Home Remedy for Cold & Flu Prevention – My Call for a Formal Study

Some years ago, I posted a page on my blog with homegrown steps for preventing colds and flus by heading them off before they get going. I am reposting them below, updated, for family and my doctor.

In the close to 20 years that I have employed these strategies, I have never had the incipient symptoms of an upper respiratory infections—like sore throat, congestion, cough from post-nasal drip—turn into anything. I’ve experienced the beginnings of runny noses or bad sore throats plenty of times—and I don’t mean minor ones, I mean the kind of sore throats that are so inflamed and painful, it’s hard to talk or swallow your own spit, including fever—and other symptoms that at one time would have always turned into a major illness.*

These strategies have reliably helped me (and my family members and friends who have used them) to cut those symptoms short and get better quickly without ever developing a systemic illness.

As with SolveEczema.org (environmental strategies for eczema and astham), the strategies involve taking simple measures that anyone can do, generally regarded as safe, and that are based on a combination of my own research and methodical, empirical observation. And just as with SolveEczema strategies, it can be easy to make wrong assumptions and miss getting the results unless one reads and understands that these strategies are something new and different despite familiar elements.

And just as with SolveEczema.org, I tend to keep things low-key until there is research to back it up—even more than SolveEczema, these flu-prevention strategies could be easily validated with appropriate clinical trials. Which are difficult to get done as an outsider. (As SolveEczema.org users know, I am not a medical professional.)

But as the Covid-19 pandemic has progressed, I feel I should speak up. Testing the above strategies would be easy and fairly low risk, with the potential benefit of reducing the number of people who get sick with Covid-19 after exposure, allowing for a faster recovery, faster resolution of the epidemiological “curve” and faster and more confident transition to normal life. Especially for healthcare workers and people in essential jobs like first responders, grocery and delivery employees, construction and transportation workers, having a way to regularly mitigate the likelihood of infection even after exposure or development of new symptoms would be very powerful. If these steps prove broadly effective, it could significantly reduce the risk of illness because of exposures in their work. The strategies could conceivably reduce transmissibility and thus cut short the epidemic.

There would be relatively few downsides to a clinical trial. The strategies could be employed by half of those with a known exposure but who have not gotten sick and comparisons made with the other half for how many came down with the full-blown disease. Another group could be health care workers or public health professionals who get constant exposure, with half getting the strategies (modified specifically for their circumstances), half not.

The best trial would be to test the strategies with people who get incipient symptoms like GI problems, sore throat, or congestion, because these strategies work best in my experience when used at the beginnings of an illness or right after a known exposure, rather than as regular well-care prophylaxis, but from what I understand, the typical symptoms of an incipient flu are not necessarily present very often at the start Covid-19.

The other kind of trial that might be helpful is to give the strategies to a portion of those who develop incipient flu symptoms and give only partial strategies that are already in common use to others, and see if it changes the number of people who get sick with flus. Even if the strategies don’t work with Covid-19 as well, if they are generally as effective as I have observed with flu, they could reduce the number of people who need medical services for flu, and thus help free up the healthcare system at this time of crisis. (And would also help reduce the number of flu deaths every year!)

These are not just typical strategies such as to reduce the pain of a sore throat by gargling with salt water, they are a combined set of strategies to eliminate the sore throat altogether within a short period of time and keep something worse from developing. I speculate from what I have observed that the strategies may allow the immune system to catch up, essentially.

I have updated the strategies and posted them below for convenience. My next post will include selected updated research support for this from medical literature, and why I believe these strategies could help with Covid-19 control WITH APPROPRIATE CLINICAL TRIALS FOR VALIDATION. Please note again that if you have symptoms, CONTACT YOUR DOCTOR. If you want to try these strategies, run them by your doctor and understand when you should call. Do not use something anyone provides you from the Internet, even me, in lieu of professional medical attention.

Wishing everyone Good Health as we all do our parts to end this pandemic as soon as possible.

Best,
AJ

*Only one time, I had something that seemed to go straight into my lungs without any sore throat or other symptoms first, but even then, the strategies allowed my to keep the coughing from starting up so I could sleep.

Better than chicken soup* – Our family’s best home remedy for heading off colds, sore throats, and cough from post-nasal drip

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This is what we do during cold and flu season — it really seems preventive and to head off sore throats, colds and coughs. I couldn’t say if it beats my Grandma’s onion poultices because — sorry Grandma! — making onion poultices is not my idea of a soothing solution when I am sick! These steps seem to work fast — without onions — and help head off the congestion that tickles the back of the throat and becomes a cough, especially at night.

As you might expect if you follow SolveEczema.org, I developed this because of research I read over the years, and copious experimentation and observation. Since following these steps, I’ve never had a sore throat turn into anything, and the few times I’ve had problems that seemed to bypass the sore throat stage, it was still helpful at heading off the coughing and letting me sleep at night — without a lot of medication.

Image courtesy of m_bartosch / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

DISCLAIMER: As always, I feel like I need to make a disclaimer, because even if this is effective for you — especially if it is effective for you — DO NOT do this instead of consulting your doctor. Only do with your doctor’s blessing, and after making sure nothing more serious needs to be addressed! That H1N1 flu, for example, moves FAST into the lungs and gets scary serious even faster — this is NOT a substitute for getting urgent care for something like that, and is NOT a home remedy once something has moved into the lungs, among other problems. See your doctor immediately if there is any question of there being pneumonia or infection in the lungs. (My readers know how cautious I am about medical treatment — even I recommend everyone getting flu shots.)

So, with that in mind ….

Not all of these steps are always necessary — the essential ones are starred *** — but the order of all the steps is important, regardless.  With very young children, check with doctor before doing any of these steps:

Whenever a sore throat, congestion, or cough starts (a cough that isn’t yet in the lungs but comes from higher up):

Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

1.  Brush teeth — use a new brush or disinfect toothbrush first with peroxide if possible, use toothpaste from a new tube, don’t contact the bristles to the tube.

Brushing can be skipped in a pinch, but it’s a good idea to start by brushing.  The microorganisms don’t just inhabit the back of the throat, and brushing reduces the bacterial soup swimming around the mouth.

Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

2.  Drink a large glass of warm water — it’s so important for the immune system and also because you don’t want to drink right after the next steps.  Many people come from cultural traditions that view warm water (room temperature or slightly warmer rather than cold water) as important for health — there is research support for this notion now, and from my own empirical observation, I am in agreement with this view.

Simply Saline Allergy and Sinus
Simply Saline Nasal Rinse

Simply Saline Allergy and Sinus ****

***3.  Rinse sinuses with Simply Saline sterile nasal spray from each side per instructions (regular or Allergy and Sinus formula, they are both non-detergent and JUST saline) and blow nose.

Simply Saline is my favorite product for this purpose, it works well and the mist delivers the product into the sinuses in a very gentle way, especially for children, though you may still have to talk them through it.  You can also use other products, or a Neti Pot but not if you are EVER tempted to use it without sterile water!!!  (I can’t stress that enough, never put unsterilized tap water in your sinuses!!!!!)

Step #3 is important EVEN IF YOU ONLY HAVE A SORE THROAT AND DON’T YET HAVE CONGESTION.

For very bad congestion, after rinsing well with regular Simply Saline, rinse again with the Allergy and Sinus Simply Saline.  That works the vast majority of the time, but if things come back and repeating the steps using those isn’t enough, you can rinse with Simply Saline then follow with Nutribiotic Nasal Spray, per instructions, probably one or two sprays per nostril.  (I am concerned about how well the valve works so I always spray it into a clean tissue once or twice after every use, keep the nozzle wiped clean, and throw it away when I no longer need it for that illness.)

***4.  Gargle several times with a glass of warm salt water (just use ordinary table salt, maybe a spoon in a glass, it doesn’t have to be ocean-salty).  Swish some of the salt water around in your mouth, between the teeth, and spit out.  (If you have high blood pressure and need to watch salt intake, discuss with doctor beforehand.)

Step #4 is important EVEN IF YOU DON’T HAVE A SORE THROAT BUT ONLY HAVE CONGESTION AND/OR COUGHING FROM POST-NASAL DRIP.

***5.  Dissolve a dose of probiotic in a small amount of warm water, like only just a teaspoon or two of water, then swallow so it coats the back of the throat and tongue.

My favorite probiotics for this (including for myself) are Jarrow Baby’s Jarro-dophilus. It comes in powder form and can be measured out by the teaspoon or fractions of.  It tends to clump, so make sure it is well dissolved.  Primadophilus Intensive is also good.  It comes in a powder, in separate packets.

I find in a pinch, just taking the concentrated probiotic can help combat a sore throat.  LINK

If you don’t have those brands, you can use what you have, split open a capsule and dissolve it in the glass.  Be sure it’s a refrigerated acidophilus with live bacteria.  Dead shelf-stable ones are better than nothing, but you may not get the same results.  Use a probiotic with as many strains as possible.  If you only have one, that’s better than nothing, but 6-12 strains is best in my experience.  (There is at least evidence that 2 strains is better than one when it comes to cold and flue prevention.)

You may have to try more than one probiotic product to hit the right one to beat back whatever is causing the problem sometimes — it’s always more effective to do this at the very start of the sore throat than after it gets entrenched.  How do you know if it’s a good probiotic?  It should begin working right away.  If it makes no discernible difference, you need a different probiotic.  The difference is usually pretty obvious.

Repeat whenever the pain returns.  But try to do after eating rather than before.

This seems to work really well to ward off sore throats and congestion when they happen and keep them from turning into something else, and also, it has been very useful to stop the coughing at night when lying down, whether there is a sore throat or not.  Even if you don’t seem to be congested, the stuff that comes down postnasal can be very irritating and be the reason for the cough.  This really seems effective at getting all that stuff out of the way, if you do it right before going to bed, so you can sleep and the immune system can do its job better.

If you want to be really hard core — it does seem to help — eat healthy and don’t eat sugary and starchy foods while sick, the bad microbes seem to love those foods as much as we do.  If taking an antibiotic, take probiotics during treatment (not just after) per medical advice — take oral enteric coated probiotics in addition to the dissolved per #5 above.

Lastly, if you spend time at school or the doctor’s office during cold and flu season, when you get home, wash hands (of course) and change into clean clothes (bag the dirty ones and put them by the laundry, don’t leave them in your room even in the hamper).  I don’t know if the question of how much doctors’ coats and ties are spreading disease has been settled LINK , but taking this step has definitely worked for me from personal experience.

So the steps are again:

1. Brush teeth with a clean brush and paste.
2. Drink a large glass of warm water.
3. Rinse sinuses with sterile saline nasal rinse (whether you are congested or not), immediately followed by:
4. Gargle with warm salt water (whether you have a sore throat or not).
5. Dissolve a dose of probiotic in a small amount of water, just a teaspoon or two, and drink.
6. Repeat the whole process as soon as symptoms return. Use Allergy & Sinus Simply Saline in all subsequent repeats if the regular wasn’t enough to make things go away completely the first time.


Remember to rinse and sterilize the sink when you are done, as necessary.

Do not get “lazy” and let things go just because the steps make things feel instantly better when you do them.  They work best if you go do them right when the symptoms start and repeat them right away if symptoms come back.  Doing this, I have been able to reliably get rid of even aggressive sore throats and congestion and keep them from turning into a something worse for around 20 years now.  If symptoms get entrenched, it’s not too late—following the steps seems to help reduce the severity and duration of any illness that gets a foothold.

Be Well!  I hope this helps!

AJ

*My opinion!  Believe it or not, I think chicken soup can actually claim published support for its healing properties!

**As everyone who reads my site knows, I am a mom, not a doctor.  I have given this advice to my own doctor!

****I have mostly suspended affiliate marketing, because it’s a lot of work, and people get the wrong impression.  I do earn a very small percentage if people buy using the links, but with personal care products, it earns very little, it’s just a convenience.  Sadly, my favorite site for personal care products was bought up and closed down.  As of this writing, Simply Saline products are available at Costco, Amazon, and many drugstores.

When they say soap is the best way to clean and disinfect with coronavirus SARS-Cov-2, do they mean “soap”? Plus, how to disinfect the CDC-recommended way.

