Archive for April, 2010

Earth Day

What better way to celebrate than by going barefoot?

What better way to celebrate than to actually feel Mother Earth between our toes?

What better way to celebrate than not to use the resources that go into making shoes?

What better way to celebrate than to raise the consciousness of those around us that shoes are almost never necessary in daily life?

Earth Day. Celebrate it. Barefoot!

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Boston Marathon

There is a nice interview here with James Webber, who ran the Boston Marathon Monday barefoot.

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We’re now moving into tick season. If you look for advice on ticks, almost all sources say the same thing. Here, for instance, is what it says at Wild Survival:

Dress for the outdoors by wearing light colored clothesl Wear long pants tucked into socks or boots. Long sleeves protect bare arms. Do not go barefoot or in sandals. Routinely inspect clothing for ticks.

You can find similar advice at the Columbia County Board of Health or the Nassau County Health Department or the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

So, there you are, in the middle of summer, wearing your shoes, long pants tucked into your socks, long sleeves, hat. You might as well be wearing a space suit. At least a space suit has air conditioning.

The advice we see here looks typical of a lot of advice that is given. Somebody, somewhere, made a best guess, and then everybody else just picks up on it without really analyzing it. We see that a lot when it comes to the myths regarding bare feet. Somebody makes a guess, and it becomes “accepted wisdom” without any strong factual basis.

How do we really dress for the summer? Shorts. Light clothing.

So, if you are wearing shorts anyways, does wearing shoes really make much of a difference in regards to ticks? Probably not. But then again, maybe it does. Because the socks that are being worn give the ticks a new hiding place while they search for a place to attach.

The solution to that is, ta-da, go barefoot. If you are not into completely wrapping yourself up for the summer (yuck), then the best solution is to expose as much skin as possible so that you can see the ticks. Wear shorter shorts; go barefoot.

That way, it is very easy to spot them before they have a chance to attach anywhere. After or during a barefoot hike, I have occasionally found one climbing up my leg, but I have never had one attach. The only time I’ve ever had ticks attach was when my dog brought one home.

So, bottom line? Going barefoot adds no additional risk from ticks, and in fact may reduce the risk by making it easier to find them before they attach and can transmit disease. And once again, the common “advice” is promulgated without actual knowledge.

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[Edited April 18 to clarify concerns about TOMS shoes.]

The article by Darren Richardson that I pointed to in the last blog entry, Shoe company’s ‘One Day Without Shoes’ event leads to soul-searching about soles, mentioned podoconiosis as a reason for wearing shoes. TOMS shoes highlighted it as two of its “Five Facts”:

  1. In Ethiopia, approximately 1 million people are suffering from podoconiosis, a debilitating and disfiguring disease caused by walking barefoot in volcanic soil.
  2. Podoconiosis is 100 percent preventable with basic foot hygiene and wearing shoes.

I thought I’d check into this disease a bit further.

Podoconiasis is a form of elephantiasis. Most elephantiasis is caused by parasitic worms, but podoconiasis is something else entirely. It is caused when a certain kind of soil is walked on. Small particles of that soil (almost nanoparticles) pass through the skin and work their way into the lymphatic system, clogging it (or causing a reaction that clogs it). That causes the foot and leg to swell horribly (making it look like an elephant’s leg, almost).

A very good source of information on podoconiosis is in Podoconiosis: non-infectious geochemical elephantiasis, by Gail Davey, Fasil Tekola, and Melanie J. Newport; Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Volume 101, Issue 12, Pages 1175-1180.

Podoconiosis mainly occurs in equatorial Africa (particularly Ethiopia, but also Uganda, Cameroon, Tanzania, Kenya, etc..), with some occurrences in Central America and elsewhere. However, as mentioned, it requires a particular kind of soil (quoting from the Davey article):

An association between podoconiosis and exposure to the local soil was suspected by Robles at the end of the nineteenth century. However, it was not until Price superimposed maps of disease occurrence onto geological surveys that persuasive evidence of a link with red clays, rich in alkali metals like sodium and potassium and associated with volcanic activity, was provided. The climatic factors necessary for producing irritant clays include high altitude (over 1000 m above sea level) and seasonal rainfall (over 1000mm annually). These conditions contribute to the steady disintegration of lava and the reconstitution of the mineral components into silicate clays, colloid-sized particles of which have been demonstrated in the lower limb lymph node macrophages of those living barefoot on these clays. More recent comparison of soil from an endemic area with that from outside the area revealed high levels of beryllium and zirconium (both known to induce granulomata) but the role of these elements is not yet established.

In many cases, it can take upwards of 30 years for symptoms to occur, and somewhere on the order of 5-10% of the population is affected. There also seems to be a genetic influence. Certain occupations are also at risk (obviously, those who spend a lot of time walking barefoot on these specific soils): farmers, gold miners, and weavers (who sit at a ground-level loom).

It is clear that shoes (or, as discussed in the article, sandals) prevent this condition, though frequent prophylactic washing is also important. Supposedly, this condition even used to occur in Europe (France, Scotland, and Ireland), and disappeared as shoe-wearing became standard. Thus, the efforts of TOMS shoes, when directed to these particularly susceptible populations, has some utility when applied in a very specific manner.

Shoes are tools. Those of us who like to go barefoot realize that there are times that shoes, as tools, are necessary, just as face masks and respirators in mines, as tools, are necessary. Under these conditions, these red-clay, alkali volcanic soils, shoes are necessary tools, and I am not going to say that folks should go barefoot there regardless.

