Pas si fort

This is what I look like at 7 a.m. when the incessant honking begins…

Recently, one of my clients shouted in French, “Pas si fort” after her neighbor repeatedly slammed his front door during our massage session. The sound was magnified by the thinness of her walls and affected her ability to fully relax. Translated to English it means “Not so strong.” The reality of living in a building with multiple apartments is the constant noise. While the sound levels vary, most people consider it a form of white noise. I am not one of those people. I don’t want to hear the next door neighbor screaming Farsi curses and the people upstairs throwing up in their bathroom at 1 a.m.  every night like clockwork. It’s an odd thing to know the intimate details of people’s patterns and routines without ever having a conversation with them. I feel voyeuristic; almost stalker-like. But these observations are hardly forgettable. I can’t help but listen.

I am one of a percentage of the population who has a heightened sensitivity to sound, also known as hyperacusis. It is characterized by a collapsed tolerance to environmental sounds of a certain volume that can happen gradually over time or suddenly when in crisis. Mine began about 2 years ago after being terrorized by constant partying and threats in my own home from the son of my then landlord. I barely slept and my nervous system was on high alert at all times. Consequently, the sound of sirens, loud music, screaming and beeping became almost intolerable when previously I had never been bothered by such things. Gone are the days of restful sleep through anything. I hear EVERYTHING now.

Is that who’s making all that noise outside my window???

Beyond a crisis, hyperacusis can be caused by hearing loss, where the tiny hairs in the inner ear have been damaged and become sensitive to certain frequencies played at louder levels. This is known as recruitment. Also, hypersensitivity to certain frequencies at louder levels can occur in conditions like Autism, which exist from birth. Phonophobia and misophonia can occur with hyperacusis. The former is a fear of the sound that one is intolerant to in the environment it is occurring in both real time and when anticipating its next occurrence. The latter has been associated with an adverse response to soft sounds like that of eating, chewing and lip movements. Interestingly, misophonia has been listed with specific diagnostic criteria in the diagnostic “bible” of psychological clinicians known as the DSM-5, but it’s not considered a discrete psychological disorder. Its origins are thought to be more neurological and need to be studied further. And speaking of the brain…

From an evolutionary standpoint, being able to pick up on sounds that others ignore lets me respond to potential danger much sooner and thus, will ensure my survival. DNA testing exists now that has isolated the gene that makes one more likely to have heightened sensitivity to sound. So it’s both environmental and biological – go epigenetics!! Nevertheless, those of us with sound sensitivity have to find a way to deal with the loud world that surrounds us. Aside from moving out of my apartment building and city limits, there are some therapeutic options. The main one is a combination of cognitive therapy and desensitization through retraining. Its goal is to get you to think about the sound with less of an emotional response and expose your ear to intolerable sounds in order to neutralize them. This weakens the neuronal activity associated with the fight-or-flight response these noises often produce. Other forms of treatment are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) alone, psycho-therapeutic hypnotherapy and occupational therapy. CBT allows the person to gain control of that automatic emotional response produced by the sound and desensitizes them to it. Hypnotherapy, through a reputable practitioner who is often a psychologist as well or recommended by one, uses the power of suggestion to overcome the emotions (usually the fear/rage response) to the sound. Lastly, occupational therapists deal with the sensitivity as a sensory processing disorder; therefore, they introduce each offensive sound at varying degrees of intensity along with other sounds in order to help the brain accommodate and then dismiss them. Guess I won’t have to move after all 🙂

 

 

 

SOURCES:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misophonia

http://www.hyperacusis.net/hyperacusis/4+types+of+sound+sensitivity/default.asp

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Heavy Metals Will Rock You

…and not in the way that involves big hair and thrashing one’s body around. No, the heavy metal I’m referring to is that which basic chemistry defines as any metal or metalloid compound in the environment that is cause for concern. This concern is due to its adverse affects on human health and surrounding habitat and not so much on how “heavy” the compound actually is. These metals are EVERYWHERE but their toxic concentrations are the bi-product of human industrialization. For instance, vehicle emissions are the worst for releasing toxic metals into the air. Live near a highway or major metro area and your body is constantly filtering in contaminants including arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, nickel, lead, antimony, vanadium, zinc, platinum, palladium and rhodium. Soil tests along many major roadways in the U.S. indicated that they still retain high levels of lead, despite the phase out of lead in gasoline almost 20 years ago. Fertilizers, paints, treated woods, lead-acid batteries and mining/factory wastes are other sources of contamination. Heavy metals can get in through the air, as noted before, as well as through the water, surface of the skin and the ingestion of plants that have been exposed to contaminated soil and/or water. Also note, the animals that feast on these plants also become a source of exposure to us humans who may dine on them at a later time.

