Archive for April, 2020

For Alzheimer’s, An Elusive Cure

April 30, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Christie Aschwanden in The Health & Science Section of The Washington Post. The article states, “For a decade over 200 leads have failed. Today, experts say the disease is more complex than first believed.” The defining features for a diagnose of Alzheimer’s are neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque. The cure they are seeking are drugs that prevent or remove these substances from the brain.

What is not mentioned in this article, and is rarely mentioned in any article, is that autopsies have revealed many people with brains full of these defining features, but who never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms. Now it is these behavioral and cognitive symptoms that are what is important, not the defining features of plaques and tangles. These people, who clearly would be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, never suffered any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms.

The reason provided for these people was that they had built up cognitive reserves that defended them from adverse effects of the defining features of Alzheimer’s. There are previous healthy memory blog posts on this important finding. Alzheimer’s and Amyloid Plaques was posted on July 6, 2011. That article stated that amyloid plaque was a necessary but not a sufficient factor for Alzheimer’s. On May 8, 2011 a second healthy memory blog post titled Glial Cells and Alzheimer’s Disease addressed this issue.

But the single, most important post was on August 28, 2011, The Myth of Alzheimer’s. The Myth of Alzheimer’s is a book by Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D. & Ph.D., and Daniel George, M.Sci. Dr. Whithouse had spent many years looking for a medicinal cure or preventative for Alzheimer’s. He was highly compensated for his work, and could have continued working on this topic. But he became convinced that this research would never yield fruit. He continued researching Alzheimer’s, but stopped his research looking for a medicinal prevention or cure. It is nine years later and researchers are continuing research, but have realized that the disease is more complex than first believed, so they are pursuing multiple medicines. It is clear why this research is continuing as financial rewards would be enormous, especially if multiple medications are needed.

Although cures are not in the offing, it appears that the preventive measures are clear. The preventive measures involve developing a cognitive reserve. People who have developed a cognitive reserve have been mentally active throughout their lives. This blog has many citations of Kahneman’s Two System Theory of Cognitive Processing. System 1 is our most common mode of processing. It is fast and efficient. Unfortunately, this speed is paid for at a cost. The failure to think critically can be disastrous in more important decisions. Cognitive neuroscience, which conducts brain imaging studies, has a term for mental activity which is the typical norm, called accordingly default mode processing. This mode can be identified in brain images. The default network of interacting brain regions is known to have activity highly correlated with each other and distinct from other networks in the brain. These regions are negatively correlated with attention networks in the brain. Normal conversation and well performed tasks are System 1 activities. Thinking and learning are System 2 processes and they involve cognitive effort. Most of the time spent on social media involves System 1 processing primarily.

The healthy memory blog recommends growth mindsets throughout one’s lifetime. Continue to think critically, and learn. In addition to increasing the odds against Alzheimer’s or dementia, it also provides for a richer, fuller life with a healthy memory. A healthy memory among the citizenry is important to a democracy.

The Post article does mention that some of the most promising approaches to addressing Alzheimer’s are nonpharmaceutical. The NIA is sponsoring 86 studies of non drug interventions that may help, including exercising, diet, cognitive training and sleep.

A study conducted in Finland and published in 2015, found that a program of physical activity, cognitive stimulation, a Mediterranean diet including fish offered some protection against cognitive decline. Participants were at a risk for dementia, but none had it. After two years, the risk of exhibiting cognitive decline was his 30% higher in the control group than in the one assigned to the lifestyle interventions. But what is needed is a lifestyle change, not just an intervention, although an intervention apparently does achieve some benefit.

It should be clear that System 2 cognitive processes are essential, but a healthy lifestyle is also essential. HM has a personal friend who, on the basis of his cognitive activity, one would think would be the last person to suffer Alzheimer’s. However, he had trained himself to sleep only 4 hours a night, so he could enjoy more waking time. But it appears that this was a poor tradeoff.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What We Should Learn from the Current Coronavirus Pandemic

April 28, 2020

This is the final post motivated and based on the the excellent book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease.

The first thing HM learned was that it is likely that there will be more pandemics. Indeed, if normal activities are resumed prematurely for the current virus, this virus will return to potency. Even if it doesn’t, we learned that pandemics can have three stages. It also appears that for some reason, viruses are becoming more sophisticated and more communicable, so the new normal might involve being constantly vigilant and constantly prepared.

Perhaps the most important thing we should have learned is that politicians who do not listen to the advice of scientists do not belong in office. For too long, Trump ignored scientists and came up with the conspiratorial theory that it was Democrats promoting false news to discredit his presidency.

We might very well experience additional damage from Trump’s ignorance and that is global warming. That can have catastrophic damages sooner than anticipated. There is a clear scientific consensus on this genuine problem. Republicans say that there are conflicting opinions. Trump thinks that scientists propose global warming to get big bucks for their research. Actually, there is an industry and it is a lucrative one. And that is the generation of contrary opinion so that too many Republicans can argue that there are diverse opinions. The big bucks are in generating contrary opinions for the purpose of certain industries and certain politicians. Since HM has a Ph.D, he probably could earn big bucks generating this trash.

There have been many previous healthymemory posts on the need for government supplied health insurance for all residents of the country. These posts have mentioned that the United States is the only advanced country that does not provide this assistance. In all cases, costs are lower with government provided insurance and the health care is better.

A large social support network is needed for these pandemics. And provisions need to be provided so that when people are forced from their jobs, their financial obligations are pushed to the right until they are able to reassume them.

Of course, we also need to have financing for the development of vaccinations and all the services that are needed for pandemics, to include the professionals and the equipment and personal protective equipment they need.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Stress Management Advice

April 27, 2020

This is the penultimate post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. Dr. Taylor offers the following advice for the general public.

