The Most Conmmon 3 Fibromyalgia Meds

I’d like to take a break from Fibromyalgia symptoms today and speak a bit about the Fibromyalgia drugs on the market. Please keep in mind that Pharmaceutical companies are businesses whose job is to sell meds. These are the three most Common which you hear about.

Lyrica: This is the med you see constantly advertised on television. In fact these days, it has almost become synonymous with Fibromyalgia. So what is Lyrica?

Lyrica is a trade name for Pregabalin, an anti-seizure medication. It is marketed by Pfizer. When the drug was filed with the FDA, it was written up as a help for diabetic pain, neuralgia, epilepsy and Fibromyalgia. Lyrica is one of four drugs which a subsidiary of Pfizer in 2009 pleaded guilty to misbranding “with the intent to defraud or mislead”. Pfizer agreed to pay $2.3 billion  in settlement. Usually you would start on low doses and the effects are supposed to be felt in approximately one week. It appears to help some people, however many others report a whole plethora of side effects causing them to discontinue it’s use. One thing that is important is that if you have been taking Lyrica for a longer period of time, it is essential to not abruptly stop as it can lead to many withdrawal symptoms, including seizures.

Lyrica should not be taken if you have kidney disease, diabetes, congestive heart failure, depression with suicidal thoughts  or bleeding disorders.

Commonly reported side effects are

  • muscle pain, weakness, or tenderness (especially if you also have a fever and feel tired);
  • easy bruising or bleeding; or
  • swelling in your hands or feet, rapid weight gain.
  • dizziness or drowsiness, anxiety;
  • loss of balance or coordination;
  • problems with memory or concentration;
  • dry mouth;
  • skin rash;
  • constipation, stomach pain;
  • increased appetite; or
  • joint or muscle pain.

Cymbalta: This is probably the second most common drug you see advertised for Fibromyalgia. Cymbalta is the trade name and is produced by Ely Lilly. It’s real name is Duloxetine.

Cymbalta is a serotonin-nonepinephrine re-uptake inhibitor, meaning that it is an anti-depressant medication. It was marketed at one time for urinary incontinence, but failed to show any improvement and was not okay-ed by the FDA. It sometimes will help those with nerve pain and Fibromyalgia, but others cannot tolerate it and it’s side effects.

Side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating
  • Abdominal pain (stomach pain)
  • Vomiting
  • Sore throat or runny nose
  • A decreased sex drive 
  • Upper respiratory tract infection
  • Coughing
  • Shakiness (tremors)
  • Muscle pain
  • Sexual side effects, including ejaculation problems, a decreased sex drive (libido), and orgasm problems 
  • Blurred vision
  • Anxiety or agitation
  • Weight loss 
  • Hot flashes
  • Yawning
  • Indigestion or Heartburn
  • Muscle spasms
  • The Flu
  • Abnormal dreams.

Again, if for any reason you decide to stop using Cymbalta, you must gradually stop, no “cold turkeyor you will experience withdrawal symptoms which can include irritability, agitation, dizziness, sensory disturbances,anxiety, confusion, headache, lethargy and possible seizures. You must speak to your doctor when stopping this med.

Savella: The new med on the block, it is sold by Cypress Bioscience and it’s real name is Milnacipran. Savella is like Cymbalta in that it is a serotonin-nonepinephrine re-uptake inhibitor, thus it is an anti-depressant medication. Though it might be sold in other countries, Milnacipran has been only okay-ed in the United States for treatment of Fibromyalgia. As with most Fibromyalgia medications, some people will see some improvement while many others have to stop due to the side effects.

Side effects include:

  • pounding heartbeats or fluttering in your chest;
  • painful or difficult urination;
  • easy bruising or bleeding, nosebleeds, bloody or tarry stools, coughing up blood;
  • severe weakness, seizure (convulsions);
  • chills or goose bumps, memory problems, trouble concentrating,
  • agitation, hallucinations, fast heart rate, overactive reflexes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of coordination, fainting;
  • very stiff (rigid) muscles, high fever, confusion, fast or uneven heartbeats, tremors, feeling like you might pass out;
  • high blood pressure (severe headache, blurred vision, buzzing in your ears, chest pain, shortness of breath, uneven heartbeats); or
  • stomach pain, loss of appetite, dark urine, clay-colored stools, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes).
  • Headache;
  • dizziness, drowsiness, tired feeling;
  • swelling in your hands or feet;
  • constipation, upset stomach, bloating;
  • dry mouth;
  • sleep problems (insomnia);
  • hot flashes, sweating;
  • weight changes; or
  • decreased sex drive, impotence, or difficulty having an orgasm.

You must be careful using this med if you have high blood pressure, liver or kidney disease, glaucoma,  a history of suicidal thoughts, or are allergic to aspirin. This is not a complete list, but Blood and Urine Tests should be done regularly. In fact, with all of the meds mentioned in this blog, it is imperative to have regular blood and urine workups.

As with almost all meds, you must not stop “cold turkey” but have a Doctor help to wean you off, otherwise you might have withdrawal effects.

Monday: More Vegetarian Recipes, Wednesday, Depression

The Big Six (GI problems) A Common Symptom of Fibromyalgia

Today, I would like to speak about Gastrointestinal problems which are part of the big 6. In other words, the big 6 are symptoms which almost everybody with Fibromyalgia complains of.

Firstly, The Gastrointestinal system consists of the mouth, the esophagus, the stomach, the small intestine and the large intestine. Additionally, the pancreas, liver and gall bladder are also involved. Digestion starts in the mouth where the first enzymes are secreted to start the process of breaking food down into their component parts: Fats, Carbohydrates and Proteins.

 Gastrointestinal Problems are the problems effecting your stomach, colon, intestines and esophagus and can manifest as many different illnesses: from Gastric Reflux Syndrome to  Irritable Bowell Symptom, to generalized bloating to generalized gas or any type of pain in the stomach, colon or intestine.  You might have chronic diarrhea or chronic constipation.Lastly you might experience one of these problems, many of these problems or all of these problems.

You have had all kinds of examinations from Endoscopies, to upper and lower GI studies to MRI’s and the diagnoses are the same as the above.

The pain can occur immediately after eating or hours later. With some, the pain is constantly present. You can try different types of food, different diets and different supplements but you cannot really stop these problems, you might make them decrease a bit but the GI problems still remain. So what the heck is going on?

Why the GI Pain? As I had mentioned in a previous post, the Autonomic (automatic) Nervous system is not functioning well. This is made up of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. When the sympathetic nervous system is constantly working, the parasympathetic nervous system is sluggish, when the parasympathetic is working the sympathetic is sluggish. With Fibromyalgia, the sympathetic system is almost constantly on meaning the parasympathetic system is working very sluggishly at best. The parasympathetic controls digestion in the body. Thus when you eat, not all the food is being digested.

When the system is working slowly due to the slowness of the parasympathetic and therefore the GI system, gastric juices not used are left in the stomach and reflux into the esophagus. Furthermore, food that stays in the gut accumulates, goes into the colon (undigested) leading to irritation in the colon (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Food left over in the gut is also attacked or digested by the good bacterial that live in your gut, the end product of bacterial metabolism is methane gas, thus many of you tend to be very gassy at times, some of you all the time in fact.

Irritation in the stomach, colon and intestines can lead to cramping as peristalsis (the movements of the muscles to push food through the system) is working sluggishly leading in some cases to constipation.

There is no question that long term reflux can lead to esophageal problems from the excess acids (produced in the pancreas), which are not being used up to breakdown all the food and tend to reflux upward. The can burn the esophagus leading to irritation and other problems.

In other words, or to summarize, the entire GI system is working very slowly leading to a myriad of problems. These are part of Fibromyalgia and not separate illnesses.

Many people will find that eating very small meals throughout the day will help the GI system to operate better and alleviate or lessen some of these symptoms, but remember, this is not a cure, just a help.

Many of you are on certain meds for these GI issues, one being various types of antibiotics. The problem with antibiotics is that they not only kill the bad and harmful bacteria, but also destroy the good bacteria. Therefore it is often very helpful to supplement your diets with a good quality probiotic. These are beneficial bacteria and can be found in a good quality vitamin or health food store.

Another very important key to helping your digestion is to “clean up your diets”.  This means that you need to start educating yourselves on good quality foods, foods without preservatives, chemicals, hormones and artificial ingredients such as colors and flavors. Junk food and or processed foods are very difficult for the body to digest  and many will not be digested, but will have to be evacuated from the body. This puts extra pressures on the Liver which has to detoxify these harmful chemicals before they can do more damage to the body. Also this makes the liver work that much harder, adding to the body stress, and as we all know, stress makes Fibromyalgia worse.

Many will claim that eating higher quality foods is more expensive, and at first, that might seem to be the case, but in actuality, eating better foods is cheaper because you will wind up eating less. Also by definition, a processed food has to go through more steps in it’s production which increases the costs. Try to eat local foods and foods that are in season, they will taste better and are healthier. For those who are lucky to live in the more rural areas, take advantage of the local farms and produce.