If you have used SolveEczema.org’s environmental strategies to address eczema, you may be wondering: is there a difference between soaps and detergents—in the way SolveEczema.org defines them—for washing hands and surfaces to protect against the new coronavirus SARS-Cov-2 that causes Covid-19?

First, the CDC cleaning guidance for the public to prevent the spread of Covid-19 recommends a two-step process:

1 – clean surfaces first
2 – then disinfect

Why a two-step process?

According to a publication of the US Environmental Protection Agency, cleaning and disinfecting together in one step is less effective:
“Dirt and organic material make some disinfectants less effective, so cleaning is necessary before disinfecting in most cases.”

The EPA publication and CDC guide repeatedly recommend a two-step process for cleaning and disinfecting.

–The CDC guide says “[Disinfection] does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, [disinfection] can further lower the risk of spreading infection.”
–“If surfaces are dirty, they should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.”
The EPA publication says “Sanitizing does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs. Most sanitizers, as well as disinfectants, require a clean surface in order to be effective at killing germs. “ And,
–“Incorrectly using a disinfectant may kill the weaker germs, but the more resistant germs survive. Incorrect use includes “disinfecting a dirty surface” …[and] “using a combination disinfectant/cleaner without first removing visible dirt from the surface.”

Many disinfection products contain both surfactants (invariably, detergents) and disinfectants because companies believe the public will not follow a two-step process because it’s too much trouble. In ordinary times, they are probably right. Today, the public is going to great lengths to follow CDC recommendations. Plus, many articles suggest that washing hands properly with soap may be more effective than using sanitizer against the new coronavirus.

As for disinfecting surfaces, again, the CDC recommends cleaning first, then disinfection (if necessary).

The EPA has provided a list of products it expects will kill the novel coronavirus.

Note the first product on the disinfectant list is a Cleanwell product, which disinfects with thymol. Disinfection products containing hydrogen peroxide or ethanol or citric acid or iodine or bleach are also recommended, it is not necessary to choose a detergent-containing product.

If you want pure bleach without detergents, I recommend “Germicidal” Clorox because the Clorox quality is very consistent, and if you are trying to avoid surfactants, look for the “Germicidal” line only, as of the last time I looked, it was the only one of their consumer bleach products that did not also contain detergents. Note that they do not make it for or recommend it for the laundry— I do a short wash first with soap and only then using the bleach when disinfection is necessary, but you need to know that the company only recommends products that contain detergents for laundry at this point. With bleach being necessary for medical environments, it may not be possible to buy a bleach product at all right now anyway. If your child cannot tolerate the detergents, I just wanted to point out that the CDC says you can use other disinfectant products.

Next question: does it matter whether the cleaning is done by what SolveEczema defines as natural soap or detergents?

Short answer: No. According to everything I have read, all “soaps” should be effective. SolveEczema.org users should be able to use true soap and non-detergent disinfectants and comply with CDC recommendations for cleaning during this pandemic, without compromising their environmental strategies for eczema. Many soap producers are small businesses and have soap available for purchase.

Here’s a great article from a health center in Colorado that explains why soap is better than sanitizer, and they clearly reference true soap as defined on SolveEczema.org:

Big caveat: remember that soap (and detergents) don’t lather well in hard water. So it’s tempting to use a great deal too much product yet think it rinses away quickly, when that’s not actually what’s happening. With hard water, surfactants aren’t rinsing away quickly, the hard water is just destroying the suds. Keep washing and rinsing for the recommended time.

Expanding SolveEczema’s blog during the Covid-19 pandemic

I have decided to expand the scope of my posts during the pandemic, to include a backlog of SolveEczema-related updates, but also education—my son is now going off to college—environmental health, and other problems that need attention since national news is so focused, necessarily, on the pandemic. Some things need to be said, that aren’t being said.

It may seem as if my blog hasn’t been active, and but I have had to focus on behind-the-scenes stuff like moving my website to a new host and all the nail-biting and nested-tech-tasks-of-indeterminate-time-sinks that entailed. I’m very thankful the new host seems to be so much better.

My son ended up homeschooling for high school, to start in large part because our local school didn’t handle either the environmental health issues or his education very well. I have a lot to share about how families can hopefully be more successful than we were at improving their schools’ environmental health.

It’s become more imperative because environmental health research shows that when schools are closed up for any period of time, as schools all over the world are now because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the sudden worsening of indoor air quality from everything being stirred up when schools are reopened makes for a spike in colds, flus, and upper respiratory infections among students and staff. After everything everyone is doing to end this pandemic, the environmental health evidence-base points to the need to head off that surge by understanding effective indoor air quality management to avoid another round of lockdowns and a surge in the Covid-19 cases when schools and colleges start up again.

So, for the next few months, my posts won’t necessarily be on topic. I will try to make posts that are helpful my site users, since I want everyone to be able to safely employ preventive environmental strategies for eczema and asthma while also following CDC and other official guidelines and recommendations to stay safe.

Blessings and good health, everyone!

–AJ

How to Find the Detergents, Allergens, and Other Inert Ingredients in Medications

Most medications are made up of the active ingredient — the medicine — and inert ingredients, such as dyes to help identify the medication.

Assorted Medications

Photo by NIAID – Assorted Medications, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62117217

Medications can contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and other detergents. They can also contain other substances people are frequently allergic to, like dyes. Talc is another frequent ingredient, despite credible concerns and ongoing questions about its possible link to certain cancers. Yet other ingredients can have side effects, for example, sugar alcohols (sugar substitutes) like sorbitol can cause dizziness if taken regularly.

As this news story from CBS New York about inert ingredients and medications reports: “Millions of people think they’re allergic to life-saving medications like penicillin, but a recent study found that 90 percent of those folks … may be reacting [instead] to some of the inactive ingredients in the pills.”

The story points out the difficulties of finding the inert ingredients list because there are no labeling laws like there are for foods. It is currently far easier to find the list of ingredients in a box of breakfast cereal than it is for medications people take daily.

I recently needed to find a generic version of a medication I was using, and was frustrated by how difficult it was to find the inert ingredients. I eventually found a resource online through the NIH that seems to be about the best resource for identifying inert ingredients, Daily Med. The website contains over 100,000 drug listings.

