Tag Archives: anatomy

The Secret World Inside Each of Us

This past summer I read, with much interest and delight, Gut by Giulia Enders, and in preparing for this blog post this 20-minute interview with Giulia showed up in a search.

Enders’ book introduced me to the invisible world of my insides. This Fall, the American Museum of Natural History in NYC further opened up my insides for me to see as a result of the exhibit The Secret World Inside You. Not too long ago I scoped out the exhibit in preparation for a possible visit by the 5th graders at the school where I teach.

By now you probably know that there are trillions and trillions of bacteria living in us and on us. Around the same time I visited the AMNH exhibit, my husband and I were spending evenings watching the six episodes of David Eagleman’s The Brain. Between learning about the bacteria and the brain, at one point during a Brain episode I burst out saying “we are simply aliens with skin covering!” We are not so different in our internal look than the many aliens depicted in sci-fi movies; we simply have an outer look that we are used to while we (or certainly, I) continue to be amazed by our inner conglomeration of micro-beings.

Collectively all those trillions and trillions of bacteria weigh about as much as a human brain, which is three pounds. I teach 3rd graders about water, and there are billions of bacteria living in one tiny drop of water. Billions!

It turns out most of our cells and genes are not “human”. Rather, they are microbial, meaning they are teeny tiny life forms that we cannot see, and often only are aware of when something is out of balance resulting in our not feeling well. As Giulia states in the above interview, our microbes are necessary for digestion and most of them aid our immune system, but when they are out of balance or we harbor any of the five percent that are not good for us, we become aware of their existence.

As a result of the museum exhibit I learned there are eight characteristics of bacteria. Bacteria:

  1. are small (very!)
  2. are alive
  3. consume nutrients
  4. move
  5. communicate via chemical signals (and they live in colonies of billions!)
  6. reproduce
  7. swap genes between cells, therefore combining and recombining their DNA, which is why they can become resistant to antibiotics
  8. evolve due to their ability to reproduce and morph their genes

In the early years of an individual’s life the variety of microbes in their body train cells of the immune system to only attack bacteria that are carrying diseases. This is how a human develops immunity, in other words, protection from illnesses and unfriendly bacteria. Autoimmune diseases (such as MS, IBS, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis) occur when a person’s immune system doubles back on itself and attacks its own cells.

As best I understand some of the practical advice that has come out of microbial studies, kids playing in the dirt, petting cats and dogs, and being given the bare minimum of antibiotics, all lead to having a healthier gut micro biome and possibly fewer allergies.

Yes, wash your hands before you eat and after going to the bathroom. But perhaps stop using those microbial foams that dry out your skin and vanquish contact with bacteria that are good for you!

Advertisements

Falls Awareness & Prevention Guide

Falling is the nemesis of older folks. Yes, falls can be an issue for anyone at any age, but for older folks it can mean broken bones – especially hip bones – that take a long time to heal, require physical therapy to be able to resume activity, and are all too often the harbinger of further problems.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and The Orthopaedic Trauma Association have put out a Falls Awareness & Prevention Guide that I recommend for anyone, regardless of age, and absolutely recommend to anyone living on their own, particularly if they are older (and you can take “older” to mean whatever age you feel like having it mean!)

My Mom lived alone for about five years, and in her last year of life she fell several times, the first on New Year’s Day 2010. We were getting ready to leave a family gathering at the home of a relative. Wearing shoes that were like slippers and did not offer much by way of support, she tripped on a towel that was near the front door and meant for wiping wet shoes. The shoes and towel were a nasty combination, causing her to lose her footing and fall to her left. As if it were happening in slow motion, several of us tried to reach out and catch her or lessen the impact of her fall. Alas, a trip to the ER showed a broken left humerus. This would be the first of two shoulder breaks, with the next one happening to her right humerus.

If you look at the Falls Awareness & Prevention Guide, you will notice inadequate footwear and all throw rugs and area rugs that are not properly secured (could just as easily apply to towels on the floor) listed as risk factors. It could have been anyone who fell on that rug, but I suspect my mother’s age also had something to do with it.

So, take a look at the guide and see if it provides some tips for you or for someone you know. Being a little proactive now can mean a lot in terms of later prevention.

And from the National Council on Aging, an info graphic to herald Falls Prevention Awareness Day, which happens to be September 23, 2014.

FPAD14-Infographic_full

On Music, Dopamine, and Making Sense of Sound

Last week SharpBrains published part one of my two posts about Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music, and now part two is posted! On Music, Dopamine, and Making Sense of Sound explores how music impacts people who have Parkinson’s, dementia or Alzheimer’s.

If you know anyone with Parkinson’s, dementia or Alzheimer’s, and if they currently do not have music in their lives, I hope you will share my two posts with them and with their families. Thank you, on their behalf!

The Benefits of Exercise (besides the fact that it can be fun!)