Changing and modifying your diet does not have to be difficult, it is not something you do in one full swoop. The best way is to slowly start to educate yourself. Go into one of the many health food stores or “Whole Foods” if there is one on the area. There is generally plenty of handouts and other free literature which can start guiding you. additionally most stores will have books for beginners.

You can also browse around the bins and you’ll be surprised the the variety of healthy foods, which not only are delicious and easy to prepare, but chances are that you did not even know that these types of grains, legumes and other things even existed. Ask one of the clerks in the store, they usually will be fairly educated about their products and in most cases more than happy to answer your questions.

One word about Lactose Intolerance. This is not an abnormal problem, but quite the opposite it is a normal situation. When we are born, we have the enzyme Lactase which helps to digest our mother’s milk. By the time we are teens we lose this enzyme and thus it is much more difficult to digest diary products. From an evolutionary and anthropological point of view, by the time we are weaned, there is no longer any need for diary products in our diet. Yet, in our culture we do enjoy milk, ice cream etc. A good rule of thumb for people with fibro is to stay away from dairy products as they make your digestive system work that much harder, putting more stress on the systems and stress makes Fibromyalgia worse.

For those who think that diary is the way to get your calcium for your bones, this is incorrect as there are many fresh vegetables which are just loaded with calcium and are more easily digested. Milk is not the health food we’re led to believe. Milk is a food given to calves containing all the nutrients a calve needs to grow into a healthy cow. Interestingly Humans are the only mammals who continue to drink milk (dairy), after we are weaned. Perhaps these other mammals know something we don’t?

Next: depression and Fog

Vegetarian Recipes Part 4 (thanks to my wife)

More recipes from Diana (my lovely wife):

Eggplant Casserole

Ingredients:

1 large eggplant, peeled and sliced 1/4″
3 large potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4″
salt, to taste
1 large onion, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fennel
14 1/2 ounces diced tomatoes or 2 large tomatoes, diced
12 ounces veggie burger crumbles or textured soy protein (soaked in boiling water)
3 cups crushed tomatoes
6 ounces fresh spinach
3 cups vegan mozzarella cheese
pepper, to taste

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly brush both sides of eggplant and potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place on parchment paper and bake or until soft, approximately 15 minutes.

2. Saute onions in olive oil until translucent. Add oregano, parsley, basil, cilantro, garlic, fennel, diced tomatoes, and veggie crumbles.

3. In 9×13″ glass dish, lightly coat the bottom with crushed tomatoes. Layer the bottom of the dish with potatoes. Spread on a layer of “veggie meat” sauce.

4. Add the layer of spinach.  Layer the eggplant and top with remaining veggie sauce. Top the casserole with the vegan mozzarella cheese. Salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and bake for 30-40 minutes.

Serves: 4-6, Preparation time: 50 minutes

Eggplant Lasagna

Ingredients:

1 (9 ounce) package lasagna noodles
1 large eggplant, sliced
salt, as needed
1 cup bread crumbs
oil or water, as needed
1 (26 ounce) jar tomato sauce
1 pound vegan cheese, optional

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sprinkle eggplant with a lot of salt, and let dry. Rinse and pat dry.

2. Dip eggplant in oil or water to coat, and then breadcrumbs. Fry each side until golden brown, and set aside.

3. Boil lasagna according to package directions in pot, until soft.

4. Layer lasagna noodles in pan, then sauce, and then eggplant until all are gone. Layer with 1 layer vegan cheese (if using) on top.

5. Bake for 30 minutes, cut, and enjoy !  (Makes a great midnight snack, cold!)

Serves: varies, Preparation time: 30 min.

Middle Eastern Eggplant Dish

Ingredients:

1 large eggplant, peeled and sliced lengthwise
2 large zucchini squash
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
40 oz diced tomatoes in juice
sea salt to taste

Directions:

Wash and cut the ends off of the zucchini; slice them thinly lengthwise.  Mix together tomatoes with olive oil, garlic, and salt.  In a shallow dish, layer eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, and tomatoes; repeat until all ingredients are used, ending with tomatoes on top.  Cover with foil and bake at 375 for about 30minutes, until eggplant and zucchini are soft.

This dish was inspired by one served of my best friends, who happens to be from Kuwait.  She only cooks middle eastern food, and it is always SO tasty and simple!

Serves: about 4

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Italian Casserole

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons oil
300 gram tin red kidney beans (rinsed and drained)
500 gram sliced zucchini
1 clove garlic (chopped)
470 gram tin tomatoes in juice
2 peppers sliced
1/2 teaspoon mixed herbs
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 egg plant
125 gram cheese
30 gram soy margarine
2 onions chopped
125 gram mushrooms sliced
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2/3 cup water
salt & pepper; paprika; extra oil

Directions:

1) Slice egg plant into 1 cm. rounds, brush with oil and grill on both sides until brown.

2) Heat oil and butter in pan.

3) Add zucchini, onions, garlic and saute until zucchini is just tender.

4) Add peppers & mushrooms, saute, stirring occasionally until peppers are just tender.

5) Add undrained, mashed tomatoes, herbs, water & tomato paste. Stir to combine. Simmer uncovered 3 mins.

6) Add drained beans- heat another 3 mins.

7) Put mixture in oven-proof dish. Cover firstly with egg plant slices that have been drained.

8)Cover the egg plant layer with thin slices of vegan cheese(optional). Sprinkle with paprika

9)Bake in a mod. oven 30 minutes.

Serves: 6

Preparation time: 20 mins

Bulgur Pilaf

Ingredients:

2 cups cracked wheat (bulgur)
1 zuchinni, peeled and diced
1 eggplant, peeled and diced
1 sweet red pepper, peeled and diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
1-2 vegetable bouillon cubes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 cups hot water
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions:

Sweat the moisture out of the eggplant by sprinkling salt over the diced pieces and let stand for 20 minutes. Rinse in a collander and pat dry. Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or large pot and saute the eggplant and zucchini until done, add the pepper and onion. When all vegetables are sauteed, add bouillion, tomato paste and water and stir. Add the bulgur, put the lid on the pot and then take the pot off the heat. The bulgur will absorb the water and in 15 minutes you will have your pilaf!

Serves: 6

Preparation time: 45 minutes

Eggplant Medley

Ingredients:

6 tablespoons vegan margarine
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 medium white onion, chunked
1/2 medium bell pepper, chunked
1/2 large portabella mushroom, chunked
1 roll vegan sausage (Gimme Lean)
1 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon parsley
1 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon oregano
4 ounces of fresh spinach
4 tomatillas, chunked
1 15oz can garbanzo beans, drained
1 package silken firm tofu
1 med-large eggplant, sliced
2 yellow squash, sliced
5 tablespoons of yeast flakes
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup of crushed crackers
1/4 cup vegan bacon bits (Baco’s)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Heat skillet on medium and add 2 tablespoons vegan margarine once skillet is hot.  Add garlic and onion stir until onion is mostly clear. Then add bell pepper, and mushroom and cook until mushroom softens.  Then add the Gimme Lean breaking apart with spatula. Cook approximately 4 minutes stirring constantly.  Add all spices, spinach and tomatillas and cook another 3-4 minutes.  Stir in garbanzo beans and silken tofu until tofu is broken into very small pieces.  Turn off heat.

In a 9×13 baking dish place 2 tablespoons of vegan margarine along with sliced eggplant, and squash into baking dish and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of yeast flakes. Then cover with sausage mixture.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes.  Remove from oven and top with almonds, the remaining yeast flakes, crushed crackers, Baco’s, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of margarine.  Bake an additional 10-15 minutes or until the cracker crumbs start to turn golden.  Remove from oven and enjoy with family and friends!

Serve with fresh sliced tomatoes, avocados, or even a vegan tomato soup….the possibilities are endless.

Cut recipe in 1/2 or in 1/4 for smaller servings

Serves: 8+

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Lentil Burger Helper – Quick and Easy

Ingredients:

1 (1-pound) bag red lentils
1 (26.5-ounce) can Sloppy Joe sauce
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
other spices, to taste (optional)
1 (1-pound) package macaroni or other pasta, prepared according to package directions
nutritional yeast, to taste (optional)

Directions:

1. Cook lentils for 25 minutes.  If you use another type of lentil, adjust the cooking time accordingly. Drain and return to the pot.

2. Stir in the Sloppy Joe sauce, salt, pepper, and  any other spice you’d like to add; cook on medium heat until thick.

3. Stir in pasta. That’s it. You could add nutritional yeast for a little cheesy flavor as well. Enjoy!

Source of recipe: I came by this recipe accidentally once I grew tired of eating lentil sloppy joes.

