon us, even without any actual wintry weather.
“Studies have found that people who eat nuts have all sorts of biological benefits: less inflammation, which is linked to heart disease and cancer; less fat packed around the internal organs; better blood sugar levels; lower blood pressure — and even fewer gallstones.”
The pull-quotes above and below are from the NBC link in the early part of this post. And let us not forget that less inflammation could have a beneficial effect on those of us with autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, too.
“[R]esearchers reported that people already eating a healthy diet who added nuts or olive oil to their diets were less likely to suffer memory loss and in February scientists reported that they cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes by 30 percent.”
UPDATE UPDATE: RheumaBlog has been nominated for Best Health Blog, 2013 by Healthline.com! Wow! The contest ends January 20, 2014. First place wins $1,000; second place wins $100; and third place wins $50.
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As of yesterday morning (and minus half of the French Dip sandwich I ate last night, when neither Mom or I felt like cooking so we went out for dinner), I’ve officially lost 15 pounds.
Yep, 15. I’m dropping the excess baggage I’ve been carrying around for a while, now. It’s happening incredibly slowly, but it is happening.
Five pounds a month. Yes, I know. Slow is good when it comes to weight loss. At least, that’s what all the scholarly science-noodles say. Lose weight slowly and it will stay off.
Well, I beg to differ. I’ve slowly lost, then slowly re-gained and slowly lost again a total of about 100 pounds since I hit my mid-30s. It’s a frustrating, aggravating and endless cycle, but it’s mine, dammit.
A week ago Mom and I started walking every morning. A mile a day. It’s good to see her feeling well enough to do this. In the nearly three years since she got sciatica, then had miserable gastric and heart problems, she’s lost a lot of physical strength and stamina. For example, she loves to shop, but these days she usually poops out after an hour or so of wandering around a store.
This is striking, because Mom used to be able to shop all day long. Literally. She shopped her way through entire malls, from one end to the other and back, then back to the other end again (because, as we all know, when we finally finish our shopping at the mall, our car will be parked at the opposite end. It has to be a named natural phenomenon, like Murphy’s Law or Schroedinger’s Something).
Anyway, we’ve walked
five six miles this week.
Mom’s doing it because she wants to be able to shop like she used to. I’m doing it so maybe, just maybe it will give my somnolent metabolism a kick-start. You know: “Hey, Body-o-mine! Yes, YOU! I’m only feeding you 1, 100 calories a day! How ‘bout burning more than 50? Come on! Off your duff!”
While I’d like to reach my goal weight by Christmas, I know I can’t—and I shouldn’t. Thirty-five pounds, lost that fast, would be really unhealthy. I’d probably get rickets or something. Besides, the only way I could do it would be to go on a strict water-and-celery-only diet. I wouldn’t even last a day.
Even if I did manage it, I’d have to eat the Christmas feast with the family: mashed potatoes and gravy, cornbread dressing, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, Christmas cookies…
I’d gain it all back overnight.
I also want to lose that weight because of my ol’ buddy, the rheuma-dragon. The more poundage I carry on my smallish skeleton, the more stress I’m putting on my weight-bearing joints: my hips, my knees, my ankles and every tiny joint in both feet.
And walking—exercise—helps strengthen the muscles that support those joints. Or so they say.
Finally, there’s the Vanity Factor. When I’m fat, my face is like a long, puffy, vertical oval with eyes, nose and mouth all close together in the middle. If I don’t smile, I look like Mitch McConnell . Thankfully, the 15 pounds I’ve lost gave me my cheekbones back and erased the double chin(s). Whew!
And it is nice to find myself fitting into smaller clothing sizes. I don’t have to grunt and sort of launch myself out of the living room recliner. When I look down in the shower, I can see my feet. I don’t cut my own breath off when I tie my shoes, and I can walk between the parked cars in the garage without sidling along sideways with my belly sucked in.
Yes, 15 pounds is a very good start. And if I can lose the other 35 by oh, say, April, I’ll be happy.
And now, it’s time to take a walk.
So as I was sipping my first cup of coffee this morning, trying to wake up and waiting for my joints to un-stiffen, I ran across this important news: “Kate Middleton Won’t Name Her Favorite Piece of Clothing.”
Well, jeez, Kate! (I mean, Your Majesty!) Why not? The whole world, stunned and saddened by too many news articles about the terrible, heartbreaking, tragic and catastrophic devastation in the Philippines, waits with bated breath. We must know! Surely you have a favorite piece of clothing!
I know I do. Here, let me demonstrate how easy it is to answer this burning question.
My favorite piece of clothing is—wait for it—pajamas.
Yes, pajamas. Really. Because, think about it, what article(s) of clothing is more totally comfortable than pajamas? Oh, the thin, soft knits. The cozy flannels.
The cool, slippery silks and rayons. I would never have known I look good in red if not for the gift of Christmas pajamas! And some pajamas are just so pretty! Oh, the nightgowns! The sleek loungers!
The only pajamas—and the word “pajamas” doesn’t quite fit them, anyway—I don’t like are those short, silly ones called “teddies.” They make grown women look infantile and ridiculous. And they usually have scratchy lace on them, which is a real no-no in my book.
So, stop being so prim and diplomatic, Kate! Tell the world what your fave piece of clothing is! We’ll try to muster up a little smile as we donate to the relief efforts in the ravaged Philippines. Because, really, what’s more important?
It’s been a long time since I mentioned “gifts.” Specifically, the everyday gifts the world offers each of us, if only we’ll take the time—even a few moments—to look for them.
