Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cognitive Decline with Suspected Neuroinflammation

I feel cranky and stupid: Does my brain look swollen to you?

It has been clear to medical science for a while that chronic inflammation can contribute to neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. There is now additional evidence that inflammation can also have consequences on basic mood and cognition.

I'm definitely not at my sharpest or my most generous of mood. And given my recent adventures in autoimmunity, I definitely have an inflammation problem. Could the two be related? 

Or am I just a cranky, sleep-deprived middle aged woman?


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Excessive Glycogen Availability with a Side of Collagen

I am eating a lot less sugar lately...but, of course, I am still surrounded by it.


There is more and more evidence that consuming too many easily digested carbohydrates can have serious health consequences that are neurological, cardiovascular and autoimmune. Most of the sugar we ingest is stored in cells in the  liver and muscles in the form of glycogen for future use. But we can only store so much at a time.

The Paleo community argues that we ought to eat more like our Paleolithic ancestors did. These hunter gatherers probably walked something like 11 miles a day in search of foods that were extremely low in highly processed sugars. If these people were hunting animals, they weren't looking for those manufactured by Haribo.

So, maybe a head covering made out a giant gummy bear might not be a good idea.

But Paleo folks are very much pro-collagen, with the strange result that there are many "Paleo" recipes for gummies.  And indeed, the gelatin in most gummy bears is made from animal skins and bones. (Google it if you doubt- it's one of those "frightening things you didn't know" sort of memes)

Sadly, both refined sugar and animal skin and bones have not been on my menu lately.  I have at least temporarily starved out much of my "appetite" for sugar. After a few days without food, something like romaine lettuce tastes remarkably sweet. But I was a lifelong appreciator of excessively sweet things, so future overconsumption of carbohydrates still seems like a strong possibility.

I can't really say, however, that I miss gummy bears. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Neuroplastic Metabiosis with Opportunistic Organism

Meditation does not always produce a tranquil mind.


In my continuing, and arguably neurotic, quest to not again be covered in a revolting skin disorder, and to generally be more healthy, I have tried to pick up the habit of meditation. 

This is not because I particularly enjoy the activity. According to my former internist, research has shown that a regular meditation practice is "more effective than topical steroids!" A low bar, perhaps, but still relevant.

Trying to find time to just think about breathing is of course a challenge. I wake up 15 minutes early at 5:45, and try to work on the breathing in and out thing while still in bed. (Ha! I know. It barely counts if one is still in bed)

My "practice" is often interrupted by the sounds of video gameplay coming from the living room. Sounds of explosions...mayhem...giant lizards...

Metabiosis is a process in which one organism prepares an environment for another. This term usually refers a "parasitoid relationship," and perhaps it might also describe procreation and parenting...

There was a period during my first pregnancy where my son's father and I cheerfully referred to our future child as "the parasite." 

Now that he and his brother are in the world, sitting on our couch, waiting impatiently to be served a tasty afterschool snack, perhaps metabiosis might still come to mind. 

There is definitely no question that they have infected my mind as well as my body.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Psychosomatic Autointoxication

(You might not want to think too long about what is in your colon)


When much recent scientific research underlines the importance of diet and the gut microbiome in overall human health, one could be reminded of the old school digestion-obsessed health gurus like Dr Jenson, Paul Bragg, Dr. Shelton, or even John Harvey Kellogg. 

Obsessing about what is going in, and what is going on inside, can often lead to obsessing about what is coming out...or about what is not coming out.

We've all heard someone make the ridiculous  statement that people carry around 10 pounds of health-endangering decaying fecal material in their colons- that is unless they have done something extraordinary to remove it. 

In the slightly more plausible theory of "autointoxication," proponents argue that poor diet leads the body to reabsorb waste products through the walls of the large intestine from material retained within. that really what happens? Well, maybe not...but no one feels good about poor internal housekeeping, so to speak.

While I remain mostly frightened of the various procedures that might access my contents of my large intestine, during the last few months, I have spent more time discussing the bowel habits of myself and my family than I ever imagined possible. 