Makes: 15 to 20 servings, Preparation time: 2 minutes, Cooking time: 35 to 45 minutes

Spinach Mac & “Cheese”

Ingredients:

Mac and cheese:
1/4 cup sweet onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons vegan margarine (I use Earth Balance)
2-3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups nondairy milk (I use plain soy)
nutritional yeast flakes, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup nondairy vegan cheese (I use Daiya cheddar shreds)
1 cup cooked pasta (I use elbow macaroni)
1-2 cups spinach, rinsed and drained

Breadcrumb topping, optional:
2-3 thick slices favorite bread, toasted (a little stale)
1 tablespoon vegan margarine
1 tablespoon crushed dry oregano
dash ground paprika

Directions:

1. If making topping, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Melt 2 tablespoons vegan margarine over medium heat with the diced onion.  Allow to cook until onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Make a roux using the flour, adding 1 tablespoon each time, stirring constantly until thickened to desired consistency.

2. Add the nondairy milk slowly, stirring constantly. Add nutritional yeast flakes, salt and pepper to taste. Allow the entire sauce to thicken over medium heat, until it coats the back of your spoon, about 10 minutes.  Turn the heat to low to avoid scorching the sauce.

3. Slowly add the vegan “cheese” shreds and stir constantly over low heat until fully melted and smooth. Add the pasta and fold in the spinach until it is thoroughly incorporated with the sauce.  Serve immediately, if not using bread crumb topping, or add to casserole dish.

4. For the breadcrumb topping, use a food processor to blend the toasted bread slices until they resemble coarse crumbs. Melt 1 tablespoon vegan margarine and add oregano.  Add the breadcrumbs and mix together.

5.  Sprinkle over the casserole and then sprinkle the paprika over the breadcrumbs.  Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until topping is browned and casserole is bubbly.  A nice dish for a cold winter day in!

Source of recipe: My husband was making his “famous” homemade mac and I stood beside him while I came up with this nondairy version. Since we didn’t have enough pasta to split, I ended up adding spinach; delish!  Warning: This is not low fat!

Makes: 4 servings, Preparation time: 25 minutes, Cooking time: 30 minutes

Pasta with Hummus Sauce

Ingredients:

1 pound whole wheat pasta
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
5 ounces kalamata olives, pitted and diced
1 (10 ounce) bag frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 (7 ounce, or more) container garlic hummus or equivalent homemade hummus
1 cup textured soy protein hydrated + 1 cup water
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 to 1 cup nondairy milk (I use soy)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease large casserole dish. Cook pasta according to package directions. In large bowl, mix together all ingredients except pasta and soy milk.

2. Stir in cooked pasta and add milk until pasta is coated and mixture is moist.  Add salt and pepper, to taste.

3. Pour into casserole dish. Cover and bake for about 20 minutes, then uncover and bake for about 10 more minutes, or until the top of the casserole starts to get crispy.

Serve and enjoy! I really like to use my own ultra-garlicy hummus when I make this, but pretty much any hummus will work. Feel free to add whatever other vegetables (broccoli, mushrooms, peppers, etc.) that you like or have on hand.

Serves: 8+

The Big Six (Fibro Symptoms Part 2) Fatigue and Insomnia

The next two symptoms I’d like to discuss which are very common with almost all Fibromyalgia patients are Fatigue and Insomnia.

The three most common things I hear from my Fibro patients:

1 I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck

2 I feel like I have the flu all the time

3 I feel like I’ve been beat up

Number 2 is almost always related to that fatigue you experience. This can vary from mild fatigue allowing you work, but exhausting you at the end of the day, to the type of fatigue where you just can’t get out of bed. This where the slightest exertion totally wipes you out. Something as simple as washing some dishes might make you head to the bed or couch to lie down for a while. Fatigue is also so troublesome because it interferes with you interacting with your spouse, children, grandchildren and friends.

In fact, I once had a patient who told me that her goal for the day was to attempt to take all the dishes out of the dishwasher. She wasn’t able to do it. Something as simple as that, something that people without Fibromyalgia take for granted, become a huge, almost undo-able task. By the way, this is one of the reasons why people who do not have fibromyalgia (including doctors), have so much difficulty understanding what you, the patient, is dealing with on a day to day basis.

Fibro fatigue, as fibro in general, not only affects the sufferer but the families. Imagine your husband watching you suffer and yet there is not a thing he can do about it. He will feel helpless and totally impotent because he cannot help the woman he loves most in the world, the most important person in his life get well. Imagine the mother who is not able to spend enough quality time with her children, again due to the monster called Fibromyalgia. Imagine not being able to attend school functions, see their children in plays, help them with homework, and even take weekend trips with the entire family. Fibro fatigue is rearing its ugly head.

The say that one of the most sacred relationships is between a grandmother and the grandchildren. Here is another scenario where the grandparent cannot be fully a part of the grandchild’s life, thank you Fibromyalgia.

This is the fatigue of fibromyalgia, but what causes this? The inability to sleep!

Insomnia, the other symptom is just as troublesome, you might lie in bed for hours, or if lucky you do get some sleep, but it is a very superficial sleep. This is not the deep sleep that is so essential to our well being. Many of you need to use sleep meds which might help somewhat, but again, you never reach that deep level of sleep. Others might sleep for an hour or two, than you’re up, totally wide away. You’re exhausted, but just can’t get to sleep.

These two symptoms are totally inter-related, the reason you’re so fatigued is that you do not sleep; you are basically “sleep-deprived”. So what is going on?

As we mentioned in the prior symptom blog, your nervous system is on over drive. One of the effects is that your adrenal glands are constantly on overdrive leading to a constant secretion of adrenalin. When you have so much adrenalin floating around, you’re not going to sleep.

For a moment, allow me to use myself as an example (though I do not have Fibromyalgia). Suppose that it is 11:00PM, I’ve worked hard all day and am ready to get into bed. I know that I’ll fall asleep immediately (as is my habit). Just as I hit the bed, the phone rings and it turns out to be a friend I hadn’t spoken to in 15 years.  My friend and I spent 1/2 hour filling each in on our lives, we’re both excited and finally agree to talk at length in a few days. When I hang up, the adrenalin is pumping through my body. Do you think I’ll, now, be able to get to sleep? Absolutely not, it will take an hour for the adrenalin to process out, until than I’ll be wide awake.

People with Fibro have this adrenalin pumping almost all the time, thus sleep becomes almost impossible! Very simply speaking, when you’re not getting the sleep you need, you are going to be fatigued all the time. This is how the two are related. You can blame it on the Adrenal glands. We’ll speak at length about the Adrenals in another blog as it they (you have two) are such important hormone glands with so many different functions.

Some of the side effects of sleep deprivation are:

Aching muscles

Depression

Mental confusion and memory laps

Problems with mental clarity

Hallucinations

Headaches

Increases Blood Pressure

Increased stress Hormones, meaning more stress

And the list continues.

Sound familiar? What we have is a cycle where as Fibromyalgia causes sleep deprivation which in turn causes more fibro symptoms. By the way, Sleep deprivation has been linked to a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, lowered immune function and other illnesses.

Ever wonder why some of you are so sensitive to light, to loud music, to sound of a bass drum thumbing. Wonder why some of you can’t walk into a department store due to the loud noises or the smells of perfumes? These are symptoms of sleep deprivation which are symptoms of Fibromyalgia.  Unfortunately using meds to help you sleep, only help to an extent, they, many times, don’t let you achieve that deep level of sleep that is so necessary for replenishing the body.

More on the Big Six to come, Monday will be more vegetarian recipes!

Important Note:

I’d like to tell you that I am and have been helping people lead Fibro free lives for years now. If you’d like to find out more about that and set up a one on one personal private consultation time with me, send me an e-mail at: fibro@drgenemartin.com (put consultation in the description) and we can set up a time to speak, via phone or Skype, which ever works better for you. We will be than able to determine if you’re qualified and can benefit. (not all do)

I will explain the treatment options, why it works so well, and what exactly is involved during this consultation,

I can only take a handful of new patients at one time due to the exclusive nature of what I do.  Thanks.

Dr. Gene Martin

Fibro Pain, One of the Big Six

The following blogs will go through the big six symptoms of Fibromyalgia which almost everybody suffering with fibro will have. also included will be the mechanism behind that particular symptom.


Today, we’ll speak about “pain” perhaps the most troublesome for the most people.

Pain: The great majority of people with Fibromyalgia have pain, but not the typical pain that most people know and understand. It’s a deep burning type of pain which is just about impossible to describe to another person. The pain can be widespread (all over the body), can be centered in the arms or legs, the upper half or lower half of the body and even can be on just the right or just the left side of the body. The pain can lesson, increase, get worse, get better, without any apparent rhyme or reason. So why is this happening?