This image shows how heavy metals get released into the Mississippi River courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey Circular

Now, let’s break down how heavy metals negatively affect human health. Certain metals like sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron are found in living tissue and are essential to human life; however in high concentrations are toxic. Others, like the aforementioned cadmium, lead and mercury are toxic even in low concentrations. Once the metals are introduced into the body, it’s ultimately the liver’s job to filter out what is not necessary and store what it needs. These metals bind to cellular walls and the metabolically active regions within the cell that not only mess with  its structure, but also its function. Short term symptoms of toxicity depend on the individual metal and how much of it has built up in the body. Over the long term, many of these metals cause cells to turn cancerous, warp and destroy parts of the central and peripheral nervous system and also reduce and/or destroy red blood cells which affects our circulatory system.

Diagram of the various health anomalies that occur with short and long term exposure of heavy metals (courtesy of DATCS)

With some level of exposure being inevitable in our industrialized world, what can we do to mitigate the affects of heavy metals on our health? There is an FDA approved therapy known as chelation which assists the body in cleansing itself of heavy metal deposits. This therapy is administered by a doctor, who will give you a full evaluation and blood screening prior to beginning the treatment. After you have been assessed for levels of heavy metals, etc. you will be administered a binding agent or chelator intravenously along with vitamin C, B complex, Magnesium and specific homeopathics to support the detoxification. Seated in a chair, your session will be about 30-40 minutes. Perusing various sites that describe the treatment it ironically resembles chemotherapy with its grouping of comfortable recliners and patients seated hooked up to I.V.’s. The doctor will recommend a particular amount of sessions before your blood is reevaluated to indicate if more treatments are necessary. It must be noted that some of the chelators  used to bind to heavy metals have their own side effects that could be detrimental to health in the long term; however research is being done to find safer and more effective ones.

Before chelation becomes necessary, it is important to assess your environmental and occupational risks. Is your workplace exposing you to toxins? Obviously if you work in a factory or manufacturing plant as well as in a mine or refinery, you will be exposed if you do not follow safety guidelines, which include wearing protective clothing/gear and properly decontaminating through hygienic practices like skin washing. In your daily life, you can use a filtration system to filter your water of heavy metals and contaminants. There are tons on the market now and are very easily available. Read products labels of the cleansers and products you used daily in your home to see if they contain any heavy metals and protect yourself accordingly. Or even better, swap those cleansers for greener choices that are free of these toxins. Also, avoid getting mercury fillings in your teeth as the amalgam releases small amounts of mercury over time into your body. Find out what other filler alternatives are available (and they are) and choose a dentist who has experience in the safe removal of mercury fillings, so you can have them replaced without exposing yourself to further poisoning. And of course, if you live right on top of a factory, plant or major roadway, it might make you want to reconsider your address lest you never open your windows without the aid of an air filter at all times.

The next and probably most important thing is to assess your nutrition to make sure you are sufficient in calcium, iron and zinc. These three elements bind to lead and cadmium preventing its absorption. Note that I mentioned sufficiency and not excess, which would be toxic to the body. In addition, make sure if you are consuming fish oil, that is from mercury free critters of the sea. And the same goes for the consumption of fish. Know which ones have higher levels of mercury (examples: shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, etc.)and limit yourself to no more than one serving per week, if that. Also Vitamin C and E bind to heavy metals and allow them to be flushed out of the system. Vitamin E consumption in studies with lab mice who had been exposed to heavy metals indicated a boost in anti-oxidant defenses and reduction of tissue damage. Taking it one step further, a combination of Vitamin E and C dosage was administered to workers who had significant levels of heavy metal toxicity. After 6 months, there was such a significant repair and boosting of anti-oxidant defenses that their scans compared to people who had never been exposed at all to such toxins. Other nutrients like Folate, Garlic, Cilantro and Selenium have also shown to reduce levels of heavy metals in the body as well as boost liver health. Go nutrition and the ancient Greeks who believed food to be thy medicine.

In conclusion, if you are curious or believe that you might be at risk for heavy metal toxicity, ask your doctor to order you a blood panel for heavy metals as well as a comprehensive blood count, which tests the health of your kidneys, liver and iron levels in your blood. Dependent on the findings you can make the lifestyle and nutritional modifications necessary to rock your life out for many years to come sans the influence of heavy metals!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Psychosomatic Medicine

Acupuncture chart from Chinese medical text circa 1340s A.D.

