Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Pain and sorrow is part of life

Physical pain may be the body’s way of protectively warning us that something needs our attention. It may be harder to understand and accept that there may be an essential purpose for the pain felt deeply in the heart or spirit.

As much as we all try to avoid pain and sorrow, they are inextricably part of all of our lives.

As one teacher offered “no matter how we try to change the odds, life is a 50/50 split of pain and pleasure, by the very nature of being human and the impermanence of all life.” He added that we are all here for one reason…to cultivate our capacity for compassion… to grow our hearts.

When we are in a pit of sadness or grief some wisdom suggests getting out as soon as possible for fear of furnishing the pit and moving in. We all have our favorite ways of avoiding difficult feelings. However, the willingness to feel the depth of loss, although one of the most challenging human experiences, promotes the growth of our compassion.
Two poets share their wisdom about the importance of feeling grief. Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem Kindness reminds us, “Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth.”

And David Whyte, in his poem The Well of Grief, writes, “Those who will not slip beneath the still surface on the well of grief, turning downward through its black water to the place we cannot breathe, will never know the source from which we drink, the secret water clear and cold.”

The loss of people we love, our work, relationships, or health can feel devastating. The fear of staying trapped in grief can keep us from seeking the silence, space and support we may need to fully experience our loss and eventual healing. Yet holding our pain with love will keep our hearts open through it, no matter how long it takes.
Each event in our lives -- especially the most heart-wrenching ones -- are reshaping us and transforming us into more compassionate human beings. Our choice is only how we respond to this most difficult invitation to live a more authentic life.

Amy Dunion, a registered nurse and licensed massage therapist, is Coordinator of The William W. Backus Hospital’s Center for Healthcare Integration. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Dunion and all of the Healthy Living columnists at


Milk offers a variety of health benefits

The Greeks and Romans frequently identified barbarians as “milk drinkers.” The question is, are you?

With an annual milk production per dairy cow in the United States averaging 12,000 pounds per year and a world record milk production of 55,660 pounds for a single cow, it is evident that dairy is popular and being consumed in some fashion. So what’s the craze?

Milk offers a variety of health benefits, including playing a role in reducing the risk of obesity, heart disease and stroke, and insulin resistance with type 2 diabetes.

In addition, according to the National Dairy Council, three or more servings of fat-free or lowfat milk per day is shown to significantly reduce bone loss in older adults. There is evidence that substantiates increasing your consumption of dairy foods or calcium in order to lower the risk of hypertension or reduce blood pressure. Drinking milk is one form of carbohydrate that does not cause dental problems, and actually helps to protect teeth when certain types of cheese are consumed.

Some other benefits of dairy is the fact that it is fortified with vitamin D (mainly because most foods do not naturally contain it) and vitamin A (because vitamin A is removed with the milk fat when it is homogenized). Milk also naturally contains calcium, and Americans ages 19 or older require 1000 mg of calcium per day while Americans ages 51 or older require 1300 mg of calcium per day.

So, what if I don’t like dairy? Calcium has been added to some products such as orange juice for some time now, and there is always the option of taking a calcium supplement or Tums (which contains calcium) before you go to bed at night (studies indicate calcium is best absorbed by bone overnight). For non-milk drinkers who want to increase their calcium intake, try spinach, broccoli, tofu (if you can hack it), salmon, and fortified breakfast cereals or instant oatmeal.
For those who want to try something different containing dairy, consider “Breathe Palette,” a Japanese toothpaste, which makes a fresh yogurt flavor, or for fun consider trying “Korres Natural Products,” a beautifying yogurt mask that may have no health benefit at all ($28).

If what the National Dairy Council says is correct -- consuming three to four servings of dairy foods each day could lead to a potential $26 billion reduction in healthcare costs per year -- then the craze about dairy consumption is not only about assuming the personal health benefits, but it is also about contributing to lowering overall healthcare costs.

Whitney Bundy is a registered dietitian and Director of the Food & Nutrition Department at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Bundy and all of the Healthy Living columnists at


Dry eyes and mouth could mean Sjogren’s syndrome

Did you know that dry eyes and dry mouth can be caused by an autoimmune illness? In the early 20th century, Swedish physician Henrik first described a group of women whose chronic arthritis was accompanied by dry eyes and dry mouth. Today rheumatologists know more about the syndrome that is named for Sjögren and—most significantly for patients—can provide advice about how to live with it.

Between 1 and 4 million Americans, or roughly 1 to 2 percent of the population, have Sjögren's syndrome(SS). This condition can affect people of any age, but symptoms usually appear between the ages of 45 and 55. It affects 10 times as many women as men. About half of affected patients also have RA or other connective tissue diseases, such as systemic lupus.

The cause of Sjogren’s is not known, but patients with this disease have abnormal proteins in their blood suggesting that their own immune system is reacting against them. Research suggests that genetic factors and possible viral infections may predispose patients to developing this condition.

Sjogrens Syndrome most often affects the tear and saliva glands. Patients with this condition may notice irritation, a gritty feeling, or painful burning in the eyes. Dry mouth or difficulty eating dry foods, and swelling of the glands around the face and neck are also common. Some patients experience dryness of other mucous membranes (such as the nasal passages, throat, and vagina) and skin. Some patients may have complications related to inflammation in other body systems, according to and, including:
 Joint and muscle pain with fatigue
 Lung problems that may mimic pneumonia
 Skin rashes related to inflammation of small blood vessels
 Neurologic problems causing weakness and numbness
 Small number of patients may develop lymphoma, cancer of lymph glands.

Diagnosis depends on a combination of symptoms, physical findings, blood tests, and sometimes special studies. According to and
 Dry eyes and mouth may be early signs of the condition but require further investigation because these symptoms can be caused by many other conditions or medications. Special tests may be used to assess any decrease in tear production
(Schirmer test). An eye examination is helpful in detecting any eye changes seen in Sjögren's. Blood tests can determine the presence of antibodies typical of the disease, including anti-nuclear antibodies (ANA), anti-SSA and SSB antibodies, or rheumatoid factor. Biopsies of saliva glands may also sometimes be used to establish a diagnosis.
 Treatment is designed to lessen the most bothersome symptoms. Dry eyes usually respond to the use of artificial tears applied regularly during the day or to gels applied at night. Other measures, such as plugging or blocking tear ducts, can be used in more severe cases. Eyedrops that reduce inflammation in the glands around the eyes may be used to increase tear production. Dry mouth can be relieved by drinking water, chewing gum, or using saliva substitutes. Some patients benefit from using prescription medications that stimulate saliva flow, such as pilocarpine or cevimuline If patients develop yeast infections, these can be relieved by anti-fungal therapies. All patients should regularly see a dentist and an ophthalmologist to prevent complications.
 Hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug, may be helpful in some patients with Sjögren's syndrome by reducing joint pain and rash experienced by some patients. Patients with rare but serious systemic symptoms, such as fever, rashes, abdominal pain, or lung or kidney problems, may require treatment with corticosteroids and/or immunosuppressive agents.

Sandeep Varma, MD, is a rheumatologist and Medical Director at the Backus Arthritis Center, located at the Backus Outpatient Care Center in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Varma and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

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