This post is thanks to guest blogger David Haas, who is passionately and actively raising awareness about the benefits of exercise, eating healthily, and making use of a support network for dealing with diagnosis and treatment of cancer. You can read more by David and other bloggers at The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog

Reasons to Continue Fitness Following a Cancer Diagnosis

Years ago it was common practice for people diagnosed with cancer to be asked to restrict their activity levels in favor of resting and relaxing. While rest is an important component of working through cancer treatment, too much inactivity can result in negative consequences such as reduced range of motion, loss of function and depression. Many organizations and research foundations now stress the importance of exercise following a diagnosis of mesothelioma cancer or any other type of cancer. Participating in regular physical fitness activities can supply you with physical and emotional benefits that serve to help you before, during and after cancer treatment.

Maintain Range of Motion

Over time, inactivity causes joints and muscles to feel stiff. The lack of exercise leads to decreased range of motion as muscle atrophy sets in and you become less flexible. Exercise is to your joints like oil is to a car engine. To keep your joints flexible and pain-free, you have to move them and keep them well-conditioned. By incorporating strength exercises into your physical fitness routine you can support the joints with the surrounding muscle tissue.

Build Strength

In addition to the strength your body needs to get through daily activity, it also needs extra strength and stamina to deal with the fatigue experienced during cancer treatment. Use light weights every other day to strengthen your arm and leg muscles, at the very least. Exercise DVDs can serve as an effective guide to help you build muscle strength. Even 10 minutes three times per week is sufficient to see improvement in your strength and stamina.

Reduce Treatment Side Effects

Cancer patients experience treatment side effects to varying degrees, but nausea, dizziness and fatigue are common side effects experienced by most people. Aerobic exercise is very beneficial to help fight fatigue by energizing your body in a sustained manner. Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi can help you relax and are also effective for fighting nausea. Go slowly and exercise whenever you are able. Breaking up 30 minutes of exercise into three 10-minute segments throughout the day is just as effective as doing it all at once.

Encourage Empowerment

Feeling empowered to do something about your health is critical to your overall wellness. Regular physical activity makes you feel like you’re doing something good for yourself, and you are. As physical activity lifts your mood and makes your body feel stronger, it also gives you greater hope and confidence.

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer has a tremendous impact on your life but you have the power to fight back and work toward wellness through regular physical fitness. As you exercise regularly, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of greater physical conditioning as well as a stronger emotional state. No matter where you’re at in your fight against cancer, fitness and exercise can prove to be one of the greatest tools of empowerment and well-being. Use this tool regularly to help you move away from a mindset of illness toward one of well-being.

——-

I can attest to David’s advice. In the spring of 1998 I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. Following a summer of treatment, I wound up with radiation pneumonitis (pneumonia contracted due to radiation that reached a lung), and also managed to contract Lyme Disease. Health wise, it was a discouraging 12 months.

In an early 1999 issue of Cooking Light, I came upon a small ad for the Danskin Triathlon. The Danskin seemed the perfect way to kick me out of my health doldrums, and I wound up participating in four Danskins beginning with 1999. Having a goal, enlisting friends to help with achieving it, and following through, made a hugely positive difference in my recovery. 

And if you are looking for a way to get started, you might start simply with SuperBetter, an online game designed to help “you achieve your health goals – or recover from an illness or injury – by increasing your personal resilience. Resilience means staying curious, optimistic and motivated even in the face of the toughest challenges.”

Commuting.

For this school year, I am commuting 62 miles each way to where I teach. That translates to an hour’s drive in the morning, and on the days of after school meetings, anywhere from 70 to 90 minutes for the drive home.

After 14 years of teaching just four miles from my home, and several times a year walking home from school, you can perhaps begin to imagine the impact this change of time spent sitting in a car has had on me – less time available for walking, poor air quality (though I recirculate the interior air while driving on I-95 so as to minimize the trucking fumes), muscle strain from sitting in one position, and stress from intense concentration so as to keep my drive safe.

The Hidden Toll of Traffic Jams, in the November 2011 Health & Wellness section of The Wall Street Journal, discusses the impact of traffic emissions on commuters, including this tidbit:

And older men and women long exposed to higher levels of traffic-related particles and ozone had memory and reasoning problems that effectively added five years to their mental age, other university researchers in Boston reported this year. The emissions may also heighten the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and speed the effects of Parkinson’s disease.

That last sentence is fascinating to me because my Dad commuted daily from New Hyde Park, NY to Hasbrouck Heights, NJ for upwards of 20 years. While his distance was half of my current commute, the time spent in the car was about equal due to the enormous volume of traffic crossing the George Washington Bridge.

And why is this fascinating? My Dad developed Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in his later years. To be sure, some of that was likely hard-wired into his DNA, but “heighten the risk” and “speed the effects” make me wonder about the commute’s impact. 

