CANCER RISK & STRESS

Students of the mind/body connection have pondered the relationship between stress and the risk of cancer. A recent article in the science section of the NYTimes http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/29/health/29holocaust.html?_r=1&ref=science  seems to confirm the association.

It seems that the younger the Holocaust victim was, the higher the incidence of cancer of the colon or breast in later life.

We do not have to speculate on the biologic mechanisms involved.  Prolonged, unremitting emotional and physical stress diminishes the body's immune system.

What needs to be elucidate is why there is such a delay in the manifestation of malignancies.

Fortunately, most of us will never have to suffer such horrific experiences.  Yet our everyday lives offer us our mini-catastrophes.  In fact our tendency to catastrophize our life's experience sets us up for immune system degradation and an increased likelihood of infectious diseases as well as malignancies.

The solution is not easy but the consequences are grave–we need to let go of those stressors which can be re-interpreted.  Reframing is a psychological technique.  It involves an act of will which might very well contrary to our innate feelings–to minimize adversity, to regard disappointments and failures as part of life's journey.  To make a conscious decision to learn from them and see the future with an optimistic perspective.

Difficult to be sure, but our very lives may depend upon doing so.

2010–THE YEAR WE TALK ABOUT END-OF-LIFE–OPRAH ARE YOU LISTENING ?

This is not my first posting regarding  end-of life issues and, I surmise, it will not be my last. 

I have no illusions that this posting will do much to bring the topic forward to where it belongs–public discussion and debate.  Ironically, the most personal and private of life's decisions must be discussed publicly and what better forum to begin than on Oprah's show ?

  We must be able to openly and frankly talk about the difficult issues because 1] they will not go away on their own, 2] they will only become more of an issue as our population ages in massive numbers, 3] they will contribute to the demise of our entire health care system as they consume enormous  amounts of economic resources.

Statistics certainly vary regarding how much money is spent on the last six months of anyone's life but they are clearly considerable.  I would be the last one to even consider the amount to be the issue. Yet is it not reasonable to consider the best use of health care dollars?  Is it not possible to shift these financial resources away from fruitless end-of-life care to others who will truly benefit from them?

This is the rare situation in which economics and metaphysics coincide.  It may very well be the case that the  best moral and ethical decision saves society money as well.

What is  at stake is our society's entire metaphysical perspective on life and death.  Attention, attention–death is not a disease.  Just as we were born, we shall die.  You've heard it hear first.

The participants in such a discussion must include, physicians, nurses, economists, ethicists,  philosophers, theologians from the major world's religions and other interested parties.

We need to view death as the normal expected outcome of being born.  Clearly it is to be resisted, confronted, overcome whenever possible I have spent the majority of my life on this planet attempting to do just that.

  Of course it is obvious that we must do  everything reasonable to prolong life.  But the operative word is reasonable.  And granted, there will always be an enormous and troubling gray zone in which much debate will exist as to what constitutes reasonable. 

But there is NO doubt that elderly, demented, cancer ridden individuals [to use three of the stereotypical scenarios] suffering souls have been trapped by the health care system into undergoing painful, expensive and hopeless testing, procedures  and drug therapy.

Society, all of us, must begin to realize that just because we can keep people "alive" in some sense does not mean we should.  We need to see that our loved-ones are not truly living when they are in such a state of existence.  When decisions need to be made regarding prolonging treatment, or placing feeding tubes we need to do what is best for them, not for us. 

 When you love someone, the greatest expression of that love may be to let than go in peace.

Let us openly talk about the good death. The passing from this plane of existence in peace, surrounded by loved-ones and devoid of tubes, catheters and monitors.

My own Mother, suffering from unremitting dementia and weight loss died in her own bed, without a feeding tube. When she was disoriented, she looked up, recognized  her own wallpaper and was temporarily at peace.  Had she spent her last days in a hospital I have no doubt that we would have had to restrain her, restart her iv, replace her foley catheter, strap her into one of those demeaning blue plaid harnesses.  Thankfully we were all spared that scenario.

Just consider what I am saying here. This does not mean turning over these decisions to heartless "death squads" either.

Just because this is a difficult, painful and emotional topic, doesn't mean we can or should continue to avoid it.

I hope 2010 will be the year we begin to talk about it all.  Oprah, are you listening ?

A  happy and healthy and peaceful  2010 to us all.

STRESSED BRAIN SYNDROME [SBS] & NEUROFEEDBACK

Heard of  Stressed Brain Syndrome [SBS] ?  Don't feel bad if you haven't.  I just made the term up.  But most of you fellow travelers at the dawn of 2010 know what I mean.

Is stress worse now than ever ? Hard to be sure but I contend that it many ways it is.  Bad news has always been there and we have evolved to respond to it with our physiologic and neurochemical defense mechanisms.  After the failure to respond to stress can be fatal.

Our problem today is that we are under enormous chronic, continuous stress.  The field of psychoneuroimmunology has revealed powerful connections between the brain, the autonomic nervous system, neuroendocrine transmitters, the hypocampus [limbic system], hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal axis etc.

Our immune systems crash, our ability to remember and be creative suffer.  We suffer.

Why is it worse today?  Sensory overload from techonological and communication devices.  We all know what that means:  24hr news cycles, email, twitter, crackberry addictions, social networking insanity.

Is this SBS merely the beginning of cognitive/emotional stress–the 21st century"s gift to a human brain which cannot possibly evolve quickly enough to deal with it?

Any wonder that we stand on the precipice of  physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual collapse ?

  Is there hope ?  Perhaps neurofeedback will offer us some.  I have written about it before and will continue to do so.  It may very well be the technology we need to tolerate the rest of the technology that seems to be the source of our suffering.

