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branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)
Okay, so for a month and a half or so I've been having stabbing pain between my shoulder blades every morning. On a scale where 0 is no pain and 10 is throwing up and losing bowel control from the pain, this was about an 8. Neither my LMT nor my family physician had any idea what it could be, so I promptly googled to see about possible causes and found several very long threads worth of people going "oh my god, you too?! yeah, my doctors don't know what the hell it is either!" which was, needless to say, a bit depressing. It wasn't acting like a slipped disc or bone spur at all, no tenderness on the spine anywhere, and not like a pinched nerve either; we were all stumped. And, in my case, in increasingly intense pain.

Having spent a solid two weeks sleuthing through physiology with my LMT, I can report at least one cause of this kind of pain: my ribs were misaligned and locked up, and referring the pain up related back muscles. Causes and treatment reported below, for the benefit of posterity and the next poor sucker wondering why they're in agonizing upper back pain after lying still for several hours.

Rib bone connected to the spine bone )
branchandroot: daisy by a cup of tea (tea with flower)
Okay, this has come up one my reading lists, so I figured I should give the short version, here.

Very short low-down on swine flu, aka h1n1 novel virus: It's not horribly deadly it just spreads really fast and no one has immunity to speak of, so yes, you should get the vaccine.

Less short but still short low-down: The swine flu is, by and large, no more dangerous than any seasonal flu. It hits with about the same intensity, so we're talking three days to two weeks of general urgh to acute misery. As always, there can be complications that lead to death; that's influenza for you.

The reason it is rated a pandemic is because of how fast and widely it spreads, due to the unfortunate fact that it is a new virus and no one has more than partial immunity. Older people have gotten more flus and have more chance of that partial immunity, young people have less.

The fear, therefore, is mostly that it will hit everyone in an entire area/campus/town all at once and cause severe problems in basic functioning because everyone will be sick at the same time. No groceries, because there's maybe one person well enough to work at the store, no bus routes, no mail, that kind of thing. This is, of course, of especial concern when it comes to health care workers being hit right when they're needed most. If the ambulance drivers and nurses all have 104 fevers for five days, this is a huge problem.

The particular danger signs are intense nausea and the inability to keep food or liquids down, sudden dizziness, shortness of breath, or showing signs of a secondary infection like pneumonia; ignoring those signs and not getting to a hospital if they appear is a stupid thing to do, but that won't stop some people, especially young people who are used to throwing off even bad illnesses. Hence, deaths.

In summary, you should get the vaccine because, even though you may not ever get enough seasonal symptoms to notice, you are probably still a transmitter and the critical point is to stop the spread of this one.
branchandroot: sunflower (sunflower)
Today's public service post is about henna, which seemed a suitable topic while I sit around with green mud plastered into my hair and a bag on my head.

Henna has once again become a popular method of coloring one's hair. It has many advantages. It conditions rather than frying hair, it fades gracefully, it has a nice transparent quality that keeps it from looking too matte or all-one-shade. It also, however, has one major drawback as far as the cosmetics industry is concerned.

Henna is red. Just red. Only red. It's dye component is an orange red and no other color.

Not everyone wants all red all the time, when they go to dye their hair, so the industry set out to remedy this lack.

There are two other botanicals that mix well with henna to produce other shades. One is cassia obovata, relative of the cinnamon tree. If you have ever bought "clear" or "neutral" or "gold" henna, it wasn't henna at all. It was cassia, which has a similar conditioning effect and results in a light gold color. Another is indigo, which, mixed with henna and/or cassia can produce many shades of brown and reddish brown. There are also a handful of other botanicals such as amla that the can produce shades like burgundy when mixed in.

None of these are dangerous, though I do consider them an exercise in false advertising, since some of them don't contain henna at all, yet are still marketed as such in order to take advantage of the fashionable and "natural" reputation henna has. All of them result in green mud to work into your hair, and have a conditioning effect. None of them are toxic, though some of the minor ingredients, such as tea tree oil, can cause a slight rash or sensitivity if it sits on facial skin for a long time.

Black henna is a different matter.

See above: henna is red. One of the common hair colors people want, however, is black. In order to produce black while still using henna, some cosmetics makers struck on the method of cutting the henna with the chemical para-phenylenediamine (PPD). This is where we run into problems, because PPD is well associated with both allergic skin reaction and immune system insult and, possibly, mercury build-up.

Have I mentioned that henna's other major market niche is as body paint? It's used to produce semi-permanent tattoos, the art of which is often extensive, intricate and beautiful. Painting substances containing heavy metals on one's skin... less beautiful. Really, I thought we'd figured this out already with the lead-poisoning thing two centuries ago.

"Black henna" is the source of consumer warnings against henna products. Fortunately, the dangers of PPD are getting increasing press, especially among henna's proponents who resent having their beloved plant blamed for the sins of a different chemical. This is most especially the case because it is possible to get a true black for hair by dying first with henna and then overdying that with indigo, a fact which can confuse the casual browser or consumer.

Bottom line, if you ever wish to use henna to dye your hair, make very sure you read the ingredients label thoroughly. If the product purports to be gold or purple or blue or anything but very red, be aware that henna is probably not the primary or active ingredient. Of the companies that produce a variety of henna-based mixes, either powdered or in a cream suspension, Light Mountain and Surya are both fairly safe. Surya's pre-mixed creams do contain small amounts of commercial red/yellow/blue/etc. dyes in order, I believe, to tint the mix something close to the color it produces, which I consider quite foolish and pointless, so if you are, for example, allergic to Yellow no. 5, be careful.

Your very best bet is to mix it yourself. Try the Mehandi site which has both extensive information and products for sale.
branchandroot: bowl of fruit (fruit - good and fresh)
Lois remarked on a book she'd read, today, The Diet Myth by Paul Campos. She included a quote I thought was right on the money:

The weight loss industry exploits cultural anxieties about fat to sell its customers products that don't work, over and over again, by convincing those customers that it is *they* who are defective. The failure of these products is ascribed to the moral weakness of those who purchase them, thus allowing the cycle to go on indefinitely. But the situation is more complex than this. It takes a great deal of cultural distortion to cause normal market mechanisms to break down so completely (blaming your customers for the catastrophic failure of your products isn't usually considered a sound business practice.)

The obesity myth thrives in contemporary America because America is an eating-disordered culture. Moreover, the prime symptoms of this situation -- our increasing rates of "overweight", bulimia, and anorexia -- are also symptoms of, and have become metaphors for, a broader set of cultural anxieties...


And it's dreadfully true. The diet industry is more pernicious than the tobacco companies, not least because of all the other industries that have formed themselves around this bizarre notion that humans should be skinny. US culture has astonishingly unhealthy standards of "beauty", and I believe they tie directly into the equally unhealthy sedentary culture. After all, if it's obvious on the face of it that one is never going to look like the models/actors/athletes/etc. without truly heroic and life-busting measures, and probably not even then, why bother trying at all? The lack of a sensible or sane target and body-image promotes apathy, and the lack of results from the "diets" does the same. The results of random negative stimulus are well proven.

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