I can't make fun of anyone else for spending too much time talking about poop, as I now live in a glass house on this topic.

But I am glad that I don't have a glass colon.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Suppression of Symptoms


In the Functional Medicine model, one tries to move past just treating the symptoms to determining the source of the problem. Instead of using a medication to cure/suppress the headache, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or the disgusting rash, one tries to find the underlying cause.

I am all for this philosophy, and I did my best to refrain from medicating my disgusting rash into submission...but underlying causes can be pretty murky, multifaceted and hard to pin down.

Sometimes a little- or a lot- of suppression isn't all bad.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Problematic Body Composition

(But take note of the low percentage of abdominal fat)


While I usually think about "composition" more in the fine art sense, in the health and fitness realm, the term "body composition" refers to the relative percentages of fat, muscle water and bone.

My body composition has been a bit off both senses.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Topical Mimesis of Hormetic Stressors

What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger...Unless It Annoys You to Death.


Poor Self-Regulation Can Be Contagious.


Hormesis "is a biological phenomenon whereby a beneficial effect (improved health, stress tolerance, growth or longevity) results from exposure to low doses of an agent that is otherwise toxic or lethal when given at higher doses." Exercise might be described as hormetic. Antioxidants in food could be another example. 

Thinking about about my immediate superficial stressors, I kept coming back to the people yelling at me...either in my own house or virtually on TV. 

Of course they are yelling because they are poor self regulators...either because they are children...or problematic adults. 

But I find that stress...and annoyance...can certainly be contagious, perhaps more often than it is hormetic.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Necrotizing Atrophy with Theoretical Herxheimer Reaction

Who will die-off first?


There is a common theory that as one is being treated for an infection or to remove a toxin, the treatment will initially make the symptoms worse, or cause apparently unrelated new symptoms. The official term is the Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction...or more colloquially, when discussing parasites or yeast, "die-off."

Functional medicine is always looking for the underlying cause of a problem, poor diet, life style, or some sort of infection or toxic exposure.  

I was certainly an offender in the lifestyle category as I hadn't gotten a full night's sleep in 13 years (pretty close to a completely factual statement)...And I had consumed some gluten, dairy, nightshade vegetables and sugar over the years. Having removed those crimes, I am left with the potential infection or toxin. 

Treatment for suspected interlopers is not necessarily making me feel any better of course. 
....And just because symptoms get worse doesn’t mean that one is necessarily experiencing die-off.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Brain Fog and the Cranial Rodent

Brain Fog vs. the Cranial Rodent


During my recent haphazard medical research, I discovered that "Brain Fog" seems to be on the symptom list for practically every condition, autoimmune or other.

This is certainly a symptom I could ascribe to myself. Even before I became distracted by my skin problems, and before I put all my mental processes into slow motion while fasting, I was definitely suffering from cognitive fog. I used to ascribe my inability to retain information and general slow-wittedness to 13 years of sleep deprivation, but at this point, I am not so sure. The idea that my mental lapses might be autoimmune in source is at least more appealing than the idea of premature dementia.

In my cognitively compromised and time pressed state, much of my medical research has happened via Audible or through podcasts.

One podcast I have been listening to is "Smart Drug Smarts" hosted by Jesse Lawler.  Not too long ago, he interviewed Michael Graziano a professor of neuroscience at Princeton University who wrote "Consciousness and the Social Brain"(2013) Their conversation was mostly about the problem of determining the source and effects of consciousness. Mr. Graziano used the story of a patient of a doctor friend who believed that he has a squirrel in his head to explain the nature of the questions we can ask about consciousness. Using the squirrel as a metaphor for consciousness, he pointed out the difference between the question of "why doesn't the squirrel show up on an MRI?" vs "why does the man think he has a squirrel in his head?"

While probably not following all of the conversation, my compromised mind found the idea of the brain squirrel pretty compelling.

One of the many recommended treatments for brain fog and health problems is mindfulness and meditation. I've been giving it a shot, but I am constantly afflicted by what is often described as "monkey mind"- constant chattering in the head.

