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Does Your Intestine Have a Green Thumb?

April 19, 1999|ROSIE MESTEL

Popular health books arrive in the Health section all the time, one just recently with the head-scratching title "Breathe Right Now." (We're not sure people need to read a book to conclude that breathing is a good idea.)

But readers shouldn't assume that such books are anything new. We have in our possession a volume by one Dr. James Empringham, penned in 1934. Its title: "Intestinal Gardening for the Prolongation of Youth." Its premise: that getting the right, "friendly microbes" to grow in your gut will keep you young and vibrant, whereas the wrong ones--"weeds"--will make you old before your time.

Empringham began gardening his own intestine after a doctor told him he was in terrible shape. His bowels, said this doc, were "filled with putrefactive types of bacteria, and the toxins generated by these germs have poisoned and degenerated every tissue and organ in your body."

Depressing news, but Empringham didn't despair. ("Most Englishmen fight best when nearly beaten," he wrote.) He experimented with his diet, until he knew--we won't tell you how--that the right bugs were growing. His health, he claimed, improved greatly.

We don't know about that, but we do know the book is a riveting read. Who can resist chapter titles like "Re-Implanting the Bowels," or "Little Plants Keep the Colon Clean" or " 'Once a Day' Is Constipation"?

A Healthy Way to Blow Off Steam

If you're wearing a frown, write it down. That's what we learn from the Journal of the American Medical Assn. (though the authors of the study in question didn't use quite those words).

The scientists--of North Dakota State University and the State University of New York at Stony Brook--asked people with asthma or arthritis to write down their feelings about a stressful event in their lives, for 20 minutes, for three days running. A similar group simply wrote down their plans for the day.

When the patients' health was evaluated up to four months later, half of the first group showed improvements, compared with only a quarter of the control group.

And venting one's spleen on paper helps healthy people too, according to earlier studies: When healthy people express stress this way, they report fewer medical problems and use fewer health care services.

Hmmm, this could be worth a try. The other day, it was rush hour, I was on the freeway when this car just cut in! Out of nowhere! And I was waaay stressed out already--I'd just had a call from my kid's school. . . .

Ahhh. That's better.

Down-Home Hints for Those Medical Puzzlers

What do medical workers do when they run out of thread while stitching a wound or can't get kids to cooperate during exams? If they're savvy, they head to "Clinical Pearls," a kind of "Hints From Heloise" for the health care profession, published in Clinician Reviews and on the Web at http://www.medscape.com.

Here--paraphrased for brevity--are some sample tips:

* Patients with a sty should treat it with a washcloth wrapped around a hot hard-boiled egg. Other homey hints include oatmeal baths for chickenpox itches, castor oil for stubborn plantar warts, and a spoonful of peanut butter or lemon juice for hiccups.

* Use body powder when giving a patient a breast exam--"to decrease skin friction, absorb some of the perspiration, and help mask some of the body odor." (Hey!)

* Can't remember how to treat a patient? Try a mnemonic, like this one for a person with acute pulmonary edema: "LMNOP." This stands for "Lasix," "Morphine sulfate," "Nitroglycerin," "Oxygen" and "Position patient sitting up with legs dangling over the side of the bed." (We're not sure this tip inspires confidence.)

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