Stay informed about how to keep safe. Seek out information from a credible source such as the WHO or CDC, or local health agency. Follow guidelines of the public health agencies. This might involve staying at home or avoiding public gatherings. Be wary of unsubstantiated rumors. Remember that media tend to sensationalize things by focusing on the bad news (people who become sick) and neglecting the more mundane good news (the many people who didn’t get sick). Limit your exposure to websites or TV programs that fuel your fears. HM recommends that you avoid these websites or TV programs not only for pandemic information, but for all information.
Keep things in perspective. For centuries people have survived hardships. Most people are resilient; most people bounce back and adapt to changes. Do not dwell on worst-cast scenarios. Remember, things will get better.
Stay healthy. A healthy lifestyle, including proper diet, exercise, sleep, and rest, is a good defense against illness. Avoid alcohol and other intoxicating substances. Practice good hygiene, such as hand washing and covering coughs, it will minimize the spread of infection to you and others. Get vaccinated. A healthy body can have a positive impact on your thoughts and emotions, enabling you to make better decisions and help you deal with the flu’s uncertainties. Take time to relax. Maintain your normal routine as far as you can.
Build resilience. Resilience is the process of adapting and coping in the face of adversity. Draw on skills that you have successfully used in the past to cope with life’s challenges. Use those skills to help manage your concerns of the flu’s uncertainties. (There are many healthy memory blog posts to do this. Just enter “resilience” into the search block as
Have a plan. Having a plan to cope with hardships can lessen your anxiety. In case health officials recommend that you stay at home, keep at least a two-week supply of non-perishable, easy to prepare, food, water, and other important household and other supplies, including medical supplies. Consider options for working from home. Plan on how you might care for sick family members. Establish an emergency family communication plan. Plan on how you might spend your time if schools or businesses are closed. Plan to stay at home if you are ill.
Communicate with your children. Discuss the flu in an open, age-appropriate manner with your children. Address your children’s concerns. Remember that children take their cues from adults; if they see that you’re upset then they will become upset. As far as possible, try to maintain your children’s routines and schedules. If you do notice that your child’s behavior has changed significantly at home or at school, discuss the situation with them.
Keep connected. Maintaining social networks can be a valuable way of sharing feelings and relieving stress. You can stay connected via social media if health authorities recommend that you limit face-to-face social contacts. But remember to take breaks from thinking and talking about stressful things in your life.
When to seek help. Some degree of fear or anxiety about the flu is normal, but sometimes people need help to cope with stress. Look for warning signs such as the following: (1) Persistent anxiety, worry, insomnia, irritability, or depression, (2) avoiding social contact to the point where you have become isolated, (3) persistently checking one’s body (taking your temperature) or persistently seeking reassurance about your health from doctors, friends, family, or the Internet, (4) engaging in excessive or unnecessary hygiene precautions, such as wearing a facemask at home or repeatedly washing your hands when there is no need to do so, or (5) abusing alcohol or drugs, or overeating, as a way of coping with stress.
Where to seek help. If any of the warning signs apply to you, then you may benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist, family physician, or counselor. Sometime a consultation can be conduced via the Internet. Consulting with a healthcare professional can help ou devise a plan for coping with stress.
HM stresses the value of meditation. There is an enormous number of healthy memory posts on this topic. Just enter “meditation” into the search block at But first enter “Relaxation Response” into this search block.

Improving Risk Communication

April 26, 2020

This is the eighth post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in that book.

Frightening people into changing their behaviors is widely used in health promotion campaigns. However, there is concern that such messages might induce widespread anxiety, which can create problems of its own. Some commentators argue that risk communications should contain a balance of assuring and fear-inducing information. Other commentators argue that the public should be presented with the worst-case scenario. According to Sandman, a risk-communication consultant, the government must help the public to “visualize what a bad pandemic might be like.” Regarding the 2009 Swine flu pandemic, Sandman asserted that “the CDC’s biggest failure was in not doing enough to help people visualize what a bad pandemic might be like so they can understand and start preparing for the worst.”

Sandman argues that in terms of preparedness planning: (1) People need to be educated as to how they can protect themselves rather than being treated as passive individuals who have little to do except wash their hands and use facemasks, and (2) people need to err on the side of caution.

Fear appeals can be effective in achieving persuasive goals, but their effectiveness depends on a variety of factors, including features of the message and the target audience. Important factors include the severity of the perceived threat in relation to what the person believes can be done to cope with the threat.

Adherence to the guidelines presented in a fear-evoking message is expected to occur if (1) the threat is perceived as severe, (2) an effective coping response is to be available, and (3) the person believes he is capable of executing an effective coping response.

Sometimes fear appeals can be counterproductive. Telling people that they are at risk of contracting a disease increases their vigilance to disease cues. This can increase the chance of correctly identifying infection and taking appropriate action. But it also increases the chance that people will misinterpret benign bodily sensations as indications of disease and therefore become unduly anxious and needlessly seek medical attention and potentially over-taxing the healthcare system.

A distinction also must be made between monitors and blunters with respect to fear-evoking messages. Monitors are actively seeking information, whereas blunters tend to disregard the messages they do hear. Fear evoking messages are effective in conveying the seriousness of the risk. In contrast, blunters are more likely to distract themselves from such messages. Blunters may benefit from messages that involve logical appeals, which were less likely to trigger avoidance than fear-evoking messages.

Psychological distance also influences perceived risk.

Spatial distance. This is the physical proximity of the disease to the person.
Temporal distance. This refers to two temporal parameters: How soon the threat might arrive, and the temporal origin or newness of the threat. The greater the newness, the greater the perceived threat.
Social distance. This is defined by the nature of social relationships. The closer the people, the greater the fear.
Probability distance. The perceived probability of an event is influenced by a range of factors, including the cognitive process known as the availability heuristic (Tversky & Kahneman). That is, the greater the ease of recalling something, the greater is the perceived the probability of occurring in the future. Consistent with this, research conducted by White and his colleagues found that the frequency with which a person encounters a virus’s names associated with greater perceived danger.

Conspiracy Theories

April 25, 2020

This is the seventh post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in that book.

What is unique and ironic about the coronavirus epidemic is that it was spread the President of the United States, Donald Trump, and echoed by his propaganda network, Fox News. The claim was that the coronavirus pandemic was a hoax, false news, being spread by the Democrats to defeat Trump in the November election. Doing this plus not doing the activities that needed to be done to defeat the virus, did inestimable damage not just to the health of the country, but to the entire country. So the conspiracy was caused by a narcissistic President, who is paranoid, and is rarely in touch with reality.

As for typical conspiracies, Dr. Taylor offers the following possibilities:

Suspiciousness, magical thinking, and the tendency to believe in the paranormal.
Narcissism (an inflated view of oneself that requires external validation) and the need to feel unique that can be fulfilled by believing that one has special knowledge about conspiracies.
Worry about one’s health and mortality, for people who believe in medical conspiracy theories.
Gullibility, lower media literacy (poorer ability to critically analyze the source and contents of news stories as indicated, for example, by the tendency to believe in fake news), lower intelligence, lower education, and poorer skills in analytical thinking.
Rejection of conventional scientific findings or theories (the theory of evolution) in favor of pseudoscience (the belief that prayer is effective in curing terminal disease).

The Behavioral Immune System

April 24, 2020

This is the sixth post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in that book. The concept of the behavioral immune system (BIS) focuses on basic motivational aspects of disease avoidance, whereby emotional states such as disgust are important. The concept of BIS provides important insights into the social consequences of disease avoidance mechanisms.

PVD is assessed by the Perceived Vulnerability to Disease Scale (PVDS), which consists of two correlated dimensions: (1) Perceived vulnerability to infection disease (perceived infectability), and (2) avoidance and discomfort in situations in which a person is liable to be infected. The PVDS is a short (5-item) questionnaire that has performed well on tests of reliability and validity. Consequently it is a promising means of identifying people at risk for adverse emotional reactions in response to the threat of pandemic infection.

