Thursday, August 19, 2004

Eating Again With the Help of Spices

I started really eating again this week. I started out drinking broths from Trader Joes. And then I made myself some vegetable soup, which I pureed in the blender. I even cooked a sweet potato, blended it in its cooking water, and drank that. It was delicious. Then last night I had toast, actual solid food. I had beets and macaroni and cheese for lunch today. I haven't had any tube feedings for days. Whew!

A lot of my discomfort has gone away. Since I'm not having the bad indigestion I always got from the tube feeding, Liberty hears me whimpering a lot less. Actually, my whimpering has just about gone away.

(Liberty's whimpering has increased, because he ended his family leave by returning to work on Monday, but that's another story.)

A lot of discomfort in my throat and mouth was due to dryness, because I couldn't swallow. Now I'm drinking water or echinacea tea or some other liquid almost constantly. I think I must have been expectorating (how's that for a 50 cent word for spitting?) so much because of the dryness, and now I'm not expectorating hardly at all. I went to the grocery store and came home Monday night and told Liberty triumphantly that in all the time in the grocery store I hadn't spit once. What a milestone!

The reduction in expectorating might also be due to hot spices I've been putting in my food. I have been sucking on ginger candy, and I spiced up my home cooked soups with cayenne pepper, garlic, and lots of grated fresh ginger after I read on the Internet several articles about the benefits of these foods, cayenne in particular. Studies have proven that it helps older people who are having trouble eating get their food down better. And capsaicin, the burning substance in chilis, reduces mucous and is helpful for people with sores from radiation and chemotherapy. Here is part of one article that talks about how it helps mouth sores:


The Healing Powers of Hot Peppers

In what often must seem like a wicked twist of fate, most patients who receive radiation or chemotherapy to the head and neck develop serious oral lesions. The treatment necessary to make them better, at least initially, can make them feel worse. These sores of the mouth, or oral mucositis, are not only painful but "also can limit adequate nutritional intake and can decrease willingness of patients to continue treatment," according to the study Capsaicin for the Treatment of Oral Mucositis Pain, which appeared in the bulletin Principles & Practices of Oncology in January 1995.

The use of capsaicin as a reliever of mouth pain has a long history. A sixteenth century Franciscan monk living in Mexico found that the Aztec Indians used chiles as a "remedy to an injury to the tongue; biting of the tongue; laceration of the tongue." . . . Whether they knew it or not, the Aztecs were on to something big.

Fast-forward to the twentieth century. In 1994, Yale University Ph.D. candidate Tracy Karrer had the idea to study the effects of capsaicin on desensitization of the mouth in relation to taste, touch and temperature in human beings. Working in conjunction with Yale professor Linda Bartoshuk Ph.D., they tested how much capsaicin it would take to desensitize the mouth mucous membranes. . . . .

Bartoshuk became interested in capsaicin more than twenty years ago. Until recently, she says, they didn't do any trials with capsaicin out of fear they would damage people. But the desire to help those who suffered from oral mucositis pain was greater than the fear, and a clinical trial was set up. "Our first test subject was a nurse with cancer who suffered from mouth lesions she developed during chemotherapy. When I first applied the capsaicin, my hand was shaking, and so was her tongue." The nurse and many other test subjects proved that through desensitization of the mucous membrane, capsaicin has provided a substantial amount of pain relief for oral pain sufferers.

Yale medical student Wolffe Nadoolman made a good idea even better by suggesting that the capsaicin be packaged within a candy to make it more palatable. What they came up with was a taffy because it is soft and easily ingested without additional pain. While all of this information is very promising, Bartoshuk cautioned that many more in-depth clinical studies must be done before the FDA can approve the "cancer candy" as a treatment. "There are many areas of pain that I believe capsaicin can effectively help treat, from burn victims, to children who have suffered side effects from radiation or chemotherapy. We would like to develop products such as chile gummy bears or capsaicin popsicles in a suitable strength for kids."



I contacted Professor Bartoshuk (the researcher in the above article) by email at Yale today to tell her that there is a lot of candy with capsaicin available commercially already, in Mexican stores. I wrote:


I've seen lots of candies with chilis in a Mexican grocery store called Northside Supermercado in downtown San Jose, where I live. I stood at the candy rack amazed one day reading the lists of ingredients. This leads me to believe that these kinds of candies must be common in Mexico.

Instead of going through the process of setting up the manufacturing of cayenne taffee commercially, perhaps those interested can set up an import or local purchase of these candies, which might be the easier way to go.


I might even be working soon on a very short contract.

Judy Keene, the publications manager from a Sun vendor who I worked with a lot in my last full-time job called me this week. I immediately started apologizing because I had not thanked her for a charming package of things she wrapped to make me laugh that I had received from her last week. There were a spinning top, Playdough animals, goofy socks, a whole bunch of thoughtful surprises. She called me because she had been asking other people I used to work with at Sun's Network Storage group if they were free to do a short contract for her company. Apparently, the writers all suggested me, but she told them that she hadn't called me because she knew I was still recuperating (she is on the email list). One writer was so insistent that she try me anyway, she gave me a call. At first I thought I couldn't handle it, partly because I thought that part time work would immediately disqualify me from disability payments. But after calling 10 times, I finally got through to the disability office, and I was told that I could work part time and they would just deduct whatever I made from the amount they send me.

I called Judy and left a message yesterday. She hasn't called back yet. Maybe she found somebody else. We'll have to see.

The disability office is going to send me a form, which I'll bring to Dr. Wu next week, to ask her to fill out to extend my disability, if she doesn't think I'm ready for working full time yet.

Parting thought: You know what else is cool? If I need a Tums, I can suck on it and swallow it, instead of grinding it up, mixing it with water, and injecting it into my stomach tube. Thank God for everything, but especially this little favor.

And I'm going to a restaurant for the first time (not counting the take-out miso soup I bought from Okayama restaurant in nearby Japantown a few nights ago). Because my friend Nanci Kim is leaving next week for Korea to teach at Seoul University, I'm taking her to a Thai restaurant Friday night. At the very least, I'm sure I'll be able to eat the soup.

I'm so excited!
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