First, you must understand that Fibromyalgia is a nervous system that is running on overdrive. The system is constant firing at a much higher rate than the normal person. Now the nervous system is made up of 2 pairs of 12 cranial nerves which are in the upper neck and head and 31 pairs of spinal nerves which travel from the spinal cod to all parts of the body. These nerves are constant firing and when they constantly fire, they cause pain. It has been estimated that it only takes a dime’s worth of pressure on a nerve to make it fire. (According to a study done at the University of Colorado 20 years ago). Another way of looking at this is to picture yourself when you gently tap your “funny bone”, does it not seem like your arm and hand is about to explode? This is an example of a nerve firing.

With fibro many and sometimes most of these nerves are continuously firing, thus leading to pain.

Now, suppose you have horrendous fibro pain ion the leg. The doctor performs every type of test, including an MRI and an EEG yest cannot see any problem inn the leg. This is because the pain is firing from the spinal nerve which is located in the lower back. Therefore, in a sense, the pain from Fibromyalgia is “Phantom Pain”, the pain is there, it is real, it is horrible, yet it is originating from another place, not where the pain itself is. This is one of the reason why doctors have so much  trouble with fibro.

Think back to the young men who returned from a war, missing an arm or leg. They insist that they still feel the leg and can actually describe exactly where, on the leg), the pain is, yet they no longer have the leg. This is phantom pain, similar to what a person with Fibro is dealing with.

Another cause of the pain also relates to these same nerves. Nerves control all the muscles in your body. In fact you might think of the reason for the existence of most muscles to be to move bones, nothing more and nothing less. Think of lifting a glass with your forearm (the part from your elbow to your hand), the biceps muscle has to contract so the arm lifts up. when you place the glass down, the triceps muscle moves the forearm in the other direction. I won’t get into the entire biochemical process, but suffice it to say, the end product of muscle metabolism is Lactic acid which our bodies would normal flush out via the lymph circulation, into the blood circulation and than through the kidneys until you urinate it  from the body.

When the nerves are firing on overdrive, the muscles are constantly contracting. (This is why so many of you have that constant tightness in the neck and shoulders). There is so much lactic acid being produced that the body just cannot get rid of it all and the extra lactic acid starts to accumulate in the bellies of the muscles. As the lactic acid would harm the muscles, the body than lays down fibrous tissue (think of a cloth like material) that covers the pockets of lactic acid to prevent it from doing any harm.

I realize that many of your well intentioned doctors tell you that you must constantly exercise and even to push yourselves. This is just plain incorrect. when you do this, you teat the fibrous tissue, which itself causes pain and also allows great amounts of the lactic acid to be released into the body. This is why so many of you say that after being very active or exercising, you are on your backs for 2 or 3 days, trying to recover. Thus, this is another cause of the deep burning pain so common in Fibromyalgia.

As you can see, you have two overlapping mechanisms causing you pain, the pain nerves which are constantly firing and the breaking down of fibrous tissue leading to the lactic acid entering your body in large amounts.

For those who are exercising, it is imperative to drink lots of water to help flush some of the lactic acid out of the body. Keep a bottle with you and sip on it all during the day. this also holds true for those who have a good massage therapist (A massage therapist who does not understand Fibro will many times cause you to flare). Again drink water before and after the massage. (remember that water is important, even for those without fibro and that a good percentage of the population does not drink enough and is dehydrated).

Last note on pain, the same nerves that cause pain also carry sensation. therefore, many will find their skin to be overly sensitive to touch. Just a husband gently touching a wife’s should can be excruciating. This skin sensitivity can be anywhere and everywhere in the body, from the head down to the feet.

Next: More of the big 6 symptoms!

Vegetarian Recipes Part 3 (thanks again to my wife)

More Vegetarian recipes as per your request:

Banana Nut Bread

Ingredients

3 ripe bananas, mashed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a loaf pan. Mix the mashed bananas and oil in a large bowl.

2. Stir in the flour, vegan sugar, salt, and baking soda. Mix in the nuts.

3. Pour the well blended batter into the greased pan and bake for 1 hour. Remove and let cool.

I found this recipe works better than many I’ve tried, since it sticks together much better, and is healthier for you since it doesn’t require shortening and a lot of oil. Any oil will suffice, however olive oil is the healthiest!

Makes: 1 loaf, Preparation time: 15 minutes, Cooking time: 60 minutes.

Banana, Coconut, Oatmeal Loaf

Ingredients:

2 bananas
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup coconut milk
splash vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 cup oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup coconut + sprinkle

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease a loaf pan. Cream bananas with sugar, coconut milk and vanilla.

2. Mix flour, oats, baking powder, spices and coconut together in a large bowl.  Add the the liquid mixture to dry, and mix until just combined. Add a little water or milk if the mixture is too thick.

3. Pour into prepared loaf pan, and sprinkle with sweetened flaked coconut on top. Place in the oven and bake 45 minutes-1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean, and the top of the loaf is golden brown.

Is best served cold, after being chilled in the fridge for a while.

Source of recipe: Experimenting in my kitchen.

Makes: 1 loaf, Preparation time: 5 mins, Cooking time: 45 mins to 1 hour

Banana Bread Brownie Bites

Ingredients:

1/3 cup apple juice concentrate*
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
2 large or 3 small bananas, mashed
1/4 cup almond butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups flour (I use spelt)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
walnut halves, to garnish

Directions:

1. In a small bowl, combine apple juice concentrate and flax seeds. Set aside to thicken.

2. In another bowl, combine the mashed bananas, almond butter, and vanilla extract; mix until a paste is formed.  Stir in apple juice-flax seed mixture.

3. In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients.

4. Pour batter into greased 9″ x 9″ pan and arrange walnut halves on top.

5. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted at the center of the bread comes out clean. Cool before cutting into squares so there is one walnut half per bite.

* If agave or maple syrup is used instead of apple juice, reduce the amount to 3 tablespoons and mix the flax seeds with 2 tablespoons of water instead.

Source of recipe: This recipe makes BITE-sized BANANA BREADs that have the chewiness of BROWNIES.

Free of heavily processed fats and sugars.

Makes: 16 bites, Preparation time: 10 minutes, Cooking time: 20 minutes

Really Delicious Vegan Cornbread

Ingredients:

2 cups yellow corn flour
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
equivalent of 2 eggs (I use Ener-G Egg Replacer)
2 1/2 cups of plain unsweetened soy milk
6 tablespoon melted soy margarine (I use Earth Balance)
1 cup of frozen corn
1/2 cup of melted soy cheddar cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.  Whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt in a big mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix the Ener-G egg replacer, soy milk, and melted soy margarine. Add to dry ingredients and stir until blended. Then add the corn and the melted cheese and stir it all up. Pour it into the pan.  Bake for 35 minutes or so. Then let cool for 15 minutes.

Serves: 10 – 15

Preparation time: 35 minutes

Simple Corn Muffins

Ingredients:

1 cup course whole grain corn meal
1/2 whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup soy milk (or other vegan milk)
1 teaspoon white vinegar
2 medium apples peeled and grated
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup canola oil

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Sift together the corn meal, flours, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl.

In a medium sized bowl combine the soymilk with the vinegar and oil. In another separate medium bowl, combine the grated apples with the sugar.

Place the soymilk mixture and the apple mixture in the flour mixture. Stir until combined and all the dry ingredients are wet. The mixture should be lumpy.

Put the oven temperature down to 350 degrees.

Oil a big muffin pan or a regular sized muffin pan. Put the batter in the pan and place in oven for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Eat and enjoy!

Serves: 6

Preparation time: 45 minutes

Zucchini Bread with Topping

Ingredients

1 cup applesauce
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sweetener
2 cups grated zucchini
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 + 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 + 2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons vegan butter substitute (I like Smart Balance Light)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In a large bowl combine applesauce, oil, sweetener, zucchini, and vanilla extract.  In a medium bowl combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, 3 teaspoon cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and nuts.  Add the “dry” ingredients to the “wet” ingredients and mix well.    Divide the mix into two greased and floured bread pans.

For the topping, combine 1/2 cup flour, 2 teaspoon cinnamon, brown sugar, and butter substitute.  Sprinkle on top of bread mixture in pans.

Bake for 65-75 minutes.  Use the toothpick test to determine when the bread is done.

Serves: 16

Black Beans and Brown Rice

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup uncooked brown rice
2 cups vegetable broth
3 1/2 cups cooked black beans (about 2 cans), drained
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
salt, to taste
1-2 avocados, chopped
1 tomato, diced

Directions:

1. Heat oil in a medium sized pan on medium high heat. Add onion and garlic, and saute until onion is translucent, about 4 minutes.

2. Add rice and saute for another 2 minutes. Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil then cover and cook on low for 45 minutes.

3. When rice is done, add the black beans, cumin, cayenne, cilantro, and salt and heat until beans are warm. Serve with avocado and tomato as a garnish.