The BIS is especially useful in understanding societal reactions to the threat of infection, particularly discrimination against out-groups (foreigners) and people who appear to be in poor health or appear to have been associated with an infectious agent. As predicted by the concept of the BIS, when threatened with infection, people may react with xenophobia and may stigmatize particular groups. Stigma and discrimination can be an added source of distress to people struggling to cope with pandemic infection.

The author states that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can reduce PVD. As has been suggested in previous posts meditation provides another technique for reducing a person’s stress proneness and negative emotions. There are many healthy memory posts on meditation. Just enter “meditation” in the search block at

There are many posts on “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” that can be extremely. Just enter this title into the search block referenced above.

Also enter “mindfulness” to learn of other beneficial posts.

Cognitive-Behavioral Models of Health Anxiety

April 23, 2020

This is the fifth post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. Health anxiety refers to the tendency to be alarmed by illness-related stimuli. It ranges on a continuum from mild to severe, and it can be a state or trait. A trait is a relatively enduring tendency.

Some people have very low levels of health anxiety. This lack of concern about health risks can be maladaptive. Excessively low health concerns can be associated with unrealistic optimism bias. People unconcerned about infection tend to neglect to perform recommended hygienic behaviors, such as washing their hands and tend to be non adherent to social distancing.

Excessively high health anxiety is characterized by undue anxiety or worry about one’s health, meaning a disproportionate concern given one’s objective level of health. Compared to less anxious people, people with excessively high levels of health anxiety tend to become unduly alarmed by all kinds of perceived threats and overestimate the likelihood and seriousness of becoming ill.

Excessive health anxiety is common, with an estimated lifetime prevalence of 6% in the community. Cognitive-behavioral models propose that excessive anxiety about one’s health is triggered by the misinterpretation of health-related stimuli including: (1) bodily changes or sensations which may or may not be indications of disease (fatigue, muscle aches), (2) direct health-related observations of other people (observing other people coughing or sneezing, or observing others becoming alarmed about being ill), (3) more abstract forms of health-related information, such as warnings from one’s doctor, advice from friends or family members, and information from social and mass media.

Interpretations of health-related stimuli are influenced by memory processes such as recollection of past experiences, and by long-standing beliefs. Learning experiences, such as being hospitalized as a child, can lead some people to mistakenly believe that their health is fragile. People with excessive health anxiety tend to believe that all bodily sensations or bodily changes are potential signs of disease. In a survey of American college students conducted in the early stages of the 2009 Swine flu pandemic, 25% wrongly believed that Swine flu could be transmitted via water sources, 18% wrongly believed that Swine flu could be spread by insect bites, and 9% wrongly believed that Swine flu could be transmitted by eating cooked pork.

Selective attention to bodily states is influenced not only by internal factors, but also by external stimuli. People are more likely to detect bodily sensations if they are in environments in which there are few or no distractions, as compared to an environment with numerous stimuli the attract the person’s attention.

People’s interpretations influence whether or not they seek treatment, and whether they seek appropriate treatment. People can hold erroneous beliefs about what is an effective treatment. Some people believe that they only need symptomatic relief, which may be insufficient if the underlying disease needs to be treated.

Cognitive-behavior models suggest that excessive health anxiety can be addressed by targeting dysfunctional beliefs and maladaptive behaviors. Consequently, people need to be well read on the causes of these dysfunctional beliefs and maladaptive behaviors.

Personal Traits as Emotional Vulnerability Factors

April 22, 2020

This is the fourth post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D. , The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. There is no single theory for understanding the various emotional and other reactions to pandemics. However, there are several mutually complementary domains of their research that are relevant. The first factor is negative emotionality, also known as neuroticism.

People scoring high on this trait tend to frequently experience aversive emotions such as anxiety, irritability, and depression in response to stressors. Negative emotionality is a risk factor for various kinds of mood and anxiety disorders. Negative emotionality is also associated with anxiety about one’s general health. These people tend to misinterpret bodily sensations as indications of serious disease. During the 2003 SARS epidemic negative emotionality predicted the level of distress experienced by health care workers who were responsible for caring for patients with suspected SARS. A study of college students found that negative emotionality predicted the level of distress in response to the threat of Avian flu infection.

Negative emotionality is a higher-order trait that is made up of several narrower traits, including two conceptually overlapping traits: trait anxiety and harm avoidance. People scoring high on trait anxiety tend to view the world as dangerous and threatening. Harm avoidance and trait anxiety are both correlated with anxiety disorders, mood disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, somatoform disorder and with health anxiety. Trait anxiety also predicted the evil of SARs.

Meditation provides another technique for reducing a person’s stress proneness and negative emotions. There are many healthy memory posts on meditation. Just enter “meditation” in the search block at

There are many posts on “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” that can be helpful. Just enter this title into the search block referenced above.

Psychological Reactions to Pandemics

April 21, 2020

This is the third post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. Stevens writes that contemporary methods for managing pandemics are largely behavioral or educational interventions, vaccination adherence programs, hygienic practices, social distancing, in which psychological factors play a vital role. “Excessive emotional distress associated with threatened or actual infection is a further issue of clinical and public health significance. Psychological factors are also relevant for understanding and addressing the socially disruptive behavioral patterns that can arise as a result of widespread, serious infection.”

During this pandemic many people are becoming fearful, some intensely so. The psychological “footprint” will likely be larger than the medical “footprint”. So it is likely that the psychological effects will be more pronounced, more widespread, and longer-lasting than the purely somatic effects of infection. In the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak, the “epidemic of fear” was worse than the epidemic itself in terms of the number of people affected. Excessive public fear of Ebola arose in the United States even though there was little or no risk of contagion.

People differ in how they react to psychosocial stressors such as the fear of a pandemic. Reactions are diverse, ranging from fear to indifference to fatalism. At one end of the spectrum, some people disregard or deny risks, and fail to engage in recommended health behaviors such as hygiene and social distancing. At the other end of the spectrum, many people react with intense anxiety or fear. A moderate level of fear or anxiety can motivate people to cope with health threats, but severe distress can be debilitating.

Mental disorder can be triggered or exacerbated by pandemic-related stressors, including mood disorder, anxiety disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a pandemic unfolds, some people adapt to the threat and become less anxious. But in some cases the psychological effects can be severe and long-lasting. Research on the SARS outbreak showed that the psychological effects are not always short-lived, and the emotional reactions can be severe and persistent. A longitudinal study found that 44% of SARS patients developed PTSD. In a survey of Beijing hospital workers during the SARs outbreak, about 10% developed PTSD symptoms. Respondents who had been quarantined, worked at high-risk sites such as SARS wards, or had friends to close relatives who contracted were 2-3 times more likely to have PTSD symptoms than people without these exposures.

For many SARS patients, psychological distress, including PTSD, persisted after the infection had been treated, in some cases for years after patients had recovered from the physical effects of the SARS virus. What made SARS especially distressing was that it was (1) a novel infection with an unknown course and treatment, (2) infection was managed with social isolation, and (3) there were fears of spreading this poorly understood infection to others. These results raise concerns about the long-term psychological consequences of the current coronavirus pandemic.