You can search through its database of medications, and the site will display a list that includes the name of the drug, the manufacturer or packager, and the NDC code for the drug. The links go to pages that include a wealth of information: contraindications, indications of use, drug interactions, and much more, including — always at the very bottom — a link to the Ingredients and Appearance, and often a link to an image of the medication’s label.

Many drugs have different inert ingredients from one generic to the next, and from one dosage from the same manufacturer to the next, so to look up the exact drug to find its inert ingredients, scroll through the dosages on the Ingredients page to find the exact one you are using.

For SolveEczema.org users, being able to ensure medications taken daily are detergent-free can be a real challenge. I think it’s very important that site users prioritize the medications they need and that their doctors recommend, and NOT stop anything just because it has detergents in it, rather, discuss the situation with your MD before making changes. Having information means it might be possible to find non-detergent alternatives through the Daily Med site, and your doctor or pharmacy may be able to specify the one with the most tolerable inert ingredients or even prescribe a compounded version.

The CBS New York story suggests people may need to use a compounding pharmacy if they need medications without some of the inert ingredients. Which is, of course, it’s own endeavor, to find an affordable compounding pharmacy with a good track record for safety. Compounded medications tend to be very costly, and insurance may balk at paying.

There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of awareness about the issue of allergy and sensitivity to the inert ingredients in medications yet. At least the NIH Daily Med site has been very helpful to determine which versions of medications don’t contain SLS.

A SolveEczema Perspective: “The Cure for Dishpan Hands” – Part 1

Over the years, I have been thanked by many people who used SolveEczema.org just to solve a dry skin problem, even if they did not have eczema. I have been thanked by many parents and more than one doctor who realized they could wash their hands frequently when necessary, without drying their skin out. As I am very clear about on my website, I am not a doctor, this is based on my own personal observation and research. Getting results relies on capitalizing on that new perspective, so it is essential to understand that new perspective first.  (I also fundamentally approach things from a Safety First standpoint — I will never suggest doing anything in a way that should make anything worse, or that has to be “toughed out,” so it’s important to understand first AND always keep a doctor in the loop even if they don’t know the site, in case the unexpected happens.)

I am writing this to share what we — and now many others — have done using the Solveczema.org perspective to get unexpected, out-of-the-box results with ameliorating dry skin, for those who maybe can’t seem to find any moisturizing cream thick enough to prevent painful cracked skin during the winter or on travel, or who struggle with washing the dishes even with gloves.

Obviously, I can’t promise a “cure” without a traditional medical study, the title above is just a restatement of the usual idiom and my opinion about its applicability, although this is a perfect set up for a clinical study. I believe this perspective could not only improve the health of health providers’ skin, but also improve compliance with handwashing, and thus help reduce hospital-borne infection.

If you are ready to try this, first read the SolveEczema site disclaimer, watch the SolveEczema site video linked from the home page (note, I made it for a long-concluded crowdfunding for my book and haven’t been able to update the ending, it’s an amateur effort — sorry, it puts me to sleep, too — but it’s only about 45 minutes and is still a good summary of the site).  Read everything here, use your judgment, talk with your physician as needed for health and safety issues, and don’t make any changes until you understand how different this is.  It’s not about individual products, it’s about learning how to have optimal skin health without treatments or moisturizing, by understanding what, in my observation, is really going on.

I need to mention here again an open source paper I posted online about SolveEczema, giving a rough description of how it relates to the eczema and allergy epidemic of recent decades, and summarizing many of the novel observations:  https://thewinnower.com/papers/3412-abnormal-ampli-fication-observations-from-applying-the-engineering-method-to-solving-eczema-and-atopic-disease

It’s only two pages — please refer to the Analysis and Observations section for essential novel observations.

Again, with my apologies for the presumption of giving this a personal, alliterative name like this in hopes of making it more memorable, I also need to restate this very different-from-traditional view of why skin becomes dry after washing, per my own observations, because it’s crucial for getting results:

Photo of bar soap on soap tray

Lumsdaine’s Law: For most people, under most conditions, eczema and dry skin are more the result of what is left on the skin than what is stripped from the skin by washing.

 

 

Photo of dry hand skin

Photo of dry hand courtesy of Wikimedia

Water alone on the skin increases the membrane permeability. Membrane permeability is basically just how easily certain substances — like water molecules — can pass through the membrane, from within and without.  If you wash your hands in the winter and don’t dry them well afterwards, your hands chap even if you only washed in water, because the water left on the skin increases the permeability and accelerates water loss.

Under normal conditions, the restoration of water in the skin is quite rapid; if someone washes and it takes days for the skin to rehydrate, my contention is that it’s because of what is on the skin in the meantime, not usually from what was stripped from the skin by normal washing. Detergents on the skin (see the paper) in combination with a small layer of water, including from sweat, dramatically increases permeability and subsequent water loss.

Continued in Part 2…

Don’t Forget the Soap: A SolveEczema.org Perspective on “The Farm Effect” and Eczema

Photo of a Cow in Switzerland

Swiss Cows

Until I can finish a book or publish papers, I really can’t do this topic justice. And I’m not really sure users of my site (SolveEczema.org) really need much explanation. Once people really read and understand the site, and put the strategies into practice, what I’m about to say is pretty obvious.

A lot has been written in recent years about the “Farm Effect” — an astute observation made by pioneering eczema/hygiene hypothesis researchers that people who live on farms tend to have less eczema than people who don’t. This led to speculation about whether the reason had to do with dirt or microorganism exposure.

While I am not discounting microbial involvement — please see SolveEczema.org discussions for a different take on probiotics and eczema, and the last part of this very short paper that I wrote https://thewinnower.com/papers/3412-abnormal-ampli-cation-observations-from-applying-the-engineering-method-to-solving-eczema-and-atopic-disease — I also think people are making this far too complicated (with far too much contradictory evidence that isn’t explained).

Take for example the popular interpretations of this well-done study from 2012:
http://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(12)00519-2/fulltext

Researchers found a far higher rate of allergy, asthma, and eczema among children aged 6-12 who were from families of Swiss non-farmers than Swiss farmers. They also found the Swiss farmers had a higher rate than Amish in the US (who tend to be farmers, though not all). Researchers may have chosen the comparison with Amish in the US because they originally came from Switzerland, and may be genetically similar, although the comparison would have been even more useful if they had also surveyed the Amish-like communities still in Switzerland.