Maybe what I am suffering from is actually squirrel mind.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Dysregulated Autophagy


(But what if I taste bad?)

"Autophagy" is the term for a biological process where the body consumes itself, cleaning out dysfunctional material. 

This process can supposedly be brought on by fasting, exercise, or our popular friend, the ketogenic diet.

 The Nobel Prize in medicine was in fact recently awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi
for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy. His work involved yeast, and does not have immediate applications in human beings. 

The autophagic process can supposedly stop cancerous growths and disease processes like diabetes. But I fear that like many scientific discoveries, it will prove to be much more complicated in people.

My adventures in self-cannibalism have definitely been mixed.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Selective Hypertrophy With Inflammatory Lipogenesis

Definitely Not "Fat Adapted"

#inktober 2016 drawing #4

While treating my autoimmune disorder through "alternative" methods early this summer, I made some visits to the land of eating disorders. While I would like to think I was just being a tourist and not a potential resident, I did not come back entirely unaffected.

As I had never dieted before in my life, my first 5 day fast was a bit of a sneak attack on my body, and I ended up alarmingly thin.

Afterwards, I did my best to stuff myself back to a more normal size as quickly as possible. I needed to gain weight so I could  fast again, and again, in order to successfully get rid of my disgusting skin symptoms.

And no one was please to see me so thin. My family was quite alarmed, and acquaintances and strangers were peculiarly, and sometimes intensely, hostile.

While my fasting goal was about clearing the symptoms of my autoimmune condition and not about being thin, since it has changed so much over the last few months, it is still a little difficult to not be confused about what size my body should be now.

The general health benefits of intermittent fasting, and ketogenic diets are very much in the media lately, and there is a lot of conversation about "fat adaptation." Ketosis suppresses epilepsy, appears to limit inflammation and brain degeneration, and might be used to cure autoimmune disorders and cancer. One is supposed to consume so few carbohydrates, that the body "learns" how to burn fat as it does while fasting.

Despite fasting several times, I don't think my body ever learned this fat burning trick, and I can't imagine myself pulling off a ketogenic diet as it requires consuming a mere 10% of calories from carbohydrates and a remarkable 70% from fat. Supposedly after one is fat adapted, or "in ketosis" one can go long periods without food while not becoming weak or tired...or cranky. The metabolism is more efficient, and, ironically, less likely to retain unhealthy fat.

To all of this, I say ha, ha, ha. While definitely not "fat adapted," after being starved a few times, my body is now much better adapted to holding on to fat.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Hyperkeratosis with Pandiculating Pseudopodia

#inktober drawing #3

Continuing the non-napkin series of drawings  based on sciencey terminology inspired by my recent marination in pseudo and alternative medical research.

To explain a little: I came down with an autoimmune condition involving my skin at the beginning of the summer. Needless to say, many have suffered much worse things. If you have to choose between, say something overtly life threatening like cancer, and a really gross rash on your face, neck, arms and legs, well, no contest, right? 

I tried to see it as a fashion opportunity: Sunglasses, a stylish scarf, arm sleeves (they come in fun patterns and make it look like you might be healing some cool arm tattoos) and new long pants to wear during the hot days of summer. 

Everyone from my internist to my dental hygienist was happy to inform me that once I had an autoimmune condition, I was surely going to have it for the rest of my life, so there was some work to do on the acceptance of my situation and the mourning of my ability to every wear short sleeves in public again without frightening strangers on the train.

I would have identified myself as a pretty healthy specimen before the advent of the disorder...never really got sick, able to take care of everyone else, able to function on 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night for 13 years...

Clearly my skin was telling me that I had committed some health crimes and was not really in great shape after all. 

The short version of the story is that after a lot of research and some slightly scary alternative treatment, involving not eating a lot of stuff, and not eating at all for several days at a time, my skin is all better for the moment....(strangely it is more compliant that it has ever been)

But, while presently asymptomatic, I am still afflicted with a mild obsession with health issues.  Thus, the terminology in this series of drawings. And probably the grossness. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Metacognitive Helminth Reservoir

Did I mention that we had a parasitic infection recently?