There are immunologically induced psychological reactions. These are psychological reactions that are the direct physiological consequence of infection. People infected by viral or bacterial agents may experience a syndrome called sickness behavior. Symptoms include nausea, fatigue, sleep disturbance, depression, irritability, and mild cognitive impairment. This sickness behavior is triggered by pro inflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-6, and interleukin-1beta. Immune reactions can involve neuroinflammation, which may lead to sickness behavior.

Research in the field of psychoneuroimmunology has shown that negative emotions and stressful events can lead to some degree of suppression of the immune system, thereby enhancing susceptibility to infection and dampening the beneficial effects of vaccines. A series of studies has shown that immune responses to viral and bacterial vaccines, including influenza vaccines, are delayed, substantially weakened, or shorter-loved in people who are distressed or exposed to stressors. These effects tend to be greater in people who are prone to experience frequent negative moods. Stressors and negative emotions have been found to influence the production of lymphocytes and pro inflammatory cytokines. Pandemic-related stressors may compromise the immune system, thereby making people more vulnerable to infections.

Even if pandemic-related stress and distress do significantly dampen the immune system, psychological interventions such as cognitive based therapy can reduce a person’s stress proneness and negative emotions, thereby offsetting any stress-related immunosuppression.

Meditation provides another technique for reducing a person’s stress proneness and negative emotions. There are many healthy memory posts on meditation. Just enter “meditation” in the search block at

There are many posts on “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” that can helpful. Just enter this title into the search block referenced above.

Methods for Managing Pandemics

April 20, 2020

This is the second post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics.   The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. Four main methods are used to manage the spread of infections: (1) Risk communication (public education, (2) vaccines and antiviral therapies, (3) hygiene practices, and (4) social distancing.

Here are four guidelines on risk communication:

Announce the outbreak early, even with incomplete information, so as to minimize the spread of rumors and misinformation.
It is important to note that Donald Trump not only did not announce the outbreak early, but he also denied there was a risk of an outbreak. He claimed that this was false news created by Democrats who were trying to threaten his re-election. When he finally did announce the outbreak he said that there was a test (a beautiful test he said) to see if someone was infected and that this test was freely available. This test has a yet to be developed. And the absence of this test has made it extremely difficult to track the course of the disease and to design techniques for thwarting or defeating it.

2. Provide information about what the public can do to make themselves safer.

3. Maintain transparency to ensure public trust.
Trump has failed to stay on message. Worse yet, he contradicts the advice from knowledgeable professionals. He has no public trust, only the trust of his supporters who blindly follow him.

4. Demonstrate that efforts are being made to understand the public’s views and concerns about the outbreak
Little, if anything constructive is being done.

5. Evaluate the impact of communications programs to insure that messages are being correctly understood and that the advice is being followed.
Messages are garbled and frequently contradicted by Trump.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine and the prospect of one being developed is far in the future. As for antiviral therapies there are a few pending evaluation.

Commonly recommended hygiene practices include hand washing with soap or hand sanitizer, covering sneezes/coughs (e.g., sneezing into the crook of one’s arms)l hand awareness (refraining from touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth), cleaning household surfaces, and wearing facemasks. Research indicates that the spread of respiratory viruses can be reduced by frequent hand washing. There is insufficient evidence to determine whether efficacy is improved by using viricidals or antiseptics instead of plain soap.

The evidence of the efficacy of the facemask for the general public is mixed, although N95 respirator facemasks might provide some degree of protection against airborne pathogens. Facemarks are more important in limiting the spread of infection in hospital settings.

Regarding acceptability, practices such as covering coughs, hand washing, and using soap are typically acceptable to the general public, whereas masks tend to be less acceptable, particularly in Western counties. An unintended consequence of facemasks is that the sight of people wearing masks might provoke anxiety by serving as reminders of heath-related risks.

Although hand washing is generally acceptable among people as means of reducing the spread of disease, this does not necessarily translate into actual washing behaviors. Despite public health warnings, people routinely fail to adhere to hand washing recommendations, particularly if they are not being observed by others. For example, it is common for people to fail to wash their hands after using the toilet. A British study found that a quarter of rail and bus commuters had fecal bacteria on their hands. According to a systematic review of 96 studies, a mean of 40% of people fail to wash their hands after toilet use.

Social distancing must be applied immediately, rigorously, and consistently to be effective. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing there is no national policy of social distancing. Moreover, there are groups of certain religious people who ignore this practice during worshiping. Where social distancing is observed and enforced, it is working quite well.

The Psychology of Pandemics

April 19, 2020

The title of this book is identical to the title of a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. Steven Taylor is a Professor and Clinical Psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia.

The first chapter begins, “Pandemic influenza is one of the leading health threats currently facing the world. The rise of antimicrobial resistance, along with the emergence of new, highly pathogenic viral strains has fueled fears of another global outbreak disease. [Obviously this book was written before the outbreak of the pandemic we are suffering at the time of the writing of this post]. For pandemics in general, the causal elements are manifold and complex. The essential elements are an infectious agent, a host (e.g., a person), and the environment. The host’s resistance as well as psychological factors that influence how the host copes with or reacts to the threatened or actual infection. Environmental factors are numerous and multiform, including factors that promote or hamper the coping strategies of the host.”

Pandemics are large-scale epidemics that afflict millions of people across multiple countries, and sometimes spread throughout the globe. For a virus or bacterium to cause a pandemic it must be an organism for which most people do not have a preexisting immunity, that is easily transmitted from person to person, causing severe illness. Diseases causing pandemics are part of a group of conditions known as emerging infectious diseases, which include newly identified pathogens as well as reemerging ones.

The author writes, “Pandemics are events in which the population’s psychological reactions play an essential role in both the spreading and containment of the disease, and influence the extent to which widespread emotional distress and social disorder occur. When threatened with infection, people vary widely in their reactions. The complexities of their reactions need to be taken into consideration in order to understand the psychology of pandemics.”

He continues, “Pandemics are usually viral in nature, typically arising from animal influenza viruses that spread to humans. It is difficult to predict when the next influenza pandemic will occur.’ He then cites the following passage by Morens, Taubenberger, Folkers, & Fauci in 2010. ‘Despite continuing progress in many areas including enhanced human and animal surveillance and large-scale viral genomic screening, we are probably no better able today to anticipate and prevent the emergence of pandemic influenza than 5 centuries ago, as shown by the completely unexpected emergence of the 2009 novel H1N1 pandemic virus.’

The following passage by Laver & Webster clearly anticipated the current crisis: “The world’s population would have no immunity to this ‘new’ virus. Because of today’s crowded conditions with modern rapid transportation facilities, the epidemic would spread like wildfire, reaching every corner of the globe. Many millions of people would become ill and there would certainly be many deaths. “ The frequent genetic mutation and genetic reassortment of influenza viruses make it difficult, if not impossible, to prevent influenza pandemics from occurring.