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-kidsallergies-idUSBRE8431J920120504
“As for why the Amish kids have even lower allergy and asthma rates than the other farming kids, “that piece of the puzzle we really haven’t explained,” [Indiana allergist who treats Amish patients] Holbreich told Reuters Health.”

So, to summarize: The Amish had the lowest rates of allergy, asthma, and eczema. The Swiss farmers had less allergic diseases than non-farmer general population, but higher than the Amish. This relative difference was true also for allergic sensitization to various allergens on testing.

The significant difference between the Amish and the farm families suggests the need to consider other influences.

Swiss cows everywhere and up close in Switzerland

Swiss cows everywhere and up close in Switzerland

Additionally, Switzerland is such a small country where farming and the farming community is simply not that isolated from the rest of the nation. It’s nothing like the US where you might have to drive a hundred miles to see a cow (or a farmer).

Swiss horses in the path

Swiss horses in the path

While Switzerland is an extremely clean country, let’s face it, the dairy industry is pretty important — it’s hard not to notice that there are a great many animals and a great many flies because dairy is so well integrated into the landscape. I just can’t see making a strong case that any population is that well isolated from any other there microbially.

swiss goat

Swiss goats are everywhere, too.

But in terms of lifestyle, the general Swiss population of non-farmers is using the same kinds of new surfactants that everyone else in the industrialized world is using where eczema and asthma are so high. They spend more time in homes breathing the detergent “dust” from this use than do farmers, who spend more time outdoors.

Swiss farmers may or may not be using less of such products.  While I doubt they are making their own soap anymore — though I do not know — they do spend more time outdoors, away from breathing such dusts. Recall that these substances increase antigen penetration of membranes, including lung, i.e., to the immune system, it’s as if there is more allergen in the environment.

In the US, farming communities gave up making their own soap later than everyone else. In some farming communities, soapmaking remains a strong tradition. The Amish are one of those communities, probably the most significantly so. Although acceptance of the modern can vary among Amish communities, there is a strong tradition of soapmaking among the Amish. This essay about Amish life in the 19th century (search on the word “soap”)  describes the process.  While it can be truly difficult to get specific data, it’s very unlikely that this tradition has changed much, if at all.

This relatively new environmental factor — the use of these highly hydrophilic modern surfactants that I believe are amplifying “normal” allergic processes — has a much more consistent and close ecological link to allergy, asthma, and eczema increases than any of the other explanations, across time and geography. This factor should be included in these types of studies, because of the potential to reconcile so much seemingly contradictory evidence, not just when it comes to the “Farm Effect”, but also when it comes to the research on allergy and exposure to pets like dogs and cats (especially the contradictory evidence when it comes to cats), or studies of allergy in households that handwash versus dishwasher wash the dishes. Getting into details is a long discussion for another day. However, because these surfactants can so powerfully influence human membranes in a way that is known and directly speaks to allergy, I think it’s too bad the studies don’t include anything at all about this factor. Especially since, as in the study above, there is likely to be a big difference in usage between the populations.

The SolveEczema.org perspective reconciles the major inconsistencies in the research of most of these different factors, such as the Farm Effect. And the SolveEczema.org strategies, from experience, happen to lead to dramatic reduction of asthma and allergies in concert with eczema amelioration, not just for the child with eczema, but everyone in the household. And it doesn’t require getting dirty or rolling around in cow or horse … um … microbes.

 

This room was one part of a structure also housing a mountain café, where day hikers frequently stop for tea or hot cocoa. Note the nearly brand new calf.

This room was one part of a structure also housing a mountain café, where day hikers frequently stop for tea or hot cocoa. Note the nearly brand new calf.  OK – this isn’t a common sight in Switzerland – but cows (and their microbes) are.

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SolveEczema News and Publication

One of the goals when I started to write a book about SolveEczema.org (still in the works!) was to find a way to bring the ideas into a mainstream medical and scientific forum for discussion and validation, including also writing a scientific paper. After years considering how to publish something so different, I published in a new open source platform called The Winnower, which offers post-publication peer review.

You can view the paper at: https://thewinnower.com/papers/3412-abnormal-ampli-fication-observations-from-applying-the-engineering-method-to-solving-eczema-and-atopic-disease

I know this probably sounds very dry to site users, but for anyone who has asked the question “Why didn’t my doctor give me this information?!” (too many to count have emailed me the same question), you may be interested in the scientific validation of this work, because it will mean other children will be spared the same suffering.  Although many doctors have used and referred SolveEczema.org to patients over the years, it will be tough to reach everyone or work on solving related health conditions without the validation of peer review.

I’m having some computer problems lately, so rather than trying to compose a post to explain, here are some edited excerpts from recent letters I wrote:
SolveEczema.org represents the novel application of modern technical problem solving, in particular, the engineering method, to solving a medical condition, eczema and related allergy. The engineering method has been described as “The use of heuristics to cause the best change in a poorly understood situation within the available resources.” (BV Koen, The Bent of Tau Beta Pi, 1985)

When an environmental cause underlies a medical condition, complex environmental and exposure differences can translate to seemingly intractable person-to-person variability. This work involves the unraveling of this seeming complexity by using heuristics that allow individuals to focus on controlling what’s important to problem solve in their own circumstances. The paper presents a number of insights that came about as part of the problem solving process and subsequent research, such as why a key aspect of the solution has been overlooked to date and why a new approach is needed for the validation of heuristic solutions.

A letter to a doctor who expressed an interest in a collaboration:
The article mentions how this perspective could reconcile seemingly contradictory hygiene hypothesis research. For example, for awhile, researchers said owning dogs and cats was protective, then they said it was just dogs, etc. The issue the research didn’t take into account was developments in cleaning equipment (e.g. better, filtered vacs, and more frequent cleaning of pet hair), and the fact that cats use cat litter which is just loaded with detergents that they track through homes. Birth order – anyone with a first child with allergies is going to make changes in the home environment and products, which are bound to be preventive for the later children, also never taken into account. Breastfeeding and allergies, too – the studies used to show a protective effect, then later studies said no.  I think both are probably right (the later studies looked at older children, where detergents were by then probably a more significant influence).

