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Dr. Ted’s Blog

A Great Book for Stretching Excercises


This is a wonderful and cheap paperback that has muscle group-specific exercises (how do I stretch my hamstrings?) and exercise-specific stretches as well (what do I do for soccer?). If you are tight or having muscle pains from sports (or aging, in my case) this book could help.

Stretching

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I haven’t encountered any source on this subject as broad, accessible, and easily applied as Bob Anderson’s classicStretching, a patient and friendly stand-in for my eight-grade P.E. teacher.

The 30th anniversary edition of this guidebook came out recently, with even more stretches and illustrations, and it’s easily the most comprehensive work on the subject. I love the activity-specific sections: cyclists, for instance, are shown stretches that not only address the muscle groups made tight and tense by our specific sport, but the stretches geared toward bike riders even include a bicycle to be utilized as a support. Activities from weightlifting to computer using get their own sections, too.

Organizationally,Stretchingshines. Tight neck? Rigid shoulders? Thumb through to your proscribed routine and get to work. With minimal flexibility but a willingness to make an effort, almost anyone can use this book to become more limber, healthier.

— Elon Schoenholz

 

Stretching: 30th Anniversary Revised Edition
By Bob Anderson, illustrations by Jean Anderson
2010, 240 pages
$14

Available fromAmazon

Why Stretch?
– Reduce muscle tension and make the body feel more relaxed
– Help coordination by allowing for freer and easier movement
– Make strenuous activities like running, skiing, tennis, swimming, and cycling easier because it prepares you for activity; it’s a way of signaling the muscles that they are about to be used.

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And Now the Wall Street Journal Weighs In on Autism

Lancet Retracts Study Tying Vaccine to Autism

 

The study that first suggested a link between vaccines and autism and spurred a long-running, acrimonious debate over the safety of vaccines has been retracted by the British medical journal that published it. The withdrawal supports the scientific evidence that vaccinations don’t cause autism, but isn’t likely to persuade advocacy groups that believe in a link.

A new autism study shows clusters of high autism rates in parts of California. WSJ’s health columnist Melinda Beck joins Simon Constable on the News Hub with more.

The 1998 study of 12 children triggered worry among British parents that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine caused autism, and many decided not to immunize their children against measles, according to Richard Horton, editor in chief of the Lancet, which issued the retraction Tuesday. He called the study the “starting pistol,” though not the only cause, of the controversy.

Concern about the safety of vaccines, particularly regarding the preservative often used, thimerosal, which contains mercury, spread to the U.S. as well. Research has shown that as many as 2.1% of U.S. children weren’t immunized with the MMR vaccine in 2000, up from 0.77% of children in 1995, according to a 2008 study published in Pediatrics.

“This retraction by the Lancet came far too late,” said Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a coinventor of a vaccination for babies against a gastrointestinal virus, Rotateq, that is marketed by Merck & Co. “It’s very easy to scare people; it’s very hard to unscare them.”

A widely cited 2004 statistical review of existing studies by nonprofit health-information provider the Institute of Medicine, which traced the vaccine theory back to the Lancet study, concluded there was no causal link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Some autism activist groups, however, continue to advocate against vaccinations for children, despite the lack of scientific evidence for such a link.

“Certainly the retraction of this paper doesn’t mean that MMR doesn’t cause autism and it’s all a farce,” said Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association. It is “possible” that the MMR vaccine causes autism, she said, but “the science is not there in terms of the mechanism.” The concern is that measles virus has been found in children’s intestines after vaccination, said Ms. Fournier.

“No one is anti-vaccine,” she said. “It’s a matter of having vaccines be as safe as they can.”

A study published in 2008 by researchers from several universities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined children with gastrointestinal problems who had autism compared with those who didn’t have autism. They concluded there wasn’t any evidence that the vaccine was responsible for autism.

[0202vaccine]Associated Press

Ten of the 13 authors of the original paper, all of whom were researchers at the Royal Free Hospital and School of Medicine in London, partially retracted the paper in 2004. However, the first author, Andrew Wakefield, didn’t. Dr. Wakefield, who is now at the Thoughtful House Center for Children in Austin, Texas, didn’t immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

“Many consumer groups have spent 10 years waging a campaign against vaccines even in the face of scientific evidence,” said Dr. Horton of the Lancet. “We didn’t have the evidence back in 2004 to fully retract the paper but we did have enough concern to persuade the authors to partly retract the paper.”