From a psychology perspective there are many pandemic-related stressors. Dr. Taylor writes, “Pandemics are frequently marked by uncertainty, confusion, and a sense of urgency. Prior to, or in the early states of a pandemic, there is widespread uncertainty about the odds and seriousness of becoming infected, along with uncertainty, and possible information, about the best methods of prevention and management. Uncertainty may persist well into the pandemic, especially concerning the question of whether a pandemic is truly over. Pandemics can come in waves. Waves of infection are caused, in part, by fluctuations in patterns of human aggregation, such as seasonal movements of people away from and then into contact with one another, as well as other fluctuations in social aggregation. The Spanish flu, for example, came in three waves. Accordingly, there may be uncertainty as to whether a pandemic has truly run its course.”

Dr. Taylor continues, “Pandemics are associated with a score of psychosocial stressors, including health threats to oneself and loved ones. There may be severe disruptions of routines, separations from family and friends, shortages of food and medicine, wage loss, social isolation due to quarantine or other social distancing programs, and school closure. Families may become malnourished if no one in the house is well enough to shop or cook. Socioeconomic factors definitely play a role. Personal financial hardship can occur if a family’s primary wage earner is unable to work because of illness [or social distancing and being unable to work from home]. During the Spanish flu, for example, merchants suffered hardship because of staff absenteeism and because shoppers were either too ill or too frightened to venture out to the stores. The personal financial impact of a pandemic can be as severe and stressful as the infection itself, especially for people who are already experiencing financial hardship.”

There are very large effects on the healthcare system that border on if not causing the system to collapse. Special equipment, such as ventilators, come into a large demand never experienced in nominal conditions. The economic costs range from at least a recession, and, more likely, a depression.

Human networks are the major means of pandemic disease transmission. Influenza is readily spread by inhaling airborne cough or sneeze droplets, and by touching one’s mouth, nose, or eyes after touching formites. Some people disproportionately contribute to the spreading of infection. These people are known as super spreaders. In a prototypic case as few as 20% of infected people may be responsible for 80% of the transmissions. A super spreader is likely to be someone who (1) is not immunized or immunocomprimised and therefore particularly susceptible to infection. (2) does no engaging in basic hygiene (e.g., covering coughs) and therefore likely to transmit influenza, (3) comes into contact with a great many people, through some combination of their social and occupational roles.

Burn Your Boat

April 18, 2020

The title of this post is the same as the final chapter in an essential book published in 2020, Cured, The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing, by Jeffrey Reedier, M.D. He begins this chapter with these quotes from survivors:

I had the feeling that there was no harm, no shame, no judgment if I wanted to be done. But also that if I wanted to, if I chose life, it would be hard work.
Mira Bunnell, metatastatic melanoma

If I had followed the laws of medicine, I should be in the grave fifteen years by now.
Patricia Kaine, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

I accepted the diagnosis, but not the prognosis.
Juniper Stein, ankylosing spondylitis

I know there’s something beyond medicine. They gave me up for dead. And here I am, fifteen years later.
Matt Ireland, glioblastoma multiforme

Remember that if you don’t take charge of your healing, someone else will, and you probably won’t like the outcome.
Jerry White, renal cell carcinoma

The title of the chapter is an illusion to Hernan Cortes, the Spanish explorer and conquistador who arrived on the coast of Mexico near Veracruz, intending to claim the land occupied by the Aztec empire for Spain. He had eleven ships, thirteen horses, and five hundred men. At that time the Aztec empire stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific and was the largest and most powerful Mesoamerican kingdom of all time. Its population numbered over five million. Its fighting force, which was famous for being fierce and unbeatable, was many times larger than Cortes. Moreover, Cortes wasn’t even supposed to be there. His commander had revoked his order to sail to Mexico, but went anyway. He landed on a beach at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. His army was too small for the task and he had no support behind. Cortes burned and sunk the eleven ships so that there was no escape for the soldiers. Either they prevailed or were killed. Fortunately for them and Cortes, but not for the Aztecs, they prevailed. Dr. Rediger uses this true story to stress an all-out commitment if spontaneous recovery is achieved. As has been written previously, there is nothing spontaneous about spontaneous recovery.

Alastair Cunningham, a psychologist, conducted a study in 2002 titled, Fighting for life: a qualitative analysis of the process of psychotherapy-assisted self-help in patients with metastatic cancer. Here are the conclusions from that study:

Conditions associated with poor survival outcomes:

*Inflexibility associated with own self-esteem or fixed worldview
*Skepticisim about self-help techniques, or a limited ability to apply them
*Other activities seemed more immediately appealing.
*Meaning was habitually sought outside the individual, from some external source
*Strong, contrary views about the validity of spiritual ideas
Conditions associated with longer survival

*Strong will to live
*Actual changes in habits of thought and activity
*Relaxation practices, meditation, mental imaging, cognitive monitoring
*Becoming involved in a search for meaning in one’s life.

Here is how Dr. Rediger concludes his book:

“None of use know how much time we have here. There is no key to immortality—not even spontaneous healing lasts forever, What the survivors of incurable illness in this book found was a way to move forward that accept this: that there would be an end, but that in the meantime, they were going to live the best, most authentic and fulfilling lives that they could. They were going to find those big deep changes that made them feel better and more alive and lean into them as hard as they could. If it meant restructuring their lives, they did it. If it meant letting go of limiting relationships, they let them go. They looked at themselves in the mirror and asked, What is the story I’ve been telling about myself, and how is it wrong? None of them embarked on this journey halfway or the idea they could cheer death; they set forth with the mission to claim the life that was theirs for the time they had. In doing so, they healed. They healed the way they treated their bodies. They healed how they responded to the stresses and challenges of life. They healed their toxic or damaging beliefs about the world and what was possible. And finally, they headed the story of who they are, so they could find freedom and the capacity to make lifesaving changes.

One spontaneous recoverer said, “It was foremost a struggle of the mind and spirit. The body followed.”

A Note from HM

There is no way HM can do justice to this outstanding and important book. If these humble posts peaked your interest, please read the book.

Healing Death

April 17, 2020

This post is the fifteenth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. Dr. Rediger writes,”There’s something transcendent about facing death and not backing down. In not skirting around it but walking through it—a fire that burns away everything but the most essential parts of you. It becomes clear, suddenly, what you most want, who you are at your core, what you are, what you are meant to do with your time here. It clarifies, like nothing else can, what it means for you to “heal your identify” and create a new story for the rest of your life.”

Continuing, “One way to look at it is that there is a kind of figurative “death” of the false self. Many survivors describe it in these terms, and in fact tell me repeatedly that there illnesses were their greatest gifts, because they liberated their true selves. By dying, they found life. By facing the worst that could happen and moving through it, they excised the “disease of fear” that binds us all and then realized that unexpectedly, they were free to live.”