And (same person):

You are spot on about related health issues. I think ultimately this issue is as major an environmental problem as smoking was, in some ways worse because other creatures in the environment are affected. (I think it’s highly likely that frogs, bats, and honeybees, possibly even otters, may be experiencing serious unrecognized harm, but that’s another discussion.) Asthma, allergies, dry skin, and even wrinkles are major related issues. I have been surprised at how much the changes markedly decreased the propensity for sunburn (which could have a major impact downstream on skin cancer). Over the years, I have been thanked on several occasions by doctors specifically over the issue of having good skin despite constant handwashing – perhaps that’s something we could collaborate over. The physician handwashing issue touches on many health problems: hospital-borne infection, possible improving willingness to wash hands over using sanitizers (which is probably healthier for providers who don’t absorb so much through their skin, and reducing infections since washing is better than sanitizers), maintaining a better barrier on providers’ hands to reduce the harboring of microbes, possibly reducing the general need for antimicrobial chemicals in handwashes in some settings if mechanical means are less damaging (reducing development of resistant strains), etc.

I have been thinking a lot lately about whether it would be possible to design a case-control study. Unfortunately, the barrier is that the engineering method relies on heuristics – when an environmental cause underlies a disease, unless it is very simple to remove the cause, there is no way to apply a completely controlled treatment or course of anything. To solve the problem in every individual case, it’s necessary for people to use a heuristic tool to apply the solution in the best way for their individual environmental exposures, health status, genetic profile, etc. Then the concern is how well each person uses the heuristic tool versus how well the tool works for them. Additionally, with the engineering method, it wouldn’t make sense to apply the tool exactly the same for everyone, then judge what percentage were helped – the whole point of it is that if one case isn’t solved 100%, the unresolved case doesn’t become data, it becomes a resource to revise the heuristic tool to encompass new information to achieve the same standard of outcome or solution for that person and everyone.

That isn’t a problem-solving approach currently in use in medicine, and it clashes with normal epidemiological methods. The method itself would have to be the subject of peer review, in the context of a solution like this being peer reviewed. Just yesterday I heard an oncologist (The Death of Cancer) speak on the radio about how “regulations” were keeping him from solving problems for individual cancer patients. The ideal he described, what he really wanted to do, was really the engineering method. I think some doctors are using heuristics in other areas of medicine because they get better outcomes for their patients, and the lack of overt discussion of heuristics is, IMO, causing some of the bigger medical controversies of our time. Finding a way to ethically, with all the right safeguards, incorporate the engineering method into medicine, I believe could result in many currently unsolved disease problems being solved. No new scientific or medical breakthroughs are needed, just problem solving we already know how to do in other technical arenas.

Validating the site work – peer review is a start – would prove eczema and atopy are solvable problems, on an individual and general disease problem level.  That sounds simple, yet it’s an earth-shattering idea.  Believe it or not, the biggest challenge here is overcoming the idea, the really hard-ingrained prejudice, that a major, complex, seemingly intractable medical problem could even possibly be solved.

So, yes, finding a route to peer-review and publication has been challenging (ironically more challenging than solving my child’s severe eczema and helping thousands around the world do the same over the past >10 years).  You can view the paper at: https://thewinnower.com/papers/3412-abnormal-ampli-fication-observations-from-applying-the-engineering-method-to-solving-eczema-and-atopic-disease

 

 

Happy Birthday, Dr. Bronner’s New Non-Detergent Toothpaste

drb_toothpaste-tube-peppermint

drb_toothpaste-tube-cinnamon

I’m very happy to report that Dr. Bronner’s released a new non-detergent toothpaste almost a year ago today.  I’m also happy to report that the toothpaste has been a hit in our home.  It’s made of 70% organic ingredients yet fairly economical compared to the other non-detergent toothpastes we use.  The news release contains a list of all the ingredients in the three flavors of Peppermint, Cinnamon, and Anise:

Dr. Bronner’s Releases New Toothpaste

I’m always happy to see good non-detergent options in categories like toothpaste, shampoo, and dishwasher powder, where the commercial choices (or really good, competitive products) are fairly limited.toothpaste-box_anise_front

Sharing an Asthma Success Story from Canada

I still regularly hear from people who experience asthma improvements from implementing the SolveEczema site strategies.  I  would like to share a letter I received a year ago from Julie Leung, a mom in Canada who implemented SolveEczema.org strategies to solve her children’s eczema, and with whom I have been corresponding.  She describes the benefit to her own asthma as an adult.  I’ve heard this a lot, the benefits even to those who don’t have eczema, particularly to asthma and skin quality.  I thought her description was very powerful.

Baby with asthma inhaler

“Baby In Hospital” by Sura Nualpradid Freedigitalphotos.net

Even though people breathe in a great deal of detergent in “dust” these days because the dust in most home indoor environments comes largely from hair, skin cells, lint, I have always downplayed the potential benefits to asthma and other lung conditions pending research validation, and because I do not believe environmental detergents (as defined on my site) are the underlying cause of asthma, but an amplifier, abnormally influencing the membrane and the normal function of the immune system (for the reasons discussed on SolveEczema.org).  Additionally, unlike with eczema, there is  no way to give people simple GRAS (generally regarded as safe) recommendations that provide the kind of direct feedback that people with eczema experience when they properly implement SolveEczema strategies.  Until there are studies, it’s much harder to convince people to do what is necessary if they don’t have the immediate feedback of those with eczema.  Nevertheless, because so many people describe their improvements, I feel it’s important to share what is possible.