The Lancet decided to issue a complete retraction after an independent regulator for doctors in the U.K. concluded last week that the study was flawed. The General Medical Council’s report on three of the researchers, including Dr. Wakefield, found evidence that some of their actions were conducted for experimental purposes, not clinical care, and without ethics approval. The report also found that Dr. Wakefield drew blood for research purposes from children at his son’s birthday party, paying each child £5 (about $8).

The Lancet’s Dr. Horton said the journal was particularly concerned about the ethical treatment of the children in the study, and that the children had been “cherry-picked” by the study’s authors rather than just showing up in the hospital, as described in the paper.

The authors “did suggest these children arrived one after another and this syndrome was apparent, which does lead you to think this is something serious,” said Dr. Horton.

“I hope this brings closure to this controversy,” said Fred Volkmar, an autism researcher and professor of psychiatry at the Yale Child Study Center who wasn’t involved in the Lancet study. “My fear, unfortunately, is that this won’t totally allay the fear of all parents.”

In the 1998 paper, Dr. Wakefield and his colleagues described 12 children with gastrointestinal problems. Eight experienced symptoms that were thought to be related to the MMR vaccine, according to their parents or a doctor, and nine of the 12 children exhibited autistic behaviors.

Dr. Wakefield has been outspoken about his concern about the measles vaccine. He has continually pushed the view that the vaccine caused autism, said Greg Poland, professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the Mayo Clinic and director of the vaccine research group in Rochester, Minn.

“With the retraction, the hypothesis that he put forward has been debunked,” said Dr. Poland.

—Peter Loftus contributed to this article.

Write to Shirley S. Wang at shirley.wang@wsj.com

More About Autism and Vaccines


This is from the British government and it’s equivalent to the American Academy of Pediatrics. They, too, in addition to the AAP, the World Health Organization and the American Committee on Immunization Practices have concluded that vaccines are not only safe but that they CATEGORICALLY DO NOT cause or contribute to autism, which is KNOWN to have genetic causes.


Study Linking Vaccine to Autism Broke Research Rules, U.K. Regulators Say

Nicky Broyd

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February 2, 2010 — The British doctor who led a study suggesting a link between the measles/ mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly,” a U.K. regulatory panel has ruled.

The panel represents the U.K. General Medical Council (GMC), which regulates the medical profession. It ruled only on whether Andrew Wakefield, MD, and two colleagues acted properly in carrying out their research, and not on whether MMR vaccine has anything to do with autism.

In the ruling, the GMC used strong language to condemn the methods used by Wakefield in conducting the study.

In the study, published 12 years ago, Wakefield and colleagues suggested there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Their study included only 12 children, but wide media coverage set off a panic among parents. Vaccinations plummeted; there was a subsequent increase in U.K. measles cases.

In 2004, 10 of the study’s 13 authors disavowed the findings. The Lancet, which originally published the paper, retracted it after learning that Wakefield — prior to designing the study — had accepted payment from lawyers suing vaccine manufacturers for causing autism.

Fitness to Practice

The GMC’s Fitness to Practise panel heard evidence and submissions for 148 days over two and a half years, hearing from 36 witnesses. It then spent 45 days deciding the outcome of the hearing. Besides Wakefield, two former colleagues went before the panel -John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch. They were all found to have broken guidelines.

The disciplinary hearing found Wakefield showed a “callous disregard” for the suffering of children and abused his position of trust. He’d also “failed in his duties as a responsible consultant.”

He’d taken blood samples from children attending his son’s birthday party in return for money, and was later filmed joking about it at a conference.

He’d also failed to disclose he’d received money for advising lawyers acting for parents who claimed their children had been harmed by the triple vaccine.

Not Over Yet

The GMC will next decide whether Wakefield and his former colleagues committed serious professional misconduct. That could lead to being struck off the medical register. That decision may not be taken for several more months.

Wakefield wasn’t in the hearing, but outside the GMC offices he told reporters, “Naturally I am extremely disappointed by the outcome of today’s proceedings. The allegations against me and against my colleagues are both unfounded and unjust.” He continued, “I invite anyone to examine the contents of these proceedings and come to their own conclusion.”

Wakefield was cheered by a group of parents outside the hearing who are still sure he is right, even though his findings have been widely discredited.

“It remains for me to thank the parents whose commitment and loyalty has been extraordinary,” he said. “I want to reassure them that science will continue in earnest.”

Wakefield now works in the U.S. at an autism center called Thoughtful House, which he helped found. In a statement on its web site the center states that it is “disappointed” by the GMC decision, believing the charges against the three doctors were “unfounded and unfair.”

