Sunday, January 26, 2014

Spirituality, Depression, and Recent Events

A brand new post is up over at Psychology Today: Brains, Spirituality, and Depression. It discusses the links between…well, guess. There are some interesting anatomical findings in the brain that correlate with both increased spirituality and a reduced risk of depression, but go read to find out more.

Thanks for comments and donations! I've not always been on top of the comments situation, and given the vagaries of gmail, I can't have my comment-approval gmail open at work…sometimes it takes me a week or two to approve a comment, and some get missed in the avalanche of spam. Excuses excuses…

I'm on track to writing more, though new article/science stuff will probably end up on Psychology Today first to be a more effective use of my time, because I have to blog monthly over there to get paid. :-). Other recent activities include freezing, hiking, a lovely Brazilian steakhouse dinner with Chris Kresser, Mat Lalonde, Sarah Johnson, and Diana Rogers and registering the youngest for…gasp…kindergarten.

Chris Kresser's book is out, btw! Great addition to the paleo book menagerie. And you might find the author of the Foreward to be familiar.

Too cold unless you are these guys

Meltwater on the ice-covered pond at Stony Brook

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Man of Steel

Hello 2014! This blog post probably makes more sense if you have seen Man of Steel. Seriously, spend $1.50 at redbox. It’s awesome. Though perhaps ethically disappointing

I know it has been a long time. Suffice it to say that between some unexpected illnesses and deaths in the extended family, along with the normal life of a family with two working parents and two very active little girls, there was simply no extra time or energy for a little while. There was also a little stutter in my sense of purpose, trying to figure out what it is I am trying to do here. There is a lot more attention from my fellow psychiatrists (the president of the APA follows me on twitter, so all the sudden I feel a little awkward sharing my 140 character opinions and links on the Hunger Games). Far more importantly, I’ve been honored to be selected for a three hour symposium on Evolutionary Psychiatry at the next APA annual meeting in New York City, which is the major meeting of psychiatrists in North America, if not the world.  It’s all very academic and serious. 

Yet the underpinnings of what I am trying to say (and, in this blogosphere, trying to pick out the truth) are so simple it often feels as if there is nothing left. Sleep well. Eat well. Take a break. Be merry-ish. I am not temperamentally designed for ambivalence (except as an appropriate therapy tool), but after three and a half years of blogging the basics are settled, and the tougher subtleties come to the fore. The blog is coming out of infancy and becoming self-aware. A separate consciouness dogging me, and mocking, sometimes. Is there no way to make a difference without being outrageous and unconscionable?

There is a community now, of doctors and people looking for common sense and an active role in their own care. Yet the publicity is centered on the straw-man paleo critics and the ridiculous purveyors of “paleo” brownies and doughnuts. I do see a use for these on some level and I don’t begrudge anyone the right to make a living by selling grain-free garbage, just not with that smarmy stamp of “health” across the top. It’s no better than the American Heart Association approval across the top of cheerios or whatever stupid processed cereal product they decide to endorse (shoot, even the AHA is ambivalent about the grocery store, as I can’t get their grocery store heart check products list to even load at the moment).

 It’s like Christopher Nolan took over my blog and replaced the shining optimism of a summer blockbuster with the dark semi-antihero superhero (spoiler!) who breaks General Zod’s neck in front of the sobbing families in Grand Central Station or the Metropolis equivalent. Yet life is really positive and wonderful, and the kids are doing well, and business is booming.

The ultimate child-like medical journal (no grumpy, scene-stealing, genetically engineered to be two-dimentional Krytponian General Zods allowed) is Medical Hypothesis. The staid and serious need not apply. No question that the glorious and insane ideas unleashed there could spark a revolution in medical treatment. The next generation is inspired, unplanned, and is blessed with the looks of Henry Cavill (he is training at Gym Jones for the MOS sequel, can you confirm this, Dallas?). Maybe. Or maybe it’s all an optimistic waste of time or craziness. You never know until the battle to the death that makes it all clear at the end of the summer blockbuster.  Victoria Prince (with her shiny new MD and PhD in addition to her native awesomeness, not unlike like Natalie Portman in Thor) sent me an article from there about OCD and the gut microbiome.