First, the caveats:

Photo by Arvind Balaraman Freedigitalphotos.com

Photo by Arvind Balaraman Freedigitalphotos.net

I am posting this to help people who are proactive and looking for better answers in their own health journeys.  It is not intended in any way as medical advice (as everyone who reads my site knows, I am not a doctor), nor intended to replace the relationship between doctor and patient.  In fact, please only read further if you have a good relationship with a doctor managing your asthma.  Implementing the strategies from SolveEczema.org is not trivial and requires understanding a very different perspective.  Things can go wrong, too.  A relationship with a physician is essential.  Implementing the strategies may help, but given the range of contributors to asthma, I do not want anyone to think I am suggesting a replacement for sound medical advice, follow up, and care.  Asthma medications can save lives.  Implementing the site strategies for asthma takes time, on the order of months, and unfortunately can be all too quickly reversed because of modern environmental influences that are sometimes out of people’s control.  Do NOT make changes to care based on a website (mine or anyone else’s) without thoroughly understanding and consulting with your physician.  Only make changes per SolveEczema if you’re willing to understand and do it safely, with your doctor in the loop.

Here is the letter [story and personal photos from Julie Leung, except where noted, all rights reserved, used with permission].  Many thanks to Julie for writing and being willing to share.  I would add that in terms of what Julie did, described below, in pushing herself to see how much her lungs had improved — that’s for information and is a “Do not try this at home” FYI only!  She is a very detail-oriented, highly analytical person with a science background, was (and is) actively in asthma medical care and management, with a history of excellent physical fitness and those adventure sports.  I recommend against readers “testing” improvements that way!:

Dear AJ,

In addition to the successes we’ve had with our children’s eczema, I wanted to share the surprisingly positive impact on my long-standing asthma.  I hope my testimony, so to speak, might help someone else.

When my husband and I began implementing the framework given on your site, I was on a year long maternity leave from work after the birth of our daughter and was spending most of my time in our detergent-free home.  By January of 2013, I discovered that my asthma had gone away completely and it seemed correlated to the detergent removal in our home.

Stop Asthma by Stuart Miles Freedigitalphotos.net

Stop Asthma by Stuart Miles Freedigitalphotos.net

From what I had already read on your site, my asthma disappearing was not an altogether unexpected result, but the extent of the improvement was wholly astonishing, and felt nearly miraculous.  I later returned to work and therefore to regular daily detergent exposure outside my home, and the resulting return of my asthma has convinced me of the significant impact that detergents have on my asthma.  What it also showed me was that I can have control over my well-being in a way I never would have thought possible before reading your site.

I’ve had asthma since I was a teenager, and in my adulthood, it came “under control” through regular use of steroid inhalers. Consistent with widely-accepted asthma management protocol, I was told that need of a “quick response” inhaler (like Ventolin) more than a few times a week meant my asthma was “out of control” and needed to be quieted by increasing the frequency and/or dosage of my steroid inhaler.

You’d pointed out to me that “steroid fears” are well-documented in the medical literature, and I found myself reflected in those profiles — I have always felt uneasy about taking so much steroid.  Over the years, I’ve constantly tried to use as little as possible, or wean myself off them completely.  Off, or on an inappropriately low dosage of, the drugs, my asthma is fine until I get a cold or exercise above my typical intensity. Then, inevitably suffering from constant wheezing that isn’t relieved by my “quick response” inhaler, I begrudgingly ramp up my steroid usage and maintain this dosage for at least 2 weeks, until my asthma once again comes under control.

When I found your site, we implemented the changes in our household to help our children, but I considered that I might also benefit from them.  I stopped taking my steroid inhalers, almost subconsciously, at the same time we started detergent removal from our home.  It is important to note that there was a period of about 9 months where I was no longer regularly exposed to detergents because I was spending almost all my time in my home because I was on maternity leave and also trying to minimize my baby’s exposure to detergents while problem-solving her eczema.

Within 4 months of starting detergent removal, I started to feel that I was perhaps not experiencing the same depth or sensitivity of asthma as I did prior. I started to tell a few people tentatively, always clarifying that I still thought I had asthma, but it seemed to be better. I seemed more resistant to triggers, didn’t wheeze as easily, or it took more physical exertion to have the asthma show up; when it did, it didn’t linger as long, and didn’t seem to need the short-acting inhaler to resolve.

Snowshoeing Kananaskis - Mtn scene7 months after starting detergent removal, I was invited on a snowshoeing trip in the mountains. The trip was in an area in which I used to cross-country ski frequently a number of years ago, and so my body was generally familiar with the terrain, conditions and weather.  Back when I was cross-country skiing regularly, I was exceptionally fit and this seemed to also help mitigate the asthma, raising the threshold of physical exertion before wheezing.  However, I always got asthma while skiing, and I always had to stop and take a puff or two of my short-acting inhaler, typically within 5 minutes of starting to cross-country ski, and often again later on in my 4-6 hour workout.  At the time of the snowshoeing trip, I had every reason to expect to be wheezy.  Not only had I become relatively out of shape, but at this point I hadn’t taken any inhalers for at least 6 months.

Snowshoeing Kananaskis - signsI brought my inhaler along just in case, but I was really curious to see whether I’d be asthmatic or not.  After the initial steps, getting into the groove, I listened to my body, tentatively, half expecting to need my inhaler.  No wheezing, not too much tightness in the chest.  So far so good.  I kept on.  And on.  And on. 2.5 hours into the trip, I suddenly realized, that despite climbing up and down a canyon, breaking through undisturbed snow at times, and talking while walking, I hadn’t needed my inhaler.

Snowshoeing Kananaskis - walking 2At the point of my no-asthma discovery, everyone on the trip was tired, but I had lots of energy because I was so excited!  I wanted to try to “incite” the asthma by pushing myself to the limits of physical exertion. I didn’t think I would have many other chances to “test” the condition of my asthma. I nearly ran up a 90 foot incline to the top of a dam, so fast that it was a few minutes before anyone else in our party caught up to me after I stopped. I experienced no wheezing! I could not remember the last time I exercised hard, started breathing hard, and did not feel the familiar tightening of my chest and wheezing coming on. I was elated!

Less than a month after that first trip, I went on another snoeshowing trip in the mountains where the level of activity was closer to what I’d regularly done when younger.  4 hours of constant movement and some chatting with my companions through the mountain landscape in cold weather yielded no wheezing whatsoever.  Again, I was floored.

Less than a month after that trip, my maternity leave ended and I returned to work and into a detergent-filled environment.  Within 4 days of returning to work, I ran for the bus for 15 seconds and had the most severe asthma attack I’d experienced in over a year:  the familiar sharp, stabbing pain in my chest, the wheezing and compressed lung capacity, and the taste of blood in my lungs — all symptoms typical of my asthma attacks.