On the web site’s “frequently asked questions” the center asks: “Has Dr. Wakefield been accused of any breach of medical ethics while serving as the Executive Director of Thoughtful House?” The answer is “Absolutely not.”

Safety of MMR Vaccine

The government and medical experts continue to stress that the MMR vaccine is safe.

The MMR triple vaccine was licensed in the U.S. in 1971 and first used in the U.K. in 1988. Over 100 countries now use it, and it is estimated that more than 500 million doses have been administered.

At the peak of the MMR scare in 2002, there were 1,531 articles about MMR in the U.K. national press; in 1998 there had been just 86.

Between 2001 and 2003, U.K. opinion polls showed that the percent of people believing the MMR vaccine to be safe dropped from over 70% to just over 50%.

U.K. Health Protection Agency figures show measles incidence increased dramatically following the drop in the number of children being vaccinated. The number of confirmed cases between 2007 and 2008 was 2,349, roughly equal to the combined total for the previous eleven years.

SOURCES:

U.K. General Medical Council.

General Medical Counsel, “Fitness to Practise Panel Hearing, 28 January 2010.”

Andrew Wakefield, MD.

House of Commons Library Measles and MMR Statistics.

Thoughtful House web site.

BMJ web site.

BBC News online

One More Nail in the Coffin of Autism and Vaccines


In what is rapidly becoming a true non-issue, at least among the people that study this for a living, the British journal Lancet has retracted the findings of the ORIGINAL study that they themselves published over 10 years ago that seemed to link autism with vaccines. They now state unequivocally that this study was flawed by the intentional use of falsified numbers and have withdrawn their support for both the study itself and the now disgraced principal author, Dr Andrew Wakefield. Read on.

From WebMD Health News

Study Linking Autism to Vaccine Retracted

Daniel J. DeNoon

February 2, 2010 — The venerable British medical journal The Lancet has retracted a 1998 study suggesting a link between autism and childhood vaccination with the measles-mumps-rubella MMR vaccine.

The Lancet tells WebMD that it has retracted “10 or 15” studies in its 186-year history. The retraction follows the finding of the U.K. General Medical Council (GMC) that says study leader Andrew Wakefield, MD, and two colleagues acted “dishonestly” and “irresponsibly” in conducing their research.

The Lancet specifically refers to claims made in the paper that the 12 children in the study were consecutive patients that appeared for treatment, when the GMC found that several had been selected especially for the study. The paper also claimed that the study was approved by the appropriate ethics committee, when the GMC found it had not been.

“We fully retract this paper from the published record,” The Lancet editors say in a news release.

The retraction means the study will no longer be considered an official part of the scientific literature.

BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal, has competed with The Lancet since 1840. BMJ editor Fiona Godlee says she welcomes the Lancet retraction.

“This will help to restore faith in this globally important vaccine and in the integrity of the scientific literature,” Godlee says in a news release.

In 2004, 10 of Wakefield’s 13 co-authors disavowed the findings of the 1998 study. Although the study never claimed to have definitively proven a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, sensational media reports ignited a public panic. MMR vaccinations fell dramatically.

More rigorous studies have found no link between autism and the MMR vaccine. Last year, the U.S. “vaccine court” rejected U.S. lawsuits claiming that there was a plausible link between the vaccine and autism.

Wakefield continues to proclaim his innocence and defends his earlier work. He now resides in Texas, where he is executive director of an alternative medicine center for autism treatment and research.

SOURCES:

The Lancet, published online Feb. 2, 2010.

Developmental Milestones-Possible Red Flags

Most parents wonder from time to time if their child is developing “normally”. The American Academy of Pediatrics and other national groups have well established guidelines for development, but keep in mind they are just that—guidelines. There can be a wide range of normalcy around these milestones, particularly when you take into consideration prematurity and illness states.
As your healthcare providers, it is important for us to regularly assess your young child for age appropriate skills and behaviors. As long as she/he is continuing to learn and do new things, all should be well!
Listed below are some possible red flags for delayed development. It is important to recognize these possible signs in a timely manner and have the child evaluated by a developmental specialist or early intervention agency. Locally, Early Steps or Face-Autism, Inc. provides free screening for children less than 3 years of age. Children over 3 years can be seen through the school system or privately by Neurology or Psychiatric Services.