The parasites did not, however, manifest through the top of my head.
Although that might have been preferable.

The more research I do, the more I suspect that we harbor additional infestations.
At least metaphorical ones.

This is the #inktober 2016 drawing #2
(Drawings of heads with mostly creepy additions based on polysyllabic pseudo-medical terminology).

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Non Elective Endogenous Parasitism

(Maybe You Should See a Doctor About That?)

I am starting my #inktober posts a day late: 
(But I did draw this on October 1st)

Silly pseudo- sciencey names as the departure point for weird stuff on heads is the theme for these drawings. 

This is based on some silly health issues we've been working on around here which had led me to wallow in a lot of pseudo-sciencey research...

Sadly, these will not be drawn on napkins. Just ink and watercolor. 
But there will be more napkins with recognizable characters and no rat feet coming up, I promise.

Inktober is a monthlong daily "drawing challenge" to do one ink drawing a day for the entire month of October, initiated by author/artist Jake Parker. (See or for more information)

I am always a sucker for a structure which provides an excuse for me to do dopey things with lowered expectations... "I had to do one every day, so of course they were going to be lousy!"

I'll just apologize now for what might be coming up...if I manage to actually produce one a day, that is. My late night drawing privileges have been revoked since the advent of the silly health stuff, so I have to draw things like rat feet on my head during daylight, while other people are awake...which makes it much harder.

"Mom! Why are there rats on your head?"
"Because I couldn't in good conscience put them on anyone else's head, honey."

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Large Small Dog

Boy with Appropriately Sized Small Dog:
(Could it be "Small Dog Syndrome"?)

My younger son desperately wants a dog. I might have mentioned this a few dozen times before. I do feel myself weakening on this issue, but his slightly dog-allergic father is firm.

But our son and I discuss the hypothetical dog that we might have if Dad relents....well...pretty much every time we pass a dog on the street.

And since we live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where there might be at least two dogs for every human, that means dog discussion is a constant.

My catchphrase for dog criteria is basically "small, quiet and washable." My son is not very convinced that smallness and washability are desirable characteristics. Mostly what he wants is something big and furry...Or a Pug.

Every time we pass a dog, he asks me to assess that particular dog's viability...Is it too large? Too hairy? Too poorly behaved?

The fact that I might have just told him that a beagle we recently passed was too large will not stop him from asking me about a much larger, furrier Husky one block later.
I'll admit that I often feel myself running out of patience for this hypothetical dog conversation, particularly as he is always lobbying for more size and more fur on this animal that we can't have anyway.

I suppose I should be grateful that the tone of the conversation is mostly civil. He and his brother have been fighting loudly and bitterly about a hypothetical PlayStation for months. Who will get to play what game and when on this device that we don't own...

And Dad might prove to be allergic to the PlayStation also....

(The dog on the napkin is a "Chug" a combination of a Pug and a Chihuahua...a dog that might be small enough...but still be a pug, sort of.)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Batman and the other Men


For #BatmanDay2016 :

The Dark Knight surrounded by other aspiring men:
Clockwise from top right: Ratman, Fatman, Gnatman, Catman, Spratman & Flatman.

Here's a link to last year's Batman Day napkin... arguably more successful...

Monday, September 12, 2016

Usagi Yojimbo and Predator with Bunny Ears

The latest three issue series of Usagi Yojimbo, Stan Sakai's long running Rabbit Ronin comic featured a bad guy wielding Predator-like claws. This was of course very exciting to the kids at our house.  They were big Usagi fans in past years.  We have every one of the various paperback compilations. And there are many.  Usagi was somewhat out of favor for a while, and I even started to consider letting our subscription to the comic lapse.

He seems to be popular again, however, even if there wasn't a really Predator in feudal Japan.  I am relieved, as I enjoy the series myself.

Usagi has fought aliens and has had crossover issues with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so the appearance of aliens with blades in the comic is not totally out of the question.