As you’ve pointed out to me during problem-solving for my children, scientists often test for causation by removing the stimulus they hypothesize is causing an issue, then reintroducing the stimulus.  To show causation, it’s not enough that the issue resolves when the stimulus is removed; the issue needs to return when the stimulus is re-introduced.  As I reflect, I realize that’s precisely what I’ve inadvertently tested — when detergent are absent, my asthma disappears; re-introduce detergents, my asthma re-appears.

When I returned to work, I was in a detergent-filled environment for about 10-12 hours a day, 5 days a week.  I eventually needed my steroid inhalers to control my asthma again, but only needed about a quarter of my previous dose for control.  Over time, I ratcheted my dose down and used the steroid inhaler so infrequently that I was not considered to have my asthma under “drug control”.  Eventually, my asthma settled to a place where it was definitely worse than while I was on maternity leave, but better than the symptoms I’d had my entire life. Overall, compared to before detergent removal, it took more or longer physical exertion or exposure to allergens for my asthma to show up, the symptoms were not as severe when it did show up, and it required less drug to control.

In the summer of 2014, I went for spirometry testing.  At the time, I was using next to no drug and was feeling some frequent, general chest tightness, as I had since returning to work.  The respiratory therapist took 3 different measurements.  Surprisingly, she indicated that the numbers from all tests were very good and said that if she saw the numbers alone, without knowledge of my clinical history of long-term asthma, she would think that the patient did not have asthma!  In her report to my doctor, she indicated,  “Asthma is under control”, despite the fact that she and I both agreed I wasn’t taking enough steroid to consider my asthma as under control from drugs!  The respirologist who reviewed my spirometry results seemed to question whether the asthma diagnosis was even correct, something that had never happened before despite decades of treatment.

I know that I’m still an asthma sufferer, and, with the “right” conditions (such as long enough exposure to animals I’m allergic to, or if I’m in an really detergent-y environment for a long enough time), I will “express” my asthma.  But, I feel also that the clearing of detergents and detergent-laden dusts in my home environment has allowed my lungs to heal in a way that has significantly increased my thresholds to reacting in my lungs, much like it has for my daughter on her skin.  And, my results, coupled with observations I’ve made about my son, strongly indicate that I may also have delayed or perhaps even avoided the onset of asthma, or, at the very least, potentially reduced its severity if it does develop, in my children.

I hope that my story encourages those that are considering detergent removal or those who have already done so and are hard at work problem-solving for their families.  For as depressing as it is that our world is now inundated with chemicals that may have caused such a great degree of unnecessary sickness and suffering, it is hopeful that there is still something we can do about it.

-Julie Leung

 

To read more about Julie Leung’s allergy journey, or to find the list of products she uses in Canada, please see:   http://allergyjourney.com

Happy Holidays — Best Wishes for a Healthy, Eczema-free (and Asthma-free) New Year!

A.J. Lumsdaine
SolveEczema.org(0)

What to expect when implementing SolveEczema.og site strategies

Section of poster from Citizen Science Association 2015 conference

Section of poster from Citizen Science Association 2015 conference

First, referring to my last post, I noticed the thumbnail of the poster does not load.  But if you follow the link to the F1000 site and look at the upper right hand corner of the page, there is a link to download a PDF of the poster to enlarge and view on your computer.

So…  What to expect when implementing SolveEczema.org site strategies in terms of timing.

I get this question on occasion — the answer depends on people’s circumstances and what they’re willing or able to do.

I am now of the opinion that removing detergents (as defined in SolveEczema.org) is important for anyone with an allergy problem of any kind, and regardless of the dominant reason for outbreaks, I feel it is important for anyone with eczema to reduce or eliminate detergents, since eczema seems to be a threshold phenomenon.  Detergents basically make it so our immune systems “see” more of whatever it is we’re allergic to in our environment.  (This is medicine 101 — detergents increase membrane permeability — see SolveEczema.org.)

I have come across many, many people who have said they cleared things up substantially within a week of  implementation — usually after focused effort to get really close to 100% compliance with the strategies on the site.  If being that proactive is not realistic, then it could take weeks or even months, depending on what you are able or wish to do.  Depending on a variety of factors, it could take longer, even much longer.  Typically those longer journeys happen for a short list of reasons:

A few things can get in the way of success and make results take longer (see SolveEczema.org for more information):

1)  Not implementing close enough to 100% (this is very common), or the “holdout” problem in the household (and this can take many forms — sometimes people think the site strategies are just a matter of changing products and don’t really understand the exposures they still get at home).  See SolveEczema.org for details.  When this is the case, often when people track down that one remaining major exposure and fix it, everything gets better virtually overnight.  I’ve gotten that kind of feedback a lot.  Sometimes people will see so much improvement at first, they don’t think a few major exposures like their shampoo or their dirty old carpet will be a problem, for example, so they get lax and don’t get rid of things fully until they get serious about it.

2)  Hard water makes washing out old residues just take a lot longer, and makes washing with soap (an important strategy for controlling the other residues) less successful.  The whole process ends up taking a lot longer, people’s skin doesn’t heal up as fast, the skin is not as substantial early on, etc.  Clearing things up can stretch out to weeks or months.  (Though don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard many success stories from people with hard water, it’s just more difficult.)

3) Other allergens like pollen or mold in the environment to an unhealthy degree.  (Changes the threshold.)

4) Infections that need treating first before things will clear up.  Sometimes these are not obvious as infections at first, and are more an overrepresentation of certain microorganisms.  Nevertheless, treatment is sometimes necessary first.

5)  Other reasons for the eczema dominate, such as unrecognized food protein allergy or a problem with the health of the gut.  (This is where a good probiotic can be very helpful.)

6)  The person with eczema has very permeable skin naturally.  The younger the child, the more permeable skin is naturally in general.  When children are older, partial implementation might be enough to eliminate breakouts while being insufficient to get the full benefit to skin and lung membranes (asthma — see SolveEczema.org).

Things should never get worse, and no one should ever “tough it out”.  Always ask your doctor for help if anything does get worse.

I wish everyone a happy, healthy, eczema-free holiday and New Year.
AJ