Possible Red Flags

The child:
> Does not respond to name by12 months of age or to parent’s smile or other facial expressions
> Doesn’t snuggle when picked up, but arches the back instead
> Does not point to objects to show interest (like the fire truck going by) by 14 months
> Doesn’t play pretend (“feeding dolly” or “driving” the car) by 18 months of age
> Doesn’t bring objects to “show” to parents
> Avoids eye contact and would rather play alone
> Doesn’t say single words by 15 months or 2-word phrases by 24 months
> Repeats exactly what others say without understanding its meaning (parroting or echolalia)
> Doesn’t start or can’t continue a conversation
> Seems to be unaware when others are talking to them but responds to other sounds like a car horn
> Does repetitive behaviors like rocking, spinning, swaying, twirling of fingers or flapping hands (esp. when excited or upset)
> Likes routines, order and rituals
> Doesn’t show concern or empathy for others

If you have any concerns about your child or grandchild, please bring it to our attention so we can assess and make appropriate referrals.

Some Thoughts About Skin

Seven Steps to Stop Sweaty Feet

There are 250,000 sweat glands in each foot, producing half a pint of moisture per day. People with excess sweating, called hyperhidrosis, can sweat much more than that, leading to scaling, fungus infections, and overall sandal-unworthy feet.

If you have mild to moderate excess sweating:

  • Wash your feet every day with antibacterial soap, such as an antibacterial hand soap. Then dry them completely, including between the toes (you know you don’t).
  • Use a hairdryer on the cool setting to get your feet completely dry.
  • Apply a foot powder (powder is better than corn starch, which tends to absorb the moisture, leaving a wet paste on your skin). Try Lamisil AT defense with tolfnaftate, an antifungal, if you have a tendency to get athlete’s foot, or try Dr. Scholl’s Deodorant Foot Powder with Zinoxol (zinc oxide and baking soda) if you have smelly, sweaty feet.
  • Wear synthetic socks, instead of cotton (yes, you read it right. NOT cotton). Synthetic socks wick moisture away instead of trapping it like a sponge. Try Adidas’ Clima Cool socks.
  • Use a spray antiperspirant such as Gold Bond Maximum Strength Foot Spray. Your regular underarm antiperspirant will work as well, but the aluminum chloride concentration is much lower, so it is less effective.

If you have seriously sweaty feet or hyperhidrosis:

  • Call our office. We can prescribe a prescription-strength antiperspirant (Drysol ®). After one week of applying Drysol nightly, most patients have a significant reduction in foot sweating. It can, however, be irritating and some people cannot tolerate using it every day.
  • Botox®. Yup, Botox. When injected into your feet, it blocks the signal from the nerves that turn on your sweat glands, stopping sweating. The downside: getting stuck with little needles about a hundred times on the bottom of your feet. The upside: a marked reduction in sweating that lasts many months.

Will Drinking Water Moisturize Your Skin?

This is a popular myth, perpetuated by fitness and fashion magazines.

Only one study ever linked drinking water with skin hydration. That study used expensive mineral water, not plain bottled or tap water, and the study didn’t have any impact on your skin and no controlled study has ever shown that any type of drinking water has an effect on your skin.

From a physiologic perspective, drinking water could only have a negligible impact on your skin’s hydration. In fact, patients who have too much water in their tissues (edema) do not have healthy skin. For example, patients with venus insufficiency who have swollen, fluid filled legs have skin that is often dry, itchy, and scaly.

The amount of water in your skin after a 5 minute shower is magnitudes higher than you could achieve by trying to hydrate it from the inside out. The key is to apply a cream or ointment when your skin is still wet to seal in the moisture.

Then drink as little or as much water as you like.

Lotion or Cream?

When cool, dry air hits it makes many patients’ skin dry. Many tell me that their skin remains scaly and itchy despite moisturizing daily. The best advice I can give is to teach them to moisturize properly.

The first question I ask is: Are you using a lotion or a cream?

The difference between the two comes down to the water content. Creams and lotions are mixtures of oil and water. It is the oil component that is most important for your dry skin.

Lotions are droplets of oil mixed in water. They have a high water and low oil content. As such they are easy to spread on dry skin. However, the water is not well absorbed and quickly evaporates, which actually dries your skin further.

In contrast, creams are droplets of water mixed in oil. They have a high oil and low water content. They are more difficult to smear on dry skin but apply easily to moist skin. Therefore, they are best used immediately after your shower or bath when your skin has soaked up the water like a sponge. Applying cream then creates a layer of oil that locks the moisture in your skin. The water does not evaporate, and your skin stays hydrated.

This is why in the wintertime I advise patients to use only creams. In the warm, humid summer, lotions are actually better.