OCD I’ve always considered to be one of the more “organic” of mental disorders. More neurology, less psychology. Let’s not confuse it with obsessive compulsive tendencies that have led many a med student to success. No, OCD is a heart-breaking disorder, where people get stuck with unwelcome, repetitive, ego-dystonic thoughts and engage in uncomfortable compulsions to relieve the anxiety of those thoughts. Typical thoughts include pedophilia in a teacher who would never dream of harming students, or killing your own children, or stealing, or running over someone, or being contaminated by germs. (Hoarding is thought of as a variant of OCD, but is more responsive to treatments such as stimulants, which typically make OCD worse). Worsening OCD symptoms tend to be caused by pregnancy (even typical post-partum depression symptoms are OCD in nature, worries about the harming the baby, germophobia, etc.) and other stressful life events. It’s horrible but, in my experience, typically amenable to the standard treatment, therapy with an OCD specialist and high doses of SSRIs. Hardly paleo but neither is an appendectomy. Seriously, I’ve had patients who have led shadow lives for decades, bothered by these intrusive thoughts, who tried therapy after therapy, finally convinced to take an appropriate dose of medication who are suddenly free of the obsessions, the compulsions, and the constant mental torture. It’s an awakening. Sol to the native-born Kryptonian. Stretched the metaphor too far? Sorry, you are reading the wrong blog.

But I’ve been interested in the microbiome for a long time. 90% of our personhood are these “other” cells who inhabit us. They communicate with our brain, serve as a major part of our immunity, and regulate our immune response. Right up until the 20th century (more specifically mostly before 1975) we co-evolved with parasites, certain commensal bacterial, and pseudocommensals. The major autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, etc. have increased in incidence and prevalence in the last thirty years (though peaking, in some instances, around 2000, prior to more aggressive anti-autoimmune medical care instituted early). OCD has long been considered a variant of an autoimmune disease (while most of my patients were affected in childhood, I do have a few who became symptomatic in adulthood after infection with lyme disease, herpes, or other neurologic pathogen, plausibly leading to an autoimmune attack on the brain causing chronic OCD symptoms.)

So what does Medical Hypothesis have to say about all this speculation? Both dietary and emotional stress are known to affect the microbial population. And the PANDAS associated with OCD might not be the problem…perhaps it is the antibiotics given to treat the strep infection? Let’s not forget that before antibiotics, people died right and left of scarlet fever and all sorts of bad things. Henry Cavill also struggles with throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Do I reveal myself and save the school bus full of children? [SPOILER] Does Kevin Costner really want me to let those children drown? Good thing the tornado takes away his crazy moral equivalency…

The Medical Hypothesis article calls for the trials of probiotics that we all deserve, except that everyone knows the only hard core way to permanently affect the gut microbiome is via helminth therapy (yes, introducing parasitic worms) or fecal transplant. If we are going to be radical, let’s go radical in a scientific and controlled and meaningful way.

I’m impatient sometimes. And no one wants to wait for everyone to wear blue-blocking glasses, get some general daily activity in already, and save the magic paleo cookies for a few special occasions a year. People want sensibility, convenience, beauty, and fresh air. A glorious man in Antarctica who can fly with his red cape in the light of our young sun. Coconut milk. Roast beast. Fermentation. They want a grumpy, two-dimensional villain, like Zod, or Carbsane, or the Medical Establishment, or the flu vaccine.

I get so many emails that break my heart. Can you help me, I’m sick, my relative is sick.

I have no magic elixirs. I am no Henry Cavill. I can barely keep myself operating sometimes with all the souls currently assigned to my watch. I couldn’t save my young cousin from sarcoma. I can’t save anyone. You have to save yourself.