Heres why Dr. Rediger writes is what death doesn’t mean. “First of all, accepting your own mortality does not mean curling up and waiting to die. It doesn’t mean acquiescing to a prognosis that isn’t true to your specific, unique, and personal situation. Those who experienced spontaneous remission had something important in common, whether their illnesses were chronic or terminal: something inside them said they were people rather than prognosis.”

The prominent evolutionary biologist, Stephen Jay Gould who taught at Harvard many years, was diagnosed at age 40 with mesothelioma, an especially deadly form of cancer that affects the abdominal lining. He was told he had 8 months to live. That was the median that the doctors told him he could reasonably expect. Initially, he was devastated. But when he started doing his own research and realized that the “median” only represented some of the possible outcomes. Although there were many cases clustered there, around the middle, but there were many others scattered at both ends of the spectrum.

When he realized that the possibilities were much more fluid than his doctors had suggested, he wrote an essay, a call to arms for others facing such a prognosis. It was titled “The Median Isn’t the Message.” I am not a statistic. I am a human, and my life does not follow a course charted on a medical graph.” Gould decided that there were good rational reasons supporting the idea that perhaps he was on the side of the lengthened life, more than the median. He recovered completely from the mesothelioma and lived another 20 years before dying from unrelated causes.

Here is Dr. Rediger’s final paragraph in this chapter: “There is a level of intensity, of dedication, among those who spontaneously healed, that is unparalleled. The comparisons to great athletes are apt; these are high achievers, the ones who do what we’ve all decided is physically impossible. People who break physical records are people who dedicate themselves completely to their training, pushing themselves as far as they can go—and then farther. In some way, were survivors of incurable diseases doing the same?

By now it should be apparent to readers that there is nothing spontaneous about spontaneous recovery.

You Are Not Your Illness

April 16, 2020

This post is the fourteenth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. One of the examples of this title is the story of two identical twins born with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is typically caused by developmental abnormalities in the womb or oxygen depletion during birth at affects the body’s muscles, movement, and coordination. One sister sought care from Dr. Nemeh who, while a licensed physician, includes practices many would regard as faith healing. Over the course of just a few visits, she began to experience a shift in how she felt about her body. After Dr. Nemeh laid his hands on her body, she felt a surge of energy, leaped out of her chair, and ran out of the room. She’d never run anywhere before in her life.

Her identical twin came along with her, sat quietly in her wheelchair during the interview, listening. She witnessed the remarkable transformation of her sister’s body and life but refused to see Dr. Nemeh herself. She told Dr. Rediger that she didn’t feel worthy of his attentions; she was certain that any attempt she made to improve herself would fail. She felt too defective and, therefore, unworthy.

Here’s another example provided by Dr. Rediger:
“We’ve already seen how intertwined beliefs, physical health, and healing are and how our own individual perception shape—from the ground up—how we understand the world around us. Two people can be sitting next to each other in Central Park, for example, but be living in two completely different universes. The first felt oppressed by the constant of traffic or frightened by the rapid beat of helicopter blades overhead. People approaching seem menaciing—what do they want? The person sitting right next to them will notice other things: a mother lovingly placing a blanket over her baby in a stroller, a couple holding hands and speaking as if only they exist, a shower of leaves raining down from a tree, red and gold in the sunlight. Two different worlds. Extend these radically perceptions across a period of years and imagine how different the biology of those two people’s physical bodies might be.”

Here’s a study showing how truly amazing the science of perception is: “a team of maids working at the same hotel, with the same general job responsibilities, were separated into two groups. One group was told that their usual work duties constituted “exercise”—that it actually satisfied the Surgeon General’s recommendations for daily exercise. The other group, a control group, was told nothing. Over the course of the study, the women in the first group became measurably fitter (weight, waist-to-hip ratio, BMI, normalized blood pressure), while the other group experienced no change at all. Perception—in this case, the belief that a certain activity was “exercise”—had the power to change the body.”

As we age, we may begin to think of ourselves as decrepit or diminished; we may fixate on our losses. But this negativity, which is perfectly natural, is also extraordinarily harmful. Research by Ellen Langer at Harvard and Becca Leby at the Yale School of Public Health is discovering that having genuinely positive views about growing older improves your health and extends your life, even more so that exercising or quitting smoking. Plus, negative thoughts about aging put you at risk for developing Alzheimer’s. Researchers found that the chronic stress generated by negative self-deceptions wears down the hippocampus, the small, seahorse-shaped portion of the brain that is responsible for your memories, emotions, and even the beating of your heart.

Jerry was a cancer patient who had undergone many unsuccessful treatments. He decided to go off any treatments and focus entirely on the meditation and and guided imagery he’d been practicing for the past year. This involved engaging in intensive visualizations that attempted to “communicate from the conscious left-brain hemisphere to the subconscious right brain by use of imagery.” Jerry was trying through intensive visual meditation to send signals to his body—signals from his conscious self to a deeper coordinating intelligence within him, capable of altering the functioning of his immune system. His chosen meditation: to light up the antigens on each and every cancer cell, illuminating them like beacons, so that a his own immune system cells—the nature killer cells, macrophages, and T cells—could find and excise them.

Dr Rediger writes that he apparently did! Three months after he abruptly quite treatment and took on his meditative practice, his doctor examined him and declared “NED”: no evidence of disease.

Dr. Rediger writes the war metaphor, fighting and beating a disease works for many, but not all people. Another individual thought of her illness as messages from her body, an attempt to communicate with her. For her, listening and responding to that message was key.

Healing Your Identity

April 15, 2020

This post is the thirteenth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. The title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in that book. Dr. Rediger is a psychiatrist, and this is a chapter where it is quite clear that he is a psychiatrist.

Drs.Vincent Felitti and Richard Anda identified ten types of childhood stress and trauma that they called adverse childhood experiences or ACEs. Here is the list

Physical abuse
Sexual abuse
Emotional abuse
Physical neglect
Emotional neglect
Exposure to domestic violence
Household domestics abuse
Household mental illness
Parental separation or divorce
Incarcerated household member

These adverse childhood experiences can result in serious emotional damage that can be carried throughout one’s life. Dr. Rediger brings in the concept of a default mode network (DMN). As the name implies, the default mode is the mode to which the brain defaults when it is not actively thinking. Dr. Redger says that for him, moving beyond childhood trauma and making sure his body wasn’t locked into a cycle of chronic fight or flight also meant getting out of his default mode network.

He writes, “New experiences are one way to do this; any time you get out of your daily routine and experience something new, your brain exits the DMN, and you get out of your default mode of operating. It’s an enormous opportunity both for changing your thought patterns and changing your health. When you get out of the the DMN, you have the chance to create and reinforce new neural pathways that can override existing ones.

The concept of the DMN should not be new to regular readers of the healthy memory blog (e.g, “Default Network, System 1 Processing, and Alzheimer’s Disease.) Enter “Default Network” into the search block at
to find that post.