Lip Licker’s Eczema

With holiday and winter ski trips upon us, this common childhood aliment is likely to arise. When many kids have dry skin, they often also get red irritated skin around their mouths. As the skin gets irritated, many children will begin to lick the area to keep it wet. Unfortunately, the chronic licking establishes a pattern of accelerated evaporation and destruction of the epidermal barrier leading to the classic lip licker’s dermatitis. Out of desperation, parents try topical steroid creams and antifungal products with little improvement. Fortunately, this type of rash usually responds well to water barrier moisturizers such as Vaseline, Aquaphor Healing Ointment, and Eucerin Original Moisturizing Cream, etc. The trick is that you have to put moisturizers around your child’s lips several times an hour, to help break the cycle of irritation and lip licking.

Sunscreens, UVA and UVB

I took this from a journal called The Prescriber’s Letter. It discusses a few of the things to be considered when buying a sun screen.
A new sunscreen called Mexoryl SX will raise questions about optimal sunscreen protection.
SPF is often misunderstood. SPF applies only to UVB…not UVA. UVB causes the familiar sunburn. Explain that SPF is an estimate of how long a person can stay in the sun without obvious sunburn.
For example, if a person would burn in 10 minutes with NO protection, then an SPF 15 sunscreen will protect 15 times longer or 150 minutes…and an SPF 30 would protect 30 times longer or 300 minutes.
Tell patients there’s no proof that an SPF over 50 gives any measurable added benefit.
UVB ratings get the most attention, but are only part of the story.
UVA ratings will appear on some sunscreens. You’ll see 1, 2, 3, or 4 stars indicating low, medium, high, or highest protection.
UVA causes skin aging and skin cancer…not visual sunburn.
For now, recommend sunscreens labeled broad-spectrum. These contain UVA blockers such as avobenzone, zinc oxide, and/or titanium.
You’ll now see Mexoryl SX (ecamsule) in some Anthelios sunscreens. Mexoryl SX covers some of the shorter UVA rays that are not covered by avobenzone…and it’s more stable in sunlight.
But when avobenzone is combined with octocrylene, oxybenzone, or other ingredients it’s more stable and has a broader spectrum.
Recommend zinc oxide or titanium dioxide for sensitive skin. They block UVA and UVB by sitting on top of the skin…not binding to it.
Water resistance ratings refer to how long the product is effective during swimming, heavy sweating, etc.
Explain that a product labeled “water-resistant” lasts about 40 mins in water…and a “very water-resistant” product lasts about 80 mins.
Proper application is key. Instruct people to apply sunscreen 20 minutes before sun exposure…and reapply at least every 2 hours.
Emphasize applying enough…about 1/2 to one teaspoon per body part (leg, arm, back, face, etc)…or about 1 ounce for the full body. Applying only half the amount will give only half the protection.
Advise avoiding sunscreen/insect repellent combos. Suggest using separate products because the sunscreen needs to be applied more often than the repellent. Advise patients to apply the sunscreen first, then the repellent.
Drug-induced photosensitivity is primarily due to UVA rays.
Advise patients taking photosensitizing drugs to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen.

Sears Treats Reservists Right


This is another post that doesn’t have much to do with children’s health, but if you or a loved one is or has served in the military’s reserves, you will be pleased to find that some large corporations are driven by more than just profit. This is taken from an e-mail that has been circulating through our in-boxes lately, and has been verified by Snopes.com. Read on.

Subject: Sears

I assume you have all seen the reports about how Sears is treating its reservist employees who are called up? By law, they are required to hold their jobs open and available, but nothing more. Usually, people take a big pay cut and lose benefits as a result of being called up…Sears is voluntarily paying the difference in salaries and maintaining all benefits, including medical insurance and bonus programs, for all called up reservist employees for up to two years. I submit that Sears is an exemplary corporate citizen and should be recognized for its contribution.

Suggest we all shop at Sears, and be sure to find a manager to tell them why we are there so the company gets the positive reinforcement it well deserves.

Pass it on.

So I decided to check it out before I sent it forward. I sent the following email to the Sears Customer Service Department:

I received this email and I would like to know if it is true. If it is, the Internet may have just become one very good source of advertisement for your store. I know I would go out of my way to buy products from Sears instead of another store for a like item even if it was cheaper at the other store.

Here is their answer to my email………………….

Dear Customer:

Thank you for contacting Sears.