Makes: about 5 servings, Preparation time: 10 min, Cooking time: 45 min

Veggies and Rice

Ingredients

1-1/2 cups dry instant brown rice
1 cup water
1/3 + 1/4 cup tomato juice
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 medium bell pepper, diced
1/2 medium zucchini, diced
1-1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 medium tomato, diced
1/2 cup frozen corn
1 (15-ounce) can black beans (I use seasoned)
1-1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
lime juice

Directions:

1. Prepare rice as instructed on package, using 1 cup water and 1/3 cup tomato juice.

2. While rice is cooking, saute onion, bell pepper, zucchini, and garlici over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until soft.

3. Add tomato and corn and saute an additional 2 to 3 minutes, covered.

4. Add rice, beans, cumin, red pepper flakes, and 1/4 cup tomato juice to veggies. Turn down heat and simmer, covered, to desired consistency, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Dish out, squeeze lime juice over the top, and serve.

Source of recipe: This dish started out as a beans and rice dish, but I decided to add a few other veggies.

Makes: 2-4 servings, Preparation time: 5 min, Cooking time: ~15 min

Mushroom and Sage Risotto

Ingredients :

2 cups arborio rice (risotto rice)
4-6 cups vegetable stock (you can make your own, I use Imagine products)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoon spoons vegan margarine (Earth Balance works well)
1 1/2 cups mushrooms of your choice thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves minced
1 shallot minced
3/4 cup minced yellow onion
6-8 fresh sage leaves, chopped leave some for garnishing if desired
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup (veg friendly) dry white wine (optional)
1 1/2 cups vegan cheese of choice (mozzarella-style works great)
1 avocado, sliced, for garnish

Directions:

In a sauce pan, heat vegetable stock over medium heat until hot, leave on burner, you’ll be going back to the stock throughout the process.  In a small frying pan sauté mushrooms with a little bit of olive oil, set aside. In a fairly large frying pan over medium heat, pour olive oil and 1 1/2 tablespoon spoons of margarine (save the rest for the end) once the margarine begins to melt, sauté onions, garlic, and shallots until tender and aromatic.  Add the rice to this mixture and sauté until the rice becomes opaque and white.  At this point you can add the white wine and stir until completely absorbed. If you choose to skip this step go straight to adding about a cup of vegetable stalk and stir until completely absorbed, repeat this process adding about a cup of stalk at a time until the rice becomes creamy and starchy. Risotto is often misunderstood as being a difficult dish to prepare, in fact, it’s actually quite easy but you have to be attentive. Once the rice has reached desired consistency add the sautéed mushrooms, sage, the remaining margarine, and about 1 1/2 cups of shredded vegan cheese of choice. Stir until margarine and cheese are completely melted.  With risotto it’s best served immediately after cooking, piping hot.

It’ll keep in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 3 days, however, it’s best if eaten right away to avoid a gummy consistency. Garnish with whole sage and sliced avocado. Enjoy!

Serves: about 6-8

Red Beans and Rice with Sausage

Ingredients:

1/2 package Natures Sausage by Fantastic Foods (vegan)
1 can kidney beans drained
3 cups basmati rice cooked
1/2 teaspoon green curry paste
1 1/2 cups water (approx.)
salt to taste

Directions:

Prepare sausage as directed on box using 2/3 cup mix and 2/3 cup water. Fry sausage in large sautee pan by dropping in small spoonfuls to create medium size chunks.

When sausage is browned and getting crisp add beans and curry paste. Stir in rice and mix well.

Your mixture will start to stick together. Add water slowly until you have a sauce consistency of your liking. Salt to taste and enjoy!

Serves: 6

Preparation time: 25 min

Some Random Thoughts – What is a True Friend

People with Fibromyalgia many times will discover who their true friends really are. This essay is taken from a variety of different post, ideas and opinions.

What is a True Friend?

 A true friend is someone you can count on to laugh with you, cry with you and be there for you through good times and bad. Unfortunately, people do not come with a true friend label; you need to be able to spot the characteristics of a good friend.Throughout your life, you will encounter many, many people. Some of them will become good buddies and some will become true friends. The difference between a good friend and good buddy is that the friend will be with you for life. Buddies come and go with school, work and neighborhoods, but a true friendship can survive being separated by continents.It is very disappointing when someone you thought was a friend lets you down. It can be very hurtful when you lose a friendship. You may be sad, lonely and even angry with the “friend” who let you down.While there is no guarantee that a friendship will last, you can look for several characteristics in a person. If they have the following traits, they are more likely to become your lifelong friend. Luckily, you will be able to tell if a person has these characteristics right away; they are core values that will be apparent in everything a person does.Characteristics of a True Friend

  • Honest and trustworthy: Can they keep a secret? A good friend doesn’t gossip about you. Do they tell they truth? If they lie to you or about you, they are not a true friend. At the same time, however, a true friend will always look out for you. If you ask a friend to keep something that’s harmful a secret, like drug use or stealing, they may tell somebody in an attempt to get you help. That’s not betrayal, that’s caring.
  • Good Listener: Do they listen to you or do they only talk about themselves? If you tell them that you don’t eat junk food, do they remember that?
  • Loyal: Do they stick with you even when you are grumpy? Are they still your friend when your sick or out of money? If someone is gossiping about you, will your friend step in and put a stop to it?
  • Available: Are they available when you need them? If you need to talk instead of going to the movies, are they willing to sit and talk with you? Will they help you finish your chores when you are disabled?
  • Supportive: A true friend will never make you do something that goes against your moral or religious beliefs. They will not ask you to lie, steal or cheat.

If your friend has these characteristics, you know you have found someone who is a true friend. Be a good friend to this person, and you’ll benefit from this friendship for many years to come.

Bethany’s Story

Last summer, Bethany had to go into the hospital for three days of medical tests. One test required her to be sleep deprived for more than 30 hours. While her mom husband stayed with her, it was hard to keep Bethany awake the whole time. So, one of Bethany’s best friends, Shannon, asked her husband to bring her to the hospital to stay with Bethany and help keep her awake. They arrived at 2:00am. If that isn’t a sign of true friendship, nothing is. Shannon was able to stay with Bethany through the morning which was a wonderful boost for Bethany and even Bethany’s husband, who was able to get a few hours of sleep. Without Shannon to help share the load, the whole stay in the hospital would have been much more difficult.

Friends ease burdens.

When a friend is going through troubled times, being there to encourage them, even if it’s just being a shoulder to cry on or to simply listen, can make all the difference in the world. Even when things are going great, having someone recognize and appreciate your accomplishments can be just as important. With so much emphasis placed on success and accomplishment this in this day and age, having someone to witness your achievements can make even the minor victories meaningful.Unfortunately, sometimes, loyalty can be tested. We’ve all had situations where someone we’d consider a true friend has let us down. Friends, even true friends, are still human and because they’re human they can make mistakes.

Forgiveness is essential in friendships. Accepting a friend even though they may make a mistake shows them that you respect them enough to realize they’re human.

No one is perfect. Have you always lived up to your highest potential? Sometimes, we can be the cause of problems that create negative effects for people who were counting on us. Because of this, friendships can be tested. A true friend accepts you, faults and all, though. A genuine friend understands that you make mistakes.

Character is often referred to as a fading quality in today’s society, but among friends, it is essential. When you think of a true friend, you expect that they’re loyal (and keep things just between friends), but you also want them to be honest. Even if you’re doing something wrong, you have to trust your friend to tell you and help you through it. It can be a delicate balancing act between being loyal to a friend and being honest, and perhaps that maybe why good friends are hard to find. But friends that have the courage to tell you when you’re wrong, who care enough for you to speak the truth, are genuine friends.

We may have many acquaintances as we travel through life, but if we have 2 or 3 real friends, we are very lucky and very much ahead of the game.

After all, what is important in life: health, family, friends, a place to live and food to eat.

Dangers of Artificial Sweeteners. Aspertame and Splenda

Many people have told me that they no longer use sugar but now use Aspartame or Splenda, they’ve even gone as far as to tell me that these artificial sweeteners have been recommended by their doctors. the real truth is that these artificial sweeteners are in no way safe.

Aspertame

First synthesized in 1965, Aspartame is an artificial, non-saccharide sweetener used in several food items and beverages as a substitute for sugar. It is used in scores of diet and low calorie food products and is known to us by the familiar brand names of NutraSweet, Spoonful, Equal, etc. People conscious of their weight and the amount of calorie intake include this artificial sweetener in their diet.

Aspartame was first introduced as an ingredient in food items in the year 1981. However, since then aspartame has been the center of a lot of controversies. Grave dangers of Aspartame emerged as the years went by, such as irreparable brain damage when consumed over a long period of time.

Debates about dangers of Aspartame in gum and other food products have been going on since the 1980s. However, aspartame is a FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved product, then how can it be dangerous? The FDA approved this ingredient way back in 1974, then how can it be detrimental to health. It so happens that during the early 80s, the FDA was owned by Donald Rumsfeld, who used this artificial sweetener in a way to mint millions of dollars. He approved the use of aspartame in food products and enjoyed the monetary returns he got.