There is nothing worse than going to a doctor with a host of symptoms and being told there is nothing wrong with you. Many people who appear on the program, Mystery Diagnosis, (my second Discovery Health obsession next to the The Food MD) have had this experience. I recall one particularly disturbing episode, where a young woman complaining of extreme gastrointestinal distress was prescribed an anti-depressant by one of the many doctors she sought answers from. Confused, she asked how these would help her to which the doctor responded that her condition was basically all in her head. When a physical illness or condition is caused by or aggravated by a mental factor it is termed psychosomatic. Essentially, that is how this young woman’s doctor viewed her illness. Many years later, she was properly diagnosed with severe endometriosis, a condition where the cells of the uterus grow in other places of the body causing cramping, severe bleeding and infertility to name a few. In her case, the cells had grown into and over parts of her GI tract. She had a full hysterectomy and a section of her large intestine removed in order to reclaim some quality of life. Take that, anti-depressants!

As you can glean from the above story, defining an illness as psychosomatic carries with it an intense social stigma here in the west, even though almost all physical illnesses have mental factors that determine their onset, presentation, maintenance, susceptibility to treatment and resolution. When doctors dismiss symptoms like in the case of this young woman, the rest of the world follows suit. The person who is suffering internally and externally is labeled “dramatic” or even worse, a liar. For thousands of years, Chinese medicine viewed the psychosomatic as the greatest key to diagnosing deeper illness and imbalance in the body. The strength of the nervous system and physical state of the individual (including their environment) is assessed in order to understand the degree in which an organ or a system is affected. Every symptom is taken into account and treated seriously, with the objective being to restore balance. Moreover, the eastern approach considers how interconnected the body and mind are.

The biggest physical bully is emotional stress, which can infiltrate suddenly or slowly, over a long period of time. Even from a western perspective, stress can be incredibly destructive, wreaking havoc on connective tissues, digestion, vascular integrity and the body’s restorative sleep cycles if not managed properly i.e. not just a script for anti-depressants. In Chinese medicine, if the nervous system of the individual is weak, the symptoms of illness will be more psychological. On a physical level, the organ most affected by the emotional stress will be the weakest/dysfunctional one. Whatever the natural emotions associated with this organ are, they will become stronger and more destructive to the nervous system overall. As the organ breaks down, it takes the system it is associated with along for the ride, leading ultimately to disease. If the emotional stress comes on suddenly, it will affect the Heart and the Lungs. If it is gradual and long term, it will take a toll on the Liver, Spleen and Kidneys. Even more specific is the type of emotional stress broken down into these 5 categories: tense/chronic, shock/sudden, sadness, rumination and fearful emotion. This gives an even more precise view of the affected organs/systems in the body, further honing the treatment approach.

Our young woman with endometriosis would have been assessed as having a strong nervous system in the beginning, as her symptoms were predominantly physical. By the time she had gone to see the doctor who prescribed the anti-depressants, she was exhibiting a combination of physical and mental symptoms. This would signify that her nervous system was deteriorating. If she had also gone to see an eastern doctor from the get go, much of her later suffering might have been alleviated, as the weakest organ, her large intestine would have been addressed immediately with herbs and acupuncture/bodywork. Since organs are partnered in the Chinese system of yin/yang (solid/hollow), the untreated large intestinal dysfunction would have affected her lungs. This woman developed an eczema like rash all over her trunk and extremities that would get worse every time she had a violent bout of diarrhea. The skin is considered the 3rd lung of the body in Chinese medicine. This symptom developed 5 years after her initial bout of gastrointestinal distress. After ten years, she began to bleed copiously during her period, which lasted over two weeks. Initial blood tests had already indicated she was mildly anemic, but this massive blood loss rendered her immobile. Ironically, during this time, her large intestine dysfunction seemed to dissipate; however, as soon as the period would end, the violent diarrhea would return. At this point in her illness, the Spleen had become involved. Responsible for creating Blood/Qi and keeping things upright and in their proper place, it’s no wonder that when she finally got her diagnosis 15 years in the making, this was the most affected organ. (Note: One could even argue that the Spleen could have been the weakest organ overall, but I won’t complicate things for the reader) The cells of the uterus growing out of control outside of their proper place is demonstrative of Spleen weakness. The uncontrollable bleeding led to a massive loss of Qi that just couldn’t be replaced by her depleted system. The only solution, at that point, was to remove the uterus and large intestine to prevent the out of control cell growth from migrating elsewhere. While organ removal can have detrimental affects on the Spleen, it proved more harmful to keep the stagnation in there than to remove it. If I were this young woman, I would seek out an acupuncturist to help me keep my nervous system strong and balance the loss of the organs that were surgically removed. They would be able to recommend herbs and dietary changes to support her treatment. After watching this episode, it made me all the more fired up about Integrating Eastern and Western medicine. If East met West from the beginning, she and others like her would have been spared a lifetime of suffering. We would all have a better understanding of our body-mind relationship and keep the stigmatic tongue wagging at bay.