That post identified similarities between the default mode network and Kahneman’s System 1 Processing. Kahneman’s System 1 processing is important in that HM thinks that too heavy a use of System 1 processing at the expense of System 2 processing, which is active thinking, increases the risk for AD.

The simplest distinction between the two terms is that Kahneman is a cognitive psychologist and his two process view of cognitive processes comes from cognitive psychology. The default mode network comes from cognitive neuroscience. Default mode activity is identified via brain imaging. Although they might not be identical, that distinction awaits further research, it is clear that there is considerable overlap between the two.

In addition to brain atrophy, AD patients have abnormal high levels of proteins in different brain regions. In the medial temporal lobe, the accumulation of tau protein leads to neurofibrillary tangles. In cortical regions, such as the parietal cortex in early AD, the accumulation of amyloid-B protein leads to amyloid plaques. The neurofibrillary tangles in the medial temporal lobe and amyloid plaques in cortical regions can be assumed to disrupt neural processing in these regions.

Dr. Slotnick writes, “There is an influential hypothesis that there is a causal relationship between default network activity that leads to deposition of amyloid that results in atrophy and disrupted metabolic activity, which impairs long-term memory in AD patients. The regions in the default network are active when participants are not engaged in a task and include the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the medial prefrontal cortex, the inferior prefrontal cortex and the medial parietal cortex. In AD patients, amyloid deposition occurs in the same regions, which suggests the default network activity may lead to amyloid deposition. Dr. Slotnick suggests that perhaps higher levels of amyloid deposition, which occurs in late AD patients, is necessary to produce atrophy in the frontal cortex.

Dr. Slotnick continues, “If high amyloid deposition is a causal factor in developing AD, older adults with low levels of amyloid should be at decreased risk for developing this disease. There is some evidence that cognitive engagement throughout life may reduce the amyloid level in the brains of healthy older adults as a function of cognitive engagement, and this was compared to the cortical amyloid levels . Participants rated the frequency which they engaged in cognitively demanding tasks such as reading, writing, going to the library, or playing games at five different ages (6, 12, 18, 40, and their current age). Healthy older adults with greater cognitive engagement throughout their lifetime, as measured by the average cognitive activity at the five ages, had lower levels of amyloid in default network regions. Moreover, the healthy older adults in the lowest one-third of lifetime engagement had amyloid levels that were equivalent to AD patients, and the healthy older adults in the highest one-third of lifetime cognitive engagement had amyloid levels that were equivalent to young adults.

Dr. Rediger is arguing that another reason for exiting DFM and reviewing and forgetting ACEs, is that it will facilitate the healing of your identity, which, in addition to the other factors he identifies in his book, might facilitate a spontaneous remission.

The Power of Placebo

April 14, 2020

This post is the twelfth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. The title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in that book.

The placebo effect is real. Today, going into any of kind research study on the efficacy o the drug, the expectation is that, on average, a full 35% of the participants will experience a strong placebo response. They will receive what is essentially a sugar pill but experience the same effects as those taking the real medication. The efficacy of a drug needs to be assessed against the placebo response. It needs to be significantly higher (in a statistical sense) than the response to the placebo or the drug should not be approved. This 35% is an average. The ranges is between 10% and 90%, depending on the specific illness and the particular medication or treatment being tested.

Knee arthroscopy is a common knee surgery that is performed seven hundred thousand times a year in the United States. Alone this surgery makes up $4 billion of health-care spending in this country. It’s often used to perform a repair on the meniscus, the padding of cartilage that sits on both sides of the kneecap and that provides a smooth cushion for the joint. Meniscus tears are widespread and cause pain with movement, so doctors frequently recommend arthroscopy to repair it. But when researchers ran studies to compare the outcome between an arthroscopy and a faux arthroscopy (in which the surgeon makes an incision during “surgery” but repairs nothing so that the patient only believes he had the surgery), it was revealed that there was no difference between the actual surgery and the sham surgery. In both groups, people reported relief of symptoms to the same degree. In other words, you don’t need a knee arthroscopy to improve your range of motion and mitigate pain. You just need to believe that you had one.

At Harvard, Ted Kaptchuk, the preeminent researcher on placebo, has looked into the way placebo works along the same neurotransmitters as certain medications, and he has also begun to isolate certain genetic profiles that are, for some reason, more prone to responding to placebo. He concludes the placebo is an incredibly powerful force, often underestimated and misunderstood. His studies have proven over and over that placebo can cause real measurable physiological changes in the body including heart rate, blood pressure, brain chemistry, and even diseases of the nervous system like Parkinson’s. As powerful as he observes placebo to be, he relies on the boundaries of controlled studies to make his assertions and stops short of suggesting that placebo can turn around disease. He concludes, “Though placebos may provide relief, they rarely cure.”

A drug Krebozen studied was an anticancer medication administered to a cancer patient. Three days after the patient got his first injection, the doctor found him up and out of bed, breathing easily, walking around the ward, joking with nurses. The doctor noted in written reports that the tumors had “melted like snowflake on a hot stove.” The patient was sent home ten days later.
A couple of months later there were news stories about Krebozen not being an anticancer miracle drug, but a fake quack remedy. When the patient read this, he suffered an immediate and severe relapse. His tumors swelled and his health plummeted.

His doctor told him that the reports were wrong, and that he’d just received a new, retooled, “double strength” version of the serum. This version was supposed to be more powerful.

After one injection, the tumors melted away again. But this time, the doctor had administered a placebo that wasn’t Krebozen. The patient enjoyed two months of robust good health. His tumors were gone and he felt great. Then he read another report that debunked Krebozen. He relapsed immediately and died within days.

The flip side of the placebo effect is the nocebo effect, which appears to be at work here. Like the placebo effect, the nocebo effect is real.

Dr. Rediger writes, “The more I read about placebo, the more I began to believe that the term placebo only captures a fraction of the true effects that belief has on the body. I could no longer accept the standard line in medicine that placebo was a sort of superficial nuisance, an example of the mind fooling the body into simply feeling better for a time. What was apparent to me was that sometimes, the body does get better. And yet we don’t seem to care why.”

Continuing, “All of this led me to wonder: What is the truth behind the shifting and powerful interaction between the mind, body, spirit in a human being? To what degree are our bodies a reflection of the conscious and unconscious beliefs we have absorbed over time? And sound as the physical body be, in a way, a mirror for something we don’t understand yet are trying to learn”

Dr. Rediger goes into the quantum physics of the body. Although this section is very interesting, it is difficult to convey. So should the reader be interested, get the book.