Since Aspartame was approved by the FDA, most people were left unaware of the dangers of consuming this sweet poison. Pregnant women consuming food items with aspartame end up exposing the fetus to such toxins. The consumption can cause the fetus to accumulate high levels of glutamate which can damage the baby’s brain easily. Not only the fetus brain, but also our neurons can be destroyed completely by Aspartame. Aspartame is such a slow, silent killer that most damage is done before any symptoms such as shortness of breath, palpitations, hearing problems, headaches, etc. can warn us of the damage.

Dangers of Aspartame Poisoning

The dangers of Aspartame poisoning have been a well guarded secret since the 1980s. The research and history of aspartame is conclusive as a cause of illness and toxic reactions in the human body. Aspartame is a dangerous chemical food additive, and its use during pregnancy and by children is one of the greatest modern tragedies of all.

Why haven’t you heard about aspartame poisoning before? Partly because the diet industry is worth trillions of American dollars to corporations, and they want to protect their profits by keeping the truth behind aspartame’s dangers hidden from the public. When NutraSweet® was introduced for the ‘second’ time in 1981, a diet craze revolutionized America’s eating protocols and a well-oiled money machine was set into motion changing modern lifestyles.

After more than twenty years of aspartame use, the number of its victims is rapidly piling up, and people are figuring out for themselves that aspartame is at the root of their health problems. Patients are teaching their doctors about this nutritional peril, and they are healing themselves with little to no support from traditional medicine.

Aspertame and PKU

This sugar substitute, sold commercially as Equal and NutraSweet, was hailed as the savior for dieters who for decades had put up with saccharine’s unpleasant after taste. There are quite a few problems with aspartame. The first is phenylketonuria (PKU). One out of 20,000 babies is born without the ability to metabolize phenylalanine, one of the two amino acids in aspartame. Toxic levels of this substance in the blood can result in mental retardation. Beyond PKU, several scientists believe that aspartame might cause altered brain function and behavior changes in consumers. And many people have reported the following side effects from aspartame:

  • Fibromyalgia Syndrome and symptoms of Fibromyalgia
  • Multiple Sclerosis symptoms
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Menstrual problems

According to “Sweet Deception,” aspartame can also cause headaches triggering the onset of migraines. It is not known why aspartame causes headaches in certain individuals. You should discontinue use of aspartame if you experience headaches after using the sweetener. Additionally, aspartame may cause weight gain. In certain individuals, the extreme sweetness of aspartame may result in more cravings for sweet foods and beverages, leading to long-term weight gain.

Splenda

Splenda has replaced aspartame as the most used artificial sweetener in foods and beverages. More and more artificial sweeteners are being used today as consumers want products that taste good but don’t pack the calories that are associated with sugar. Aspartame, which used to be used in most artificially sweetened items, was basically forced out of popularity and products because the public became aware of the fact that it can be the cause of many chronic illnesses. James Bowen, a physician, biochemist and survivor of aspartame poisoning is doing his best to warn about Splenda and its implications on those who consume it.

Dr. James Bowen believes that the chlorocarbons (which is what Splenda is) cannot be excreted from our bodies and that will continue to cause damage to our metabolism and eventually if we keep ingesting it, to our internal organs. Bowen believes that the liver is not able to detoxify our body of Splenda because the chlorocarbons in Splenda damage the hepatocytes, which are the liver’s metabolic cells.

Dr. Bowen hasn’t come with up with these beliefs without data to back it up. In fact, there have been test animals that have ingested Splenda and all of them had swollen livers and calcified kidneys. As if these findings weren’t overwhelming enough, it is known that the brain and nervous system are susceptible to metabolic toxicities and can be damaged by the chemicals that are Splenda. It is thought that something as seemingly simple and harmless and Splenda could cause a breakdown in the nervous system, affecting genetics and even immune function. It is also thought that because of the breakdown that chlorocarbon poisoning can cause cancer, birth defects, and total immune system destruction.

Dr. James Bowen says, “We should not be fooled again into accepting the safety of a toxic chemical on the blessing of the FDA and saturation advertising. In terms of potential long term human toxicity we should regard sucralose with its chemical cousin DDT, the insecticide now outlawed because of its horrendous long term toxicities at even minute trace levels in human, avian, and mammalian tissues.”

In short, Splenda is something that we all need to think about before we ingest it. It’s regarded as an artificial sweetener. In most instances, artificial is not a term that has a positive connotation. Why should it be any different with the things that we ingest? We don’t want to think that there are things out there that are FDA approved that aren’t safe, but when you think about aspartame you have to know that there are things out there that just aren’t good for us. We have to be discerning consumers and think about our health long term.

As of 2011, there is a lack of long-term human toxicity studies on the use of Splenda. However, according to “Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda,” common side effects associated with the use of Splenda include headaches and migraines, nausea, upset stomach, digestive issues and dizziness. While the FDA has not verified any of these side effects, the actual dangers associated with the use Splenda are not known at this time.

Lastly:

If you have kids, you’ll be the first one to notice health and behavioral changes in your children. Children are reacting to artificial sweeteners in harmful ways, but this aspect of the sweetener wars has gone unnoticed in the mainstream health community.  The sweetener corporations market to children by placing soft drink machines in public elementary schools, and by influencing doctors that diet sweeteners don’t cause abnormal behavior and emotional stress in children. When you have exhausted all the other reasons for your child’s poor health or mental/emotional problems, then diet chemicals could be the culprit.

The rising numbers of mental disorders have gone unexplained until now. A diet of chemical foods means a diet of malnutrition, and when the body is starved of nutrients, it becomes mentally and physically stressed. Don’t raise your children on diet chemicals – search for healthy alternatives.

There are tons of pages of links on the web about how wonderful Splenda is, what a safe alternative to sugar it is and so on. Take a close look at where the links originate from. The Splenda industry is very “big business.

La Joya, The Jewel: Volunteer work in the Maximum Security Prison in Panama

I have been asked many times about my background, experiences and why I do so much voluntary work. For a period of 10 or more years I traveled to other countries on health care missions where we brought health education, examinations and treatment to those unable to afford care. The following was written by a friend of mine, Dr. Mike, after one such mission trip to Panama in 2002. He had this published in his local newspaper because he felt it necessary that all of us docs received some recognition for the work we did and the money we spend (out of our own pockets). I personally feel that this recognition was not necessary as we all did these missions out of love and caring. Of course we received many thank you’s, but again this was never necessary. We all just wanted to make a difference.

The Jewel of Panama – Four doctor’s experiences in one of the world’s most feared prisons

La Joya, “the jewel” in English, is a primary maximum security facility in the country of Panama. It houses prisoners accused of the most serious and heinous crimes. La Joya had a planned capacity of 1,250, yet it currently houses over 2,200 inmates. It is located about 50 miles outside of Panama City.

On the morning of March 7th, 2002, four Doctors (Part of the March 2002 Mission to Panama), including myself, were informed that we would be providing care inside the jewel of Panama.

We traveled to the prison by bus in what seemed to be a very long ride. First we had to get off the main road and go to the north on a dirt road which brought us to our first checkpoint. Here, prison guards with shotguns and rifles stopped us to gather more information. There were four of us in the group, including myself and three other doctors, Dr. Marcos Beilizaire, Dr. Gene Martin, and Dr. Bridgett LaMarca. After a brief wait we traveled about another 200 yards and we were at our second checkpoint. This checkpoint had many more guards and appeared to be the main office facility for prison guards and workers. At this checkpoint they let us through a gate and we head further north towards the La Joya main prison entrance. There were guards in towers with rifles and they were dressed in full military assault type clothing.

We stepped off the bus and there was a fire burning to the north. It appeared to be garbage and large amounts of smoke were blowing across the prison yard. I could see the buildings in which the prisoners lived. It did not look anything like a prison you would see in a U.S. made movie, it looked much more like a concentration camp or a prisoner of war camp type of setting. We were standing at the middle of the gates and there was about 500 yards of chain-link fence to the north and to the south. The fences appeared to be about 18 feet high with another 3 feet of razor wire on top.

Imagine a big fenced in rectangle, and it was all dirt and dead grass. You than would proceed in about 20 feet and there was a second fence that was the same height also with razor wire on top. In between the fences was a guard riding a horse and carrying a very large gun. In addition to that, on each corner were guard towers with riflemen in them. The smoke was blowing to the south from the burning garbage which made for a very ominous look and feel as it billowed across the compound. This thick smoke was coming past us and across the prison yard, and as I looked out at the smoky prison yard  everyone seemed dreary and very quiet.

We were not allowed to approach the entrance as guards were processing about 20 new inmates that may have been sentenced to La Joya prison for the first time. I watched these twenty men standing thirty feet from me, who were about to enter a maximum security prison for the first time in their young lives. They were being let into this prison one by one. Basically, in this rectangle you had the main director’s building right in the center of the prison yard, and then you had some buildings to the left and some buildings to the right, each of which housed prisoners.