The information is factual. We appreciate your positive feedback. Sears regards service to our country as one of greatest sacrifices our young men and women can make. We are happy to do our part to lessen the burden they bear at this time.

Bill Thorn
Sears Customer Care
webcenter@sears.com
1-800-349-4358

Please pass this on to all your friends, Sears needs to be recognized for this outstanding contribution and we need to show them as Americans, we do appreciate what they are doing for our military!!!!!!!!!!!

Interesting Facts About Salt


This has little or nothing to do with pediatrics and/or children’s health. I just thought it is interesting, and you may, too.

Mining salt in Bavaria
By Morgen Jahnke

Nowadays, we take salt for granted. Sold for a pittance, the most common of spices, we think of it as an everyday thing, when we think of it at all. It wasn’t always so. In fact, great empires and fortunes rose and fell according to its supply. It is hard to imagine a modern war being fought over salt. But consider these historical events, as recounted in Margaret Visser’s Much Depends on Dinner:
Morocco fought Mali in the sixteenth century for the mines of Taoudeni; the Venetians, whose salt interests are an historical study in themselves, destroyed Comacchio in the tenth century and the salt gardens of Cervia in the fourteenth; pirates throughout the centuries ambushed and raided the slow heavy convoys of salt ships.
There are plenty of other examples—all of which seem outlandish to us today, considering that the biggest battles fought over salt have to do with whether it should be spread over icy roads in winter. Salt has lost its nobility, its historical power—but from the salt-starved Vikings to the salt-greedy Romans, salt has played an important role in human history.

The Saltman Cometh

Nowhere does this seem more obvious than in the salt-rich environs of eastern Bavaria and western Austria. The de facto capital of the region, Salzburg (or “salt town”) was built by its first archbishop in the eighth century with profits from salt mining, but the practice of salt mining goes back even further, to the civilization of the early Celts. In his book Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky describes the discovery by local salt miners in the 1600s of a “perfectly preserved body, dried and salted ‘like codfish,’” believed now to date to 400 B.C. Dressed in colorful fabrics, this “saltman” and two others like him were found with the tools of their trade near them, proof of an ancient salt mining culture.

Salt of the Earth

This salt mining tradition continues in the modern salt works along the German/Austrian border, and it’s possible to experience some of what those ancient miners might have felt, deep in the mountains of salt. Founded in 1517, the Salzbergwerk Berchtesgaden (“Berchtesgaden salt mine”)—located near Salzburg but on the German side of the border—once entertained only aristocratic visitors, but now welcomes the public to its underground facilities and caves. Berchtesgaden, erroneously linked in the public imagination with Hitler’s southern headquarters (they were actually located at Obersalzberg, a small settlement further up in the mountains) is a town that developed in proximity to the Augustinian monastery that owned the Salzbergwerk. In the early 1800s the monastery was converted into a palace for the Wittelsbachs, rulers of Bavaria at the time, and the entire area became associated with this colorful family.

Mine Games

Still operational, the Salzbergwerk is a joy to visit. Donning the traditional leather vests and helmets of the miners, you start to feel as if you are a miner yourself. This sensation is heightened when, after a short train ride, you are asked to slide down a wooden chute into the mine itself. After overcoming my apprehension, I slid into the dark, feeling even more like a miner heading to work. Our guide, a local man, explained the workings of the mine to us—or so I gathered, since I couldn’t understand his thick “Bayrisch” accent. This only added to the feeling of being in a different world, a world where life goes on underground.
The most striking element of this topsy-turviness was the presence of a large underground lake in the mine. Gliding silently across its depths on a wooden platform boat, it was eerie to see the lights at its edges through the darkness, and to feel the oppressive nearness of the stone “ceiling.” I imagined myself gliding across the river Styx, and shivered in the damp air.

Worth Its Salt

Returning from the depths of the mine, it was hard to think of salt the same way again. It is, after all, the only rock that we eat, and with thousands of tons of it looming above your head, you don’t immediately think, “pass the salt.” Vital to the functioning of our vital organs, we would die without salt, yet we live in a salt-glutted world, so much so that we are told to reduce our intake, for the sake of our health.
In their song “NaCl (Sodium Chloride),” folk singers Kate and Anna McGarrigle make a case for the worthiness of salt. Describing the meeting, mating and melding of a sodium atom and a chlorine atom in the primordial sea, they ask us to “Think of the love that you eat, when you salt your meat.” Silly, meant to be taken with a “grain of salt,” yet it expresses the mystery of salt, the serendipitous compound that protects our cells, and fills the ocean. —Morgen Jahnke

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