It may be the noninvasive technological "implant" that allows us to calm, learn, expand our brain's capacities without resorting to drugs.

More to come.

 

 

 

 

2010–THE PARADOX –TECHNOLOGY & STRESS

Forget about predictions about the future.  In the 60s, 70s and 80s prognosticators wrote about the liberating benefits of technology.  The future was to offer us such a degree of technological sophistication that we would be awash in free time !

Certainly the irony of such a "miss" is obvious to us all.

Technology may offer enormous benefits but "free time" is certainly not one of them.  Personal computers, Iphones, Blackberries, and their hybrids have made us slaves to technology. The assorted social networking programs [Twitter, Facebook,etc] merely exacerbate the problem.  Baseball?  Texting is the new national pastime.

Information, communication, constant contact is the new addiction and like any addiction, the addict will ultimately suffer for it.

In the "good old days" the inability to reach another human being was an assumption.  If someone returned your phone call within the same 24hr time cycle, it was a great accomplishment.

We also received our news of the day via daily newspapers or the evening TV news.  The obvious traumas of the world were not in our face 24/7 as they are at present.

We actually had time to decompress, to de-stress from the horrors that surround us.  Not now!

The same great technology assaults us with life's anxiety-producing news continuously!

Those who study stress recognize its evolutionary benefits: awareness of danger saves us.  But Darwin could not possibly have condoned the chronic, continuous stress that technology has delivered to us. 

From a physiologic perspective: acute stress can be life saving, chronic stress will kill us.  It will deplete our immune system, induce hypertension and cardiac disease, cripple us with irritable bowel syndrome, make us susceptible to infections and cancer.  Read Hans Selye's analysis of stress–it will become clear.

So as we welcome in a New Year we must acknowledge the dangers of technology and attempt to deal with them and heal from them.  We will not turn back the clock on technology. We will have to learn to live with our addiction.

But perhaps we will recognize, more than ever, the need to deal with the stress.  Meditation, exercise, leaving our Blackberries alone for a few hours, perhaps neurofeedback…… More to come in 2010

Happy New Year!

CAPTURING CARBON– THE NATURAL WAY

The science section of the New York Times has an article by Henry Fountain on new materials to capture carbon.

That's great but in our carbon obsessed culture we often forget the greatest carbon capturing apparatus of all–green plants.

Recall Biology 101.  Yes it is photosynthesis that does what we desire and it does so completely naturally.  Of course it's been occurring since the first cyanobacteria popped up several billion years ago.  These blue-green algae possess this amazing alchemy.  They turn invisible carbon dioxide gas, in the presence of the energy of the sun into water, oxygen and carbon-based biomass.

Feed the planet more carbon dioxide and more will be taken up by chlorophyll containing plants. 

Hell, plant all the green beings you like.  Not only do they suck out the dreaded carbon from our atmosphere, they provide a toxic residue which tend to appreciate–oxygen itself.

So forget about the technology of carbon capturing and do something esthetically pleasing.  Call your landscaper.

THE GIFT OF ADVERSITY

Does it sound strange, ironic or even bizarre to state that adversity is a gift to each of us?  Clearly, we would not consciously choose to suffer or to see others suffer.

But adversity can be seen as a gift to us on a deeper metaphysical level.  Mystics of all religious backgrounds have viewed suffering as the ultimate lesson in compassion.  When we go through difficult times, we should at least feel compassion and empathy for others.  Only when we have truly shared an emotional state of being can we legitimately offer caring and compassion which carries with it the sense of authenticity which truly heals.

Suffering offers us a shared sense of what it means to be human.  It allows us to at least temporarily dismantle our self-created fortress, the defense against feeling too much of another's pain.

Suffering is also a karmic gift to us.  When someone in need seeks our help, we are given a special opportunity to offer charity, caring, empathy.  To selflessly offer something of ourselves to another is the highest form of spiritual enlightenment.  The trap is to avoid letting our ego take all the credit for "doing good".  That is why the medieval Jewish physician and philosopher Moses Maimonides stated that the greatest charity is that which is  given anonymously. 

The beggars of Jerusalem understand the Kabbalistic notion of charity.  They brazenly invite donations, understanding that their approach IS a gift–the opportunity to do good is all we can desire.  

The rest is up to us.

 

ARE WE NATURE’S ALTRUIST’S ?

A recent NYTimes article entitled We May Be Born With An Urge to Help by Nicholas Wade [Nov 30] seems at first glance to contradict my last blog posting on the tribal gene.  But I contend  it does not.

The article speaks to the observation that young children will offer assistance to others who are in need of help. This appears at an age prior to any parental or environmental influence, thereby suggesting a genetic impulse towards altruism.

The article uses such terms as "shared intentionality", "obligatory cooperation" and others to explain this behavior in evolutionary terms.  They were necessary traits to ensure the survival of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

Group cooperation was clearly necessary, likely facilitated by the acquisition of language. References to the nature of the human eye, the presence of sclera, the tendency of babies to watch the movement of eyes rather than the head all suggest an innate ability to "read" the feelings and intentions others.

This is probably when autistic individuals seem so unusual to us–apparently they are not as capable of decoding the more subtle signs of human feeling which contributes to relating to others.

Still, why does all the evidence of human behavior and history unmistakably demonstrate cruelty, abominable behavior towards others–genocides, holocausts, war ?

The answer, I still maintain, is that tribal gene. 

Altruism, cooperative behavior, empathy all seem to end at the gate of the "other".

We love who we love.  We will sacrifice for our "kin".  But if we declare someone to be outside our tribal identity–all bets are off!!

This is the only way to explain what are seemingly contradictory aspects of human nature.  We need to be aware of the true nature of man, if we are to address those horrific consequences of the tribal gene.