Friday, April 16, 2010

not enough germs

So there's this new theory floating around amongst microbiologists about the cause of autoimmune disease (and allergies): we are overly hygienic. We're too clean. We don't have enough germs and parasites living in our body, so we are out of balance. It's an interesting theory, and I will certainly entertain the idea (although I'm not about to swallow a pound of tapeworms).

The part I disagree with is *why* we have an imbalance. Autoimmune diseases are most rampant in "developed" (a.k.a industrialized, or Westernized) countries. The microbiologists posit that what those countries all have in common is lots of hand washing, caution about germs,etc. and they think that's the issue: Kids don't play in the dirt enough, we wash our hands too often, etc.

Let me just say- I ate plenty of dirt as a kid. I played in a sandbox (where the cat sometimes pooped). We had recess at school twice a day, and no one washed their hands after. We shared a water fountain through my senior year. As soon as we got home, our parents sent us outside to play. I went to summer camp where we used a latrine. I am sure I ran into *plenty* of germs. And my mom was not hysterical about wiping them off me. And yet, I've still got not one, but 4 autoimmune conditions.

However, I will still entertain the idea that I don't have enough parasites, or microorganisms in my system because I also had *plenty* of exposure to antibiotics. And that is what I think is causing the imbalance, not soap.

Sadly, doctors were, at least in 1992, when i first got sick with lupus (but didn't yet have a diagnosis), indiscriminately giving out antibiotics, and i had 4 rounds of them in a row while they were trying to figure out what was wrong with me- and every single batch of them made me sicker. Full body rashes, vomiting, and escalation of the lupus.

I've taken them for bronchitis a bunch of times, I took them when I got my wisdom teeth cut out. I think it's pretty safe to say I've taken antibiotics between 12 and 20 times in my life, and I'm probably not unusual in that respect.

So if you're looking for a culprit, look past the bar of soap, which I will continue to use (though not antibacterial soap, just plain old normal burt's bees chemical-free soap- because I don't want e coli, thanks!), and look in the medicine cabinet.

Yes, antibiotics save lives, but there's such a thing as too much of a good thing.
Now, tell us how to rebalance our systems. will probiotics do the trick, or do we need something more gross?
Can I just go back to the playground?

PS would someone please study the connection between allergies and autoimmunity? Please?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Psychosomatic, Real, or both?

well, here's a loaded topic. Psychosomatic illness.
It's amazing to me that emotional problems can cause physical ailments. Frankly, I don't think we've studied this enough.
I was listening to the radio on the way home from work today, something I rarely do, so I think perhaps I was supposed to be listening. You know, divine guidance.

The program was "The World, " a news show on NPR featuring international news, and they were discussing the health problems plaguing the people of Haiti. Now that the initial wave of injuries caused directly by the earthquake has subsided, the hospitals are seeing large numbers of people with unexplainable conditions- things with no discernible physical cause, like itching, and even a woman with partial paralysis. The doctors are saying on this program that many of these people are suffering from psychosomatic illness- physical problems caused by unexpressed emotions.

No patient wants to hear that they are causing their own illness, or that they are imagining their symptoms, or that it's all in their head, or even that it's psychosomatic, so this is a delicate issue. How do you treat someone who is suffering from physical symptoms, when you the doctor know that the root cause is emotional trauma? They are saying these people need talk therapy, but I'm saying initially, how do you even get them to agree to that if you don't first agree with them that their physical pain is real? In my mind, this is the perfect place to use a placebo. If the power of the mind is causing their problems, let the power of the mind also help them get better- distract them, and then also strongly urge them to get talk therapy so they can get at the root of their problem.

Now, once you've opened this Pandora's box, you really have to ask- doesn't nearly every ailment have an emotional component to it? 18 years ago, after watching one of my friends refuse to grieve, then die of a tumor wrapped around his heart, I realized even cancer can be psychosomatic. Doesn't mean it wasn't real. It as so real it freaking killed him. But what I mean by psychosomatic is emotionally-related. Whoever said emotions won't kill you... I disagree. maybe not this second, but they can eventually kill you.

So, after having very real symptoms that can be measured by blood tests, MRIs, and all that, and getting diagnosed with 4 different autoimmune diseases, and nearly dying of kidney failure three times now, I feel like, OK, they know it's not in my head. But what *is* in my head?

I'm really at this point willing to entertain that some or even possibly all the root of my autoimmune problem is between my ears, that my mind is powerful enough to create kidney failure, anemia, joint pain, fever, you name it. Because if I can create it, then I can STOP creating it. So I'm totally willing to explore the idea that maybe it *is* psychosomatic. And what I mean by that, again, is not that I'm imagining it, but that maybe i'm creating illness, or creating an environment in which illness can take over, by the thought patterns and emotions that I allow to habitually occupy my being.

Feelings are real. Feelings are powerful. Feelings can be destructive. They can also be healing and creative.

I recently got involved in co-counseling, a somewhat obscure movement wherein people counsel each other as peers. There are guidelines and workshops, its' not a free-for-all, and generally it's anonymous; you don't socialize with the people you see in these groups. The idea is to release your pent-up feelings and to break old patterns of feeling, thinking, and behaving.

I heard about this movement via an obscure self-published book called "healing lupus" by waverly evans. She claims to be completely cured of lupus through co-counseling, since 1978. that's a pretty long time to be symptom-free, and she was *really* sick. Same disease as me, just as sick, now symptom-free. Frankly, I think I'd be pretty foolish to not look into what she did and give it a try. So I'm doing it, once a week, and I feel really good about it so far. And the weekly groups cost nothing. My favorite price. It also goes by the name reevaluation counseling, in case you want to google and look for a group in your area.

OK, friends, time to sign off for now. I'm still struggling with insomnia, and have now watched every single episode of Law and Order: Criminal intent, seasons 1-7 via netflix. there aren't any more L&O episodes of any kind available for instant play on netflix, so now I'm watching... Columbo.

Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed this controversial topic! Chime in!