While I recognize TOMS shoes efforts in these areas, it must also be pointed out that their “One Day Without Shoes” really misses that point. They stress that somehow being barefooted is uncomfortable and a real problem everywhere, when that is not the case. They encourage people with feet weakened and softened by shoes to stress them, maybe beyond their current capacity (Darren’s gym analogy is good here), in an attempt to gain their sympathy. Instead, it would be better if TOMS shoes really did stress the real medical condition that requires in a fairly limited portion of the world, for a fairly limited set of people.

To make it clear, I am not endorsing TOMS shoes as a whole. Most of their efforts are misguided, as they seem to think that shoes are required in almost all situations when this is clearly not so. However, when it comes to podoconiosis among these susceptible people, if TOMS shoes provides free protection, it is hard to be heartless and to argue that that is a bad thing and that TOMS should do absolutely nothing. Nonetheless, we can also wonder about follow-up (what happens when those shoes wear out), and we can also wonder if something less drastic than shoes would not be better (since wearing shoes opens one up to other conditions, such as athlete’s foot).

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I just want to point you all to a great article by Darren Richardson: Shoe company’s ‘One Day Without Shoes’ event leads to soul-searching about soles.

A quote:

Those who participated in the “One Day Without Shoes” event should understand that their short time outside of shoes is in no way indicative of actually living without shoes on a regular basis. Based on their brief foray into shoelessness, well-meaning TOMS supporters may think that a life on bare feet is difficult and painful, but unless they have made it a point to exercise their feet through regular barefoot walking, the one day or one hour sans shoes is akin to unfit people going into the gym, engaging in heavy workouts and then talking to each other about how sore their muscles are. Feeling sorry for those who go through that routine every day, they then decide to donate miniature cranes for the regular gym rats so they don’t have to keep doing all that heavy lifting themselves.

Go read it.

[Note: Darren made a slight, non-substantive edit on the material I quoted. I have updated the quote and title here to match his change.]

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The Summons of Spring

Edwin L. Sabin was a turn-of-the-century (early 1900s) newspaperman and writer, with his short stories and poems appearing in magazines of that period. An earlier entry highlighted his The Barefoot Trail.

I guess he was pretty enamored about the childhood freedom of going barefooted (something which has pretty much disappeared these days). Here is a short item of his, from the May, 1908 edition of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine (p. 664):

        The Summons of Spring

        By Edwin L. Sabin

Some day it comes—the subtle announcement of the spring. We may not have responded to the first bluebird, the first robin, the first rain; none of these has appealed. But suddenly spring is thrilling within our soul. We want to go barefoot.

Children are going barefoot. Their feet and legs singularly white after the months of confinement, they are gleefully scampering upon the smooth, hard asphalt of the city’s pave, and, peeling shoes and stockings, are braving the policeman in the parks. And in the country—ah, in the country!

Here exists the real luxuriousness of barefoot state. Once discarded, shoes and stockings are not resumed again until frost. Small and soft are the feet exposed, say, along in April; small and soft and white and exceedingly tender. Every little pebble hurts, and one must tread gingerly, with sundry screwings of the features and many an “Ouch!”

There can be no offense more egregious than at this time to step with shod foot upon somebody’s naked toes. “Look out! Get off, darn you!”

Oh, the sensation of lightness and buoyancy which upbears one in accord with the summons of the season! And (in the country) the sensation of the lush, cool soil against the sole, when the sappy moisture is drunk in by all those pores, long denied, and ascends to vivify the entire being, and when the mud “squshes” up between the wriggling, happy toes; and the bliss of the June road, where the warm dust lies like a velvet pad, so comforting!

How a kid—lad or lass—can run barefoot! How he, or she, wants to run! How he, or she, must run! Bless my heart! This zest to “go barefoot” typifies spring universal, when it is in nature to burst bonds, to revel in youth, and to be thankful for life.

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There is a nice CNN iReport that talks to Julian Romero about barefoot running. It hits all the usual high points about how it is better for your feet, and that it doesn’t make your feet all ugly looking (which seems to be a common misunderstanding). Julian does a very good job.

Now, iReports are created by average people, not reporters, but if CNN likes them, they will “vet” them, and add the CNN logo to the ones they have vetted. This video is one of those.

While the video is fine, the accompanying text suffers from the usual defect that reporters indulge in. The final paragraph of the text says:

What would a Doctor say about the health risks of running barefoot. I spoke with Doctor Fred Nicola, Orthopedic Surgeon and team physician for the Oakland Raiders. Dr. Nicola said, “Barefoot running is acceptable when running short distances on dirt, grass, or track. Long distance running, especially on payment, is not good. It can cause long term damage” Long term damage can include; “plantar fasciisitis, ankle and mid foot arthritis, and serious tendonitis, which can lead to severe foot problems” He also said, “as you get older you loose the natural cushioning on the sole of the foot, and wearing an adequate shoe with support and cushioning will protect the natural foot arches, and protect against damage caused by repetitive impact”.

Dr. Nicola does not agree that it is better for the average runner to go barefoot, but,” for some subsets of runners it may be acceptable.

It’s the usual entrenched podiatrist position, offered without the podiatrist having any experience in the subject matter.

I have no idea, because of the iReport format, whether Julian would have had any chance to sway such a comment, so this is not intended as any criticism of him. But what I’d like to do is offer to folks some suggestions for something to do if you are ever interviewed by a reporter.

You have to keep in mind that “journalism” these days suffers from “he said, she said” syndrome. That is, the reporter seems to think they are doing their job if, after talking to one person, they find another person with an opposing point of view. The reporters make no effort to find out which person has the facts on their side (much of political discourse seems to be driven by this lack of fact-finding).

Thus, I’d like to offer the following points to bring up when talking to a reporter:

Just a couple of suggestions that might improve the accuracy of these media stories.

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