SOURCES & ADDITIONAL READING:

http://www.dragonrises.edu/learning-opportunities/articles-books/

http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/

E tu, Iliopsoas?

What your Iliacus and Psoas look like – separate, but together…

Iliopsoas is a term used for the combo platter of muscles that is Iliacus and Psoas Major. These muscles call the posterior abdominal wall home, where they attach the lumbar spine and pelvis to the hip. This trajectory makes iliopsoas not only an important postural muscle (you need it for standing and walking) but also a strong flexor of the hip joint. Sprinting and running with high knees (i.e. hips and knees are flexed above a 90 degree angle) really recruits this muscle complex along with the usual suspects of Quads, TFL and Sartorius. Also, a wonderful calisthenic exercise known as the Mountain Climber is good for strengthening this muscle for the same reason that it flexes the hip beyond 90 degrees. We need our iliopsoas to be strong in order to keep that back straight and supported through all our daily activities outside of just exercise. Too much sitting shortens and weakens this muscle complex, causing an exaggerated curve in the lower back known as lordosis, which in turn tightens the muscles of the lumbar spine causing pain and instability. Another cause of weakness is inefficient recruitment, like say, if you were a long distance runner. Iliopsoas just goes along for the ride when your knees and hips stay below 90 degrees because you are running at a slower, more methodical pace. Even though you are maintaining a good level of fitness, overtime iliopsoas will weaken because it is not really being strengthened. Add old age to the equation, which naturally reduces muscle strength and viability, and you have all the factors that directly affect this muscular unit. Well, almost. What else is located in the deep recesses of your belly? Your guts.

Your guts and Iliopsoas have a “tight” relationship – pun intentional.

Aside from your abs, the iliopsoas (specifically psoas major) keeps that lower abdomen flat, preventing the intestines from pushing forward as it creates a kind of long shelf for them to rest in. In times of elevated stress and emotional issues, your psoas major tightens and is less efficient at keeping your guts at bay. Primordially tied into our “fight or flight” nervous system, the psoas is our true “gut” muscle, stabilizing and destabilizing at the will of our environment. Digestion and other non-essential activities cease when we are on high alert leading to a buildup of toxins, inflammation and other muscular disturbances. And speaking of said disturbances, also located in the lower right corner of your abdomen in the region of iliopsoas is a valve known as the ileocaecal valve (IVC). It is where digested food passes from the small intestine into the large intestine, so that water and vitamin absorption can occur and toxins can be eliminated. This valve is designed to open for the above function and then close to prevent back-up. Any number of factors including stress, diet, parasites and irritation of the nerves that power the valve can cause it to stay in either a closed or open position. This leads to a buildup of toxins where they do not belong. The body responds with fluid retention and a host of symptoms such as joint and muscular aches/pains, circulatory problems, pinched nerves or even whole body arthritis. How does this affect iliopsoas? One of the most common symptoms is low back pain that comes on suddenly and with no explained cause. Picture yourself sitting one minute, then getting a sharp, stabbing pain in your lower back upon getting up. This low back pain is due to the close relationship iliacus has with the valve. Any dysfunction refers to this muscle, which in turn destabilizes the lumbar spine and affects the surrounding musculature in the back and hip. Chiropractors, Massage Therapists who specialize in Applied Kinesiology and Naturopaths can all address this issue effectively through  a variety of changes to one’s diet, exercise and with soft tissue manipulation to name a few techniques. Do not underestimate the importance of this muscle complex. Its betrayal by either pathological and/or other causes can have severe repercussions in the whole body. Keep your guts and back in perfect alignment and they will take care of you.

Additional information and SOURCES:

http://blog.corewalking.com/psoas-major-and-rectus-abdominis-a-strained-alliance/

http://digestiveawareness.drupalgardens.com/content/ileocecal-valve-preventing-backflow