Wednesday, September 18, 2013


In the warm-up sequence in the Rushfit workouts there is one exercise based on capoeira, a Brazilian style of dance and martial arts. According to the wikipedia article, capoeira was invented starting in the sixteenth century, mainly by escaped slaves and their descendants. Here is a marvelous video clip of two master capoeiristas. There was a somewhat similar situation with yoga in colonial India; for some practitioners it was a martial arts program disguised as a self-improvement regimen.

Good News Part 1: DXA

One of the unnecessary scares at the time of a physical exam took place in 2003, the first year I had a DXA scan to measure bone density. I went to a testing center where an MRI was administered and later interpreted by a doctor. The results revealed significant bone loss in the lumbar spine and left femur. I was horrified. My PCP wanted me to take Fosamax; I decided to get a second opinion.

I went to the radiologist who did (and still does) my mammograms. The results on his machine were significantly better than on the first test. The radiologist explained that readings can differ from one machine to another. There is also a margin of error for any machine so that small differences are not considered significant. (Since 2003 I’ve had five DXAs since then and none has ever given results as low as the first one.)  The overall picture was not too bad. The reading for the spine was definitely in osteopenia territory, those for the femurs were normal.

In the succeeding years the picture has stayed about the same: osteopenia in the spine but no worse than before, some additional bone loss in the hips but just barely out of the normal range. Last year the spine was somewhat better, the femur readings a bit worse. This year the spine was back down but the right hip (the side with the shorter leg) had increased 3.7%. So the overall picture is that the numbers bounce around a bit but not much changes. After ten years, is it really worthwhile for me to continue with these tests?

Clearly, my body can still rebuild bone. To help the process along I’ve decided to increase my calcium supplement intake by 25%. I also take vitamin D and magnesium along with the calcium. There has been a lot of talk lately about people taking too much calcium. The theory is that the excess mineral can harden the walls of the arteries and contribute to heart disease. But how can we know whether a particular person is getting more than enough without a blood test? We’re all different. In my own case, I take well over the recommended amount yet my serum level is at the low end of normal. My blood pressure is low normal and my cholesterol readings are just fine. Instead of making sweeping generalizations, I wish the experts would recommend that people get themselves tested. That is the scientific way, after all.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Blast from my Dental Past plus Coping with Medical Procedures

I emerged unscathed from my annual physical (more about that in future posts) but a few weeks ago I started getting worrisome messages from my mouth. Nothing hurt, but whenever I aimed the water pick at my upper right molars, there was blood. When it comes to problems with teeth, I am super-vigilant because my dental past is checkered, to say the least. 

From my early teens to my mid-thirties there was one crisis after another: large cavities requiring extensive excavation, abscessed molars, root canals, and extractions. Heredity and stress probably contributed to this and I probably could have taken better care of my teeth, plus the fact that I was a smoker then. When I moved to Bloomington somebody put me in touch with The SuperDentist. He got right to work fixing up the damage done by neglect and less-than-successful remedies by previous dentists. The SuperDentist (now retired, alas) is a master craftsman; when his patients would move to other parts of the country their new dentists would ask, “Where did you get that wonderful dental work?” After a few years, during which I also quit smoking and my stressful job, my teeth stabilized. Apart from replacing the occasional old filling, there was not much to be done. 

(Side Note: There has been a lot of talk about whether silver amalgam fillings can cause high levels of mercury in the blood. For decades of my life I had a mouth full of those fillings, most of them replaced now. I also worked for a dentist one summer and mixed up the silver amalgam for him. This year I had my mercury level tested and it was very low. If anyone would have been harmed by silver amalgam, you would think it would have been dental workers. In the years before they wore masks all the time, clouds of dust from silver amalgam would be in their faces for much of their work day. Has anyone surveyed them?)

Anyway, I went to my regular dentist and he cleaned out a little something under the gum. Two days later, the bleeding started again so I went to my husband’s periodontist. MHP surveyed the situation. The bad news was that this was the beginning of periodontal disease. The good news was that it was early enough that he could do a laser procedure – no cutting, no sutures – that should take care of it. Since I’m always in favor of getting out in front of impending problems, I said “Let’s do it.”

I’ve had so many medical and dental procedures over the years that I’ve developed a routine that helps to reduce stress and anxiety. First, I try to get a good night’s sleep the night before. The next day I don’t do any strenuous exercise but I do a stretching routine, like the ones in RushFit and P90X. This gets my circulation going, which helps me relax and will promote healing. I wear layers of comfortable clothes, including a light sweater in case the office is over-air conditioned. I bring along something small to read, like a cell phone or paperback book, that can stay in my lap. When I’m waiting for the appointment or sitting by myself in the treatment room I don’t want to be staring off into space worrying about what comes next. Finally, following a tip from my grandmother, I focus on what I’m going to do afterwards.

Compared with many of my past dental adventures, the laser treatment was a piece of cake. There will be follow-up after a couple of weeks and then at longer intervals after that. I’m actually glad to get established with MHP because he will keep an eye on things so that I can avoid periodontal problems in the future.