There was a concrete path about the width of a sidewalk which went from the main entrance up to the main building. The guards were processing each prisoner in a small building at the main entrance while we waited. Each prisoner had his hands tied behind his back with heavy nylon ties and they are sent one by one along the walkway up to the main building. One prisoner was sent up the walkway and when he had reached far enough along on the walk (which was about 100 yards) the next prisoner was sent up. I watched these guys as the smoke  passed between us and I wondered, what were these 18, 19 and 20-year-olds thinking? What’s was going through their heads?

They were sent one at a time, one guy would go, and then another would be sent. There was a guard on the north side with a large gun sitting on a horse. He was watching as each prisoner walked up the walkway to the main building. It was at this time that the reality of the situation began to really become much more clear to me. I must admit, I have always had a fear of prisons. I had just never given it much thought up until this moment.

Let’s face it, here I am a blond haired blue eyed male and I am going to get nose to nose with these people. These guys are going in and they may never be coming out. I couldn’t fathom being in their position. The guards completed the processing of the new prisoners and it was our turn to walk up the walkway. I begin  up the path, this concrete walk to the main building. At this time, all newly processed prisoners had already entered the main building. As I walked up the path I thought at first that I heard birds but it was really whistling from the inmates. The whistling got louder and there were words shouted which I didn’t understand since I don’t speak much Spanish. As it turned out, they were catcalling and it was intended to dehumanize us and  to strike fear in our hearts. They did not know who we were, all they knew was that fresh meat was entering the prison compound.

Imagine more than 2000 prisoners calling out, whistling, like you would see in a movie when a new inmate entered the prison compound. I hadn’t noticed it earlier since I was on the bus when the first prisoners were being processed but now I was walking along the same walkway and was able to have a closer understanding of the experience. It was coming from both sides, and we were each walking, each member of our group, and no one said a word to each other. I believe that we were all overwhelmed by the situation, I sure was!. Everyone was very quiet and is just walking towards the main building alone with their thoughts. I found out later that we were all having similar thoughts, this was not like walking into a prison in the U.S. The reality was that we were in a foreign country, in a faraway place, and anything could happen, at any time.

It was not like they were going to bring prisoners to us at the gate, so we had to enter the compound in order to examine them. At this point I was standing in the directors building and we were only about 10 to 15 feet from the new prisoners that had just been processed. They were sitting on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs. My first thought was that I had to use a bathroom because the last thing I wanted to do was wet my pants if something had startled me.

Apparently, all of us had to go. We all went to use the bathroom and when we come back the prison guards asked if one of us would like to stay and examine the guards and prison workers inside the main building. I was really ready to volunteer but there was a woman in our group (Bridget LaMarca) and we all probably felt it would be best if she stayed. So this left myself, Dr. Gene and Dr. Marco, heading off to the first prison block on the southwest side of the complex. There were about four guards with us, some of them carrying very large gun’s and  others carrying  clubs about the size of baseball bat. However, these clubs looked like a straight solid black baseball bat with a small leather string at one end where the handle was. They appeared to be well worn.

We walked through the sand, dirt, and dead grass, amidst millions of sand fleas while the wind blew up debris. We headed towards first cell building. There were all these series of high fences with razor wire that we have to pass through before we arrived at the first spot. We got to the first cell building which really looked just like a large cinder block rectangular  building with a tin roof. There were bars on the windows which were  eight feet up the walls and were full of faces trying to see what we are preparing to do. There was only one door to the building that I could see.

The guards brought us four folding chairs and we set them up just outside the buildings front wall. I had two chairs and I was standing less than two feet from about 20 prisoners watching me through the bars. I don’t know how many prisoners where within this first building which could not have been larger than 200 feet long by 100 feet wide. Many prisoners, we learned, slept on the floor and the lucky ones had hammocks which were strung up in every available space, some all the way up to the ceiling from what I could see. Most of the prisoners did not have beds, they had cardboard or foam for the floor, or the hammocks.

We started  and these guys came out in groups of 4 in front of the guards and sat in our chairs. It was nothing like I had anticipated, it was not like something you might see on 60 minutes when an inmate gets interviewed for TV. These guys did not look like what I had expected. They were mostly about 135 pounds to 185 pounds, five feet to six feet tall and wearing a pair of flip-flops, shorts or underwear, and a T-shirt (which I later found each inmate was told to put on before they came outside). In this first group of prisoners, I noticed that they were mostly covered with tattoos. I was told later most were gang tattoos. I was trying to stay real focused and centered as I examined each of these individuals. “I’m going to give them everything I’ve got ” I told myself. “We are all one, we are all one, we are all one,” I thinking!

I kept examining prisoner after prisoner after prisoner and they begin while the ones inside the building kept calling out obscene things to us through the cell bars.. from the cell bars. This is one time in Panama that I felt fortunate I did not know what they were talking about. I kept telling myself that they were saying that they loved us, that they were thankful for us being there, but I sensed that some of them were saying something very different, especially by the looks I could see on the guard’s faces. The guards were very calm as they watched everything we did.

We continued to examine. We were in the prison for about 12 1/2 hours and we performed examinations at six different locations within the prison. We walked to the second cell building and there was a hand-painted sign on the door that said “La Cosita” which translates to “the small thing” in English. Now this building was even smaller than the first we were at and again, prisoners were brought out four at a time to be examined. As I looked on the ground I noticed there were broken razors, razor blades, and trash strewn around. After we finished examining at that location I was informed that this was where former police officers were serving time for crimes committed while on duty. Again, most prisoners that I examined had no more than a pair of shorts or underwear on, a T-shirt, and their sandals or sometimes shoes without laces.

When we arrived at the fourth building we had a few experiences which reminded us of the reality of where we were. As each prisoner came out they were hand checked by guards. Each of us were examining and we heard some of the guards talking and then one of the guards presented a 12 inch homemade Bowie knife to us. It was made out of steel and looked to be a bit rusty at the handle but it appeared to be very sharp and very large. I assumed that it was found in the building or on one of the inmates. The guard showed it to the other guards and did not try to hide it in front of any of us which at first I thought was a little odd but I think the guards wanted everyone to know that they would find weapons if the inmates had them. While we continued to perform examinations, two more homemade weapons were found both looking very similar to the first. Now imagine for moment, you’re in a foreign country, in a prison, making hands on contact with each person put before you and the nearest guard is about 10 feet away holding either a gun or a club. Yet you are only inches from the ones you touch during nearly all of the 12 1/2 hours you’re in this prison setting, completely vulnerable.

This really brought home the seriousness of where we were at and what we were doing there. Of the 2285 prisoners, we were told that we examined more than 600 that day. Not everybody came out to be examined in the time that we were there and we were asked to come back on another day. We were exhausted. Both physically and mentally, however, we were no longer fearful. It hit each of us, that beneath the interior, people are people.

When we are all done we headed back to the main central building where now we were going to take that 100 yard walk back out to the prison gates. I felt a sense of freedom but also a sense of sadness.  I felt free like I had given everything I possibly could while I was there to serve these prisoners and I  received a gift greater than I could possibly imagine. I felt as though I had been preparing for this day for some time.

Many thoughts came my way during that hundred yard walk and I was gone. I was emotionally, physically, and spiritually in another place. I walked next to Lina Ocon (who had set up this mission to Panama) as a warm wind blew and the western setting sun shined on our faces. The smoke from the earlier fire had cleared but the men were still yelling, only it was much louder than when we first entered the prison. I could hear it from both sides and I just walked not saying a word to Lina. Close to the end of our walk, I looked at her face and she was smiling. She looked at me and said, “do you know what they’re saying?” I responded: no, what are they saying? She said, “they’re saying God bless you, thank you, God bless you.”

Vegetarian recipes Part 2 (thanks to my wife)

More vegetarian recipes, enjoy!

Sweet Potato Latkes

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and shredded
Egg replacer equivalent to 2 eggs
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
3-4 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup vegetable oil for frying
Salt, to taste

•Wrap the shredded sweet potatoes in cheesecloth and place in a colander. Squeeze the potatoes to remove as much liquid as possible. Let sit to release more liquid, then squeeze again.
•In a large bowl, combine the sweet potatoes, egg replacer, brown sugar, flour, cloves, cinnamon, and salt and mix well.
•Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat.
•Form the potato mixture into pancake-size cakes and fry in the hot oil. Flip the cakes after 2 to 3 minutes, when the bottom is browned. Brown the other side, then remove and drain on paper towels. Serve hot.

Baked Stuffed Zucchini

2 zucchinis, cut in half lengthwise
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 Tbsp. tomato sauce
1/2 tsp. parsley
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp. matzo meal

• Scoop out the pulp of the zucchini halves. Heat the pulp, onion, tomato sauce, parsley, and garlic in a pan for 5 minutes. Add the matzo meal to the mixture and mix well.
• Restuff the zucchini with the mixture. Place in a baking dish with a little water on the bottom.
• Bake at 450F for 30 minutes until the zucchini shells are soft.