Recently, I’ve not taken the time, except to briefly note the spectacular autumn display the many types of trees in this mature suburban community are giving us. Only a few of the local trees are native to the Northern California foothills: huge, elderly black oaks with vast, spreading branches; and the mostly smaller live oaks, whose twisted, rough trunks are gray as the fur of a Norway rat and whose leaves are small, quarter-sized and teardrop shaped, with tiny, startlingly sharp points along the edges. The black oaks’ leaves turn dull and pale brown in autumn before dropping and leaving the tree branches nude but delightfully haunting. The live oaks, though, drop their leaves and re-grow new ones year-round, so they are never bare. Their leaves, too, turn pale brown and rather uninteresting.
But oh, the non-native trees! This community is getting on toward 50 years
old—and so are many of the trees. There are several varieties of maple, including the tall, skinny liquidambers. There are aspens and willows, sweet-gums and Chinese pistache trees, whose leaves are simply spectacular in the fall. Taken all together, they form a striking canopy of fall colors—red, scarlet, orange, yellows pale and bright, and brown, of course. The trees are big, most of them, and old now. They line the neighborhood roads, decorating the front yards of house after house and the landscaping of nearly every local business and storefront. And set among them are my favorite trees of all: the evergreens.
Like the Italian cedars that spike up here and there, four or five stories tall and skinny; sugar pines with big, splayed pine cones and long, thin, spiky needles; other pines of several varieties; firs that make me think of Christmas trees and the most magestic of them all, the redwoods. One of them, which has a double trunk and is almost 30 years old,
lives right outside Mom’s front window. In a certain mood, I can gaze at it and picture a whole forest of sequoias whispering in the light breeze.
I guess I’ve been noting the gifts after all. I just need to remember to slow down every now and then and bring myself back into the present, the now, this very moment as I live my life and breath in this air. The result of such simple mindfulness is the greatest gift of all: peace.
Sometimes—and I’m not alone in this—the medications we’ve been prescribed for our rheumatoid disease simply don’t do much in the way of pain relief.
That is not to say that RA medications don’t work. They do. But while most of them reduce inflammation and even slow the progress of the disease down to a crawl, they don’t always erase the pain. They also don’t always address the fatigue or that draggy, all-over-ill feeling so characteristic of RA.
Even the big guns, the narcotic analgesics, aren’t always reliable against pain. Like RA itself, these drugs often affect each one of us differently. Some can’t tolerate them because of allergic reactions (common with codeine) or because we dislike the disorientation, the “high” and/or drowsiness they can cause. Or, if you’re like me, you’ve taken these potent painkillers for so many years that you’ve built up a rather formidable resistance to them. They still work, but not nearly as well as they once did.
So, as the old saying goes, what’s a girl (or guy) to do?
Fortunately, there are a lot of things we can do to soothe—if not eliminate—the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Let’s start with the basics:
First, eat a healthy, nutritious, balanced diet, one that helps you stay light on your feet (thus taking the stress of extra poundage off your weight-bearing joints) and helps your body function at its best. I always feel better when I’m eating meals that are high in protein and moderate or low in carbohydrates, with plenty of vegetables for their vitamins, minerals and fiber. I try to satisfy any sweets-cravings with fresh fruit instead of cookies.
Another basic: Get plenty of sleep. It’s hard to cope with pain and stiffness when you’re exhausted right out of the gate every morning. Make sure you stick to a sleep schedule—go to bed at about the same time every night, and get up at about the same time in the morning, even on weekends. Try for seven or eight hours each night.
Next up is exercise. Our bodies need to move. Everything works better when it’s kept strong and supple; exercise is the best key to that. It doesn’t have to be like boot-camp. Gentle movements like stretching and resistance exercises, including isometrics, go a long way toward helping us feel better.
Hot baths and cold/hot packs can be very soothing to painful joints. So can creams and lotions that mimic hot or cold sensations.
Assistive devices like jar openers and two-handled cookware, and mobility aids like canes, crutches and wheelchairs can help keep joint pain at bay or to a minimum.
For more ways to combat RA pain, click here.
Today is my birthday.
I can hardly believe it, but I’m just three years shy of 60—an age I’ve always associated with grandmothers, polyester outfits in pastels and flower patterns, scented bath powder, support hose and thick, blocky, sensible shoes.
But I’m not a grandma, have no polyester in my wardrobe, no bath powder in my bathroom cabinet, and I’ve never worn support hose in my life. I guess there’s still time…
I do have thick, blocky, sensible shoes—but not because I’m elderly, but because I have rheumatoid disease and pretty, thin, narrow shoes with elevated heels cause me pain. I’ve been wearing ugly shoes since I was 31 years old. They look OK to me now.
When I turned 50 a friend said, “Hey, don’t worry! Fifty is the new 30.” I laughed. “Yeah, right.” Talk about a boomer cliché! We’re the Peter Pan generation. We’ll never grow up. I rolled my eyes and blew out the candles.
But now that I’m closing in on 60, I’m beginning to change my mind. If “50 is the new 30,” then isn’t 60 the new 40? Because while I didn’t feel a bit like I was 30 years old when I turned 50, I do feel about like I did when I turned 40.
Well, minus the active RA. When I was 40, my ol’ rheuma-dragon was dozing.
And that’s the point of this silly post. I don’t feel like I’m 57, even though my re-awakened rheumatoid arthritis often makes my joints feel stiff and achy, my daughter is now in her 30s and my husband has gone almost completely gray. No, I feel like the 40-ish woman who went backpacking in the Desolation Wilderness and hiked the California foothills back-country, photographing firefighters battling wildfires.
But most of all, I just feel like myself—the same self I was at 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 years old, that same curious, knowledge-hungry child I’ve always been, still gazing at this wild, wonderful world from the same big blue eyes.
Maybe I’m Peter Pan after all.