Bruce McEwen, in a March 2011 Dana Foundation article Effects of Stress on the Developing Brain, talks about the effects of stress on the brain and body. “Besides major life events, abuse and neglect, it is the ordinary day-to-day experiences in family, neighborhood, commuting and work, and school that affect brain and body function and promote those health damaging behaviors.

A recent acquaintance, who crafts infographics, sent me this infographic describing The Killer Commute. The graphic is provided by CollegeAtHome.com and it speaks volumes! She asked for my feedback, and this is what I had to say: 

The graphic is a killer! Okay, what I mean is, it depicts my experience – all the “yuck” parts of commuting. I had already determined to leave my job (and gave notice in January that I did not want another contract), but if I hadn’t already done that, the graphic would have convinced me to do so.
 
The parts covering health detriments are intense, (perhaps I can use them to drum up business for a “Yoga for Commuters” class….)
 
I only have two issues with an otherwise highly effective and convincing graphic – it is demoralizing! And the sources at the bottom were difficult for me to read.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

The first day of the Dance for PD workshop included an informative overview of Parkinson’s Disease by neuropsychiatrist Melissa Frumin of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA. She spoke to us not just as a doctor, but also as a caretaker who had first hand experience after caring for her father who had Parkinson’s. Melissa’s talk was illuminating, as it was the first time I had an understanding of some of what was going on inside my Dad’s brain and body, and I began to have a medical understanding of what he must have dealt with.

Everything that follows is from Melissa’s talk, and I was so intent on taking down the information that much of the medical description is her exact wording.

Primary Symptoms
It turns out that the cardinal symptom of PD is the tremor, which typically begins on one side in one hand with the fingers rolling in towards the palm. The tremor is a resting tremor, which means when the hand is engaged in movement the tremor seems to disappear. While asymmetrical at the start, the tremor can become bilateral, impacting the other side.

Another symptom is the slowness of movement, often manifested by a dragging of the feet and resulting in a shuffling gait. Rigidity can set in, causing a stooped posture. And the final major symptom is postural instability, making it difficult to self-respond to imbalance.

All of these symptoms are neurological. The body part is still fully functional; it is the brain’s messaging system that is no longer sending the appropriate signals to the body part. In other words, the hands and the legs could still work just fine if the brain were able to get the messages out to those body parts.

Motor Symptoms
There are a number of motor symptoms, in addition to the tremor and movement issues. Faces begin to no longer exhibit expression, causing a disconnect between what a person says they feel and what their face displays. Handwriting can become  very tiny, resulting in what is called micrographia. Vision can become blurred due to contrasts no longer being discernible. Therefore, large print does not help but books on tape could be quite useful. Constipation and difficulty swallowing are other motor issues that are due, as with all the previous symptoms, to a lack of internal coordination.

Non-motor Symptoms
Imagine how you might feel if these symptoms began to invade your existence. Now add to the mix the non-motor component of Parkinson’s – cognitive dysfunction resulting in dementia that impacts executive functioning. I have written a number of posts about executive functioning, which has to do with decision making, organization, and self-management functions. With Parkinson’s, the dementia takes a toll on the ability to multitask – the ability to tend to more than one item or activity at a time, in other words, the ability to rapidly switch between multiple activities.

The result of all of these symptoms is typically depression, though not because the person has Parkinson’s and feels bad about it (though they may, indeed, feel badly), but rather because Parkinson’s is a brain disorder that effects the ability to initiate activity. The inability to initiate can cause anxiety. Additionally, there can by psychosis manifested by hallucinations that are usually visual or auditory or smell-based, but can also be paranoid.

Couple this with sleep disturbance due to getting up in the middle of a dream to act out that dream (which can lead to falls in the night), genuine fatigue (as opposed to fatigue from depression), and drooling, and you have a sense of the toll that Parkinson’s symptoms takes on a human body.

What is happening in the brain?
The basal ganglia, a compilation of neurons that function as a unit and assists with coordinating movement, contains the substantia nigra, an area of the brain that produces dopamine. With Parkinson’s, 50 to 60 percent of the neurons in the substantia nigra begin to deteriorate, resulting in a loss of dopamine. This loss of dopamine impacts the balance of excitation and inhibition of neurons. And this loss of balance in neuron firing means that signals sent from the brain are not being executed properly. Since the basal ganglia deals with movement, sure signs of Parkinson’s are the primary symptoms detailed at the start of this post.

Statistics
In general, Parkinson’s is not a genetic disorder and is rare before the age of 40, though Michael J. Fox was an exception at age thirty-two. Worldwide some five million people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s, for which the largest risk factor is old age. And I found out just this afternoon, from a new acquaintance who is active in local and national Parkinson’s organizations, two-thirds of PD individuals are men, one-third are women.

Additional Resources

The PD Partnership – words of wisdom, from a caregiver, for caregivers and the people they care for

What is Parkinson’s Disease – includes links to numerous information resources in both print and digital format, including the Second Edition of the Parkinson’s Disease Resource List