Makes 4-6 servings

Knishes

For the Dough:
1 cup mashed potatoes
1 Tbsp. oil
1 tsp. salt
3 cups unbleached white flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup cold water

For the Filling:

1 cup chopped onions
2 Tbsp. oil
1 1/2 cups mashed potatoes
1 1/2 cups mashed tofu
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper

• To make the dough, beat together 1 cup mashed potatoes, 1 Tbsp. oil, and 1 tsp. salt. Add the flour and baking powder and mix well. Mix in the water and knead into a smooth dough. Let rest on a board, covered with a cloth, for 1/2 hour.
• To make the filling, sautè the onions in 2 Tbsp. oil until transparent. Mix together with the rest of the filling ingredients.
• Cut the dough into 4 sections, then roll each section as thin as possible (about 1/16-inch thick). Cut into 5 x 6-inch rectangles. Place 2 or 3 Tbsp. of the filling in the middle of each rectangle. Fold the sides in first, then the ends. Place folded side down on an oiled cookie sheet. Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes, or until golden. Serve with horseradish or mustard.

Makes 15 to 18 knishes

Minestrone de Verdure

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup zucchini, cubed (1/2-inch cubes)
1 cup carrot, cubed (1/2-inch cubes)
1 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup eggplant, cubed (1/2-inch cubes)
1/2 cup potatoes, cubed (1/2-inch cubes)
1/2 cup white cabbage, chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
5 cups vegetable stock (or water)
1 cup flageolet beans, cooked
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp. nondairy Parmesan cheese, freshly grated• Heat the oil in a large pan and sauté the onions and garlic on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the chopped vegetables and stir over medium heat for 5 more minutes.
• Add the tomatoes and the tomato paste and stir well. Stir in the vegetable stock, cover the pan, and simmer slowly for about 40 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender. Add the cooked beans, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Add some water, if necessary, to get the desired consistency.
• Ladle the soup into bowls, sprinkle with the nondairy Parmesan cheese, and serve hot.Makes 4 servings
Fettuccini Alfonso

1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels
1 1/2 cups soy milk
1 Tbsp. onion granules
1 tsp. salt
1 lb. fettuccini (or other pasta)
pepper
2 Tbsp. Tahini (optional)

• Thaw corn kernels.
• Place the corn, soy milk, tahini, and seasoning in a blender and process until completely smooth. (It may take several minutes to completely pulverize the corn.)
• Pour the blended mixture into a medium saucepan and warm over medium-low heat, stirring often.
• While the sauce is heating, cook the fettuccini in a large pot of boiling water until al dente. Drain well and return to the pot. Add the hot sauce and toss until evenly coated.
• Serve immediately, topping each portion with pepper, if desired.

Serves 6

Spaghetti ‘Bolognese’

2 onions
2 carrots
9 oz. smoked tofu
Oil, for frying
2 large “beefeater” tomatoes
2 1/3 cup sieved tomatoes
Salt, to taste
Oregano, to taste
16 oz. spaghetti
2 fresh basil leaves, torn up

• Finely chop the onions, carrots, and tofu in a food processor. Lightly fry these ingredients in a saucepan with a little oil, until soft.
• Coarsely chop the tomatoes into cubes and add to the saucepan along with the sieved tomatoes. Add the salt and oregano and let simmer for 15 minutes.
• Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in plenty of salted water.
• Remove the sauce from heat and add the basil leaves. Serve the sauce over the spaghetti.

Makes 4 servings

Tomato Basil Bisque (A favorite of mine)

1 small beet, trimmed and peeled
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped celery
6 cups vegetable broth
12 small tomatoes, coarsely chopped, or 1 15-oz. can whole tomatoes
1 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 cup cubed tofu
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Basil leaves, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Put the beet on a baking sheet and bake until tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. When cool enough to handle, chop and set aside.
In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil and add the onion, garlic, and celery. Sauté for 5 to 10 minutes, until tender, stirring occasionally.
Add the broth, tomatoes, basil, thyme, and oregano and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool.
Transfer the soup, the cooked beet, and the tofu to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. This may have to be done in batches. Return the soup to the pot, gently reheat, and add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish each serving with a whole basil leaf and serve at once.

Linguine With Smoky Tomato Sauce

1-2 chipotle peppers
1/2 lb. linguine
2 medium shallots, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 plum tomatoes, diced
Olive oil
Salt, to taste

• Rehydrate the chipotle in enough water to cover it; let it set for 10 minutes. Once rehydrated, seed and dice it.
• Cook the pasta until it is al dente.
• Sauté the shallots, chipotle, and garlic for 3 minutes in a little olive oil. Add tomatoes and simmer for 8 minutes more. After draining the pasta, lightly oil and salt it. Serve the smoky sauce over the linguine.

Neapolitan Baked Eggplant

2 medium eggplants
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. minced capers
4 oz. black olives
1 bunch parsley
2 oz. bread, crusts cut off
1 Tbsp. soy milk
2-4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tomatoes, sliced
Oregano, to taste
Salt and black pepper, to taste

•Halve the eggplants, score them diagonally, salt them, and let them sit for an hour.
•Preheat the oven to 360ºF.
•Soak the bread in the soy milk.
•Wash and pat dry the eggplant halves and put them in an oven-proof dish.
•Blend the garlic, capers, parsley, olives, and bread until they become a fairly smooth paste. Add olive oil, as needed. Spread the paste over the eggplant halves, then layer them with the tomato. Season with pepper and oregano, to taste, and bake until done, about an hour.

Sesame Bok Choy and Mushroom Stir-Fry

4 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. button or cremini mushrooms, quartered
8 oz. fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
1 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
1 large bok choy (or 4-5 baby bok choy), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup vegetable stock
2 tsp. ginger root, minced
2 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp. dark sesame oil (optional)

• In a large nonstick skillet or wok, sauté the garlic and mushrooms in soy sauce for 3 minutes. Add the bok choy and green onions and stir-fry for another 3 minutes. Stir in the vegetable stock and ginger. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
• Sprinkle the sesame seeds and sesame oil, if desired, over the mixture before serving.

Makes 6 servings

Soy Chicken-and-Beef With Pineapple

For the Soy Chicken and Beef:
1 1/4 cups firm tofu
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. boiled shitake mushroom stems
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. dark soy sauce

• Put all the ingredients, except for the dark soy sauce, into a blender or food processor and blend coarsely.
• Remove 1/2 from the blender and set aside to use for the “chicken.” For the “beef,” add the dark soy sauce to the blender and blend until well combined.
• Wrap each tightly with cheesecloth and steam for 20 minutes. Slice and then brown in a skillet with a little oil. Set aside.

For the Stir-Fry:
2 Tbsp. cold water
2 tsp. vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ketchup
1 tsp. soy sauce
1/2 medium green bell pepper, sliced
1/2 medium red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 medium pineapple, sliced

• Combine the water, vinegar, sugar, ketchup, and soy sauce in a wok or frying pan and heat on high.
• Add the “chicken” and “beef” and stir-fry until covered with the sauce. Add the peppers and pineapple and stir-fry for about 3 minutes, being careful not to overcook. Serve immediately.

Hot and Sour Tofu Soup

1 1/2 quarts vegetable stock
15 medium-sized mushrooms, sliced thinly
10 oz. tofu, cut into small cubes
1 small can bamboo shoots
1 small can water chestnuts, halved
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1-2 tsp. hot sauce or to taste
2 Tbsp. white vinegar or to taste
2 garlic cloves, chopped
5 scallions (green onions, chopped)
1/4 cup peanuts (optional)

• Heat stock to boiling.
• Add all other ingredients except scallions. Add peanuts if desired. Reheat to boiling and then immediately lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes.
• Add the scallions when the soup has about 5 minutes left to cook.
• Taste the soup and add more hot sauce, vinegar or soy sauce if desired.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Light Spring Rolls

12 6-inch round rice wrappers (available at Asian groceries)
6 oz. rice vermicelli or cellophane noodles, cooked and drained
1/2 cup bean sprouts
1 cup shredded Chinese cabbage
12 snow peas, trimmed and cut into thin strips
2 scallions, chopped
2/3 cup grated carrot
1 cup shiitake mushrooms or baked tofu, slivered
1 bunch fresh mint leaves
Hoisin sauce

• Immerse the rice wrappers, one at a time, in a bowl filled with cold water and let stand until the wrappers soften. Spread a towel on a work surface and place each wrapper on the towel.
• To assemble the rolls, arrange small amounts of each of the remaining ingredients, except for the hoisin sauce, on each wrapper, about halfway between the edge nearest you and the center of the wrapper. Fold the edge nearest you over the vegetables, then fold in one side and roll up lengthwise into a tight roll. Repeat with the remaining wrappers.
• Serve with hoisin sauce for dipping.

Makes 6 servings