Here is the concluding paragraph of this chapter: “We think of belief systems as being about God—whether or not we believe in one, or what kind of God we believe—or about the world and how it works. But spontaneous healing isn’t about belief in the way we usually think of it—that you have to belong to a certain religion, or pray a certain way, or even whether or not your are a “believer” or a person of faith. What we are talking about here is something deeper, perhaps even unconscious. It’s what you really believe about life, yourself, the universe, and the people around you, both consciously and subconsciously; what you truly believe is possible or impossible. At a deep level, the level where all other beliefs are shaped, what do you believe about your value? The friendliness of the universe or lack thereof? Do you matter? Does your life matter? When it comes to belief and its role in healing, the most important question may be: What do we believe about ourselves?”

Faith Healing and Healing Faith

April 13, 2020

This post is the eleventh on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in this book. The following quote from Albert Einstein serves to introduce the chapter:
It is better to believe than to disbelieve; in so doing you bring everything to the realm of possibility.

This is a long and detailed chapter, and this is a difficult topic to research. There is something about scientific research that readers need to understand, and that is that there is no certainty in science. Ideas and concepts are constantly changing due to new data and new concepts or theories. So in the studies that have been conducted, many studies found no evidence for spontaneous remission. There were some individual studies that appeared to provide strong evidence that as a result of faith, spontaneous remission appeared to have occurred. And he found evidence of spontaneous remission where diet or lifestyle changes had not been made, yet the spontaneous remission appeared to be clear.

This led Dr. Rediger to the following conclusion: “But perhaps each of the previous factors I’d isolated —diet, inflammation, immune function, stress, and even love and connection—all singled on something bigger, some deeper, something more fundamental. Each of these principals had been an important stepping-stone on the road to understanding, but I was beginning to see that the most pivotal factors were unmeasurables—things that had been left to the side by science because they simply could not be quantified in a controlled experiment the way nutrition, inflammation, stress hormones, and even thought patterns could be.”

He reports research on praying to God for oneself and for others. However, Dr. Rediger regards God as an external factor. Pantheists believe that God is omnipresent. This belief places God inside ourselves. So consider Einstein’s quote. But don’t let such beliefs prevent you from consulting and considering traditional medical care.

The Healing Heart

April 12, 2020

This post is the tenth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. The title of this post is identical the to the title of a chapter in this book. As part of our autonomic nervous system, the part we can’t consciously control, the sympathetic and parasympathetic work involuntarily; we can’t just think our way into the parasympathetic. Dr. Rediger writes, “You can teach yourself to shift into parasympathetic mode by managing stress, eliminating stress, or changing your lens on stress. But once you’ve shifted into it, the parasympathetic needs fuel in order to run. If the tank is empty, you could drop back out of healing mode soon after standing up from your relaxation response exercise. And what fuels the parasympathetic is basically this: love and connection.”

This does not mean that you have to run around falling in love with everyone you meet. Dr. Rediger writes, “moments of ‘micro-connection” can deliver hits of the potent love cocktail, spool up the parasympathetic, and keep it fueled up and running. Our brains release a cocktail of hormones when we experience feelings of love and connection. How exactly this cocktail is mixed (which hormones specifically are dumped into your blood stream) depend on what kind of experience you’re having. Dr. Rediger writes, “Attraction, romantic love, platonic love, and social connection all have their own specific mixture, but most involve some combination of dopamine, testosterone, estrogen, vasopressin, and most importantly, oxytocin. Oxytocin, first isolated in new mothers nursing home babies, is often call “the love drug” because it’s both activated by, and helps to create connection, attraction, love, and bonding.” Beyond helping to make and deepen relationships, it has health benefits. Oxytocin is known to be a kind of anti-stress tonic, countering the effects of fight or flight and stress hormones. It is also both anti-inflammatory and parasympathetic in its effects.

The vagus nerve controls the release of the “love medicine” in our bodies. Vagus is Latin for wandering, and in line with its poetic name, the vagus wanders everywhere through your body. It exits the brain stem at the base of your skull dip in your neck. It runs quite close to the carotid artery. You can get as close as you can to your vagus nerve by pressing your finger to the pulse point on your neck. From the spot under your fingers, it shoots down to your heart and beyond, where it regulates heartbeat and dozens of other vital functions. Should you have any doubts about how deep and rapid the connection is between the mind and the body, the vagus is that literal link between the two—a thick, humming power line that runs from your brain to your gut.

Eighty% of the vagus pulls information up into the brain. The other 20% sends information down into the body. This means that a great deal of sensory information is being collected for your brain and that decisions are then made in the brain and sent out all over the body. It’s a rapid, constantly flowing system (the network of glands that release hormones through all your body, and immune system to constantly adjust and respond to all the collected information.)

Deep abdominal breathing stimulates the vagus nerve. “Even a deep sigh can activate it briefly—think of brushing your fingers over guitar strings, eliciting a rich, vibrating chord that reverberates for a couple of seconds. When you experience feelings of love and connection, it’s like playing a whole song for your vagus nerve. The level of cortisol in your system begins to drop, and your telomerase is allowed to build back up to a healthy, balanced level. If you can keep on strumming those stings and keep your parasympathetic activated, a host of amazing health benefits will follow.”

Neurosurgeon, immunologist, and inventor Kevin Tracey discovered that the vagus nerve appears to be an “inflammatory reflex” that works in the opposite direction of chronic inflammation, to offset or reverse it’s deleterious effects. When activated, the vagus senses inflammation in the body and relays this information to the brain and central nervous system, which the reflexively powers up the immune system, inhibiting inflammation and preventing organ damage. Research is underway to explore the extent to which stimulation of the vagus can prevent or reverse many inflammatory diseases, including, arthritis, colitis, epilepsy, congestive heart failure, sepsis, Crohn’s disease, headaches, tinnitus, depression, diabetes, and possibly other autoimmune diseases. So how do you activate or stimulate your vagus nerve?

Barbara Fredrickson has immersed herself in research on this topic for over two decades. She’s run many studies showing that what truly tones the vagus is small moments of connection—a form of “falling in love,” if you will—with people who surround you on a day-to-day basis, everyone from your husband or wife to children, to the barista you’re getting to know at your corner coffee shop. It can even be a total stranger you meet on the street.

Just as exercise tones muscles, stimulating the vagus tones it in the same way. Vagal tone refers to the ability to rapidly activate the parasympathetic. The higher vagal tone you have, the more rapidly you can recover from stress and relax into healing mode. Just as doing reps with a hand weight tones the biceps, positive emotions like love tone the vagus.

Fredrickson has written a book Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection.


April 11, 2020

This post is the ninth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. The following is a quote from the cardiologist Hebert Benson: “We can either change the complexities of life—an unlikely event, for they are likely to increase—or develop ways that enable us to cope more effectively.”

The importance of meditation was brought to the attention of Dr. Benson by practitioners of transcendental meditation. They believed that they could lower their blood pressures, but had no proof. Benson hooked practitioners up to sphygmomanometers and monitored their blood pressures as they entered and sustained a meditative state. They not only lowered their blood pressure, but their heart rates fell. Their breathing became slower and deeper, and their metabolisms slowed and stabilized. Essentially, they were able to manage the part of their nervous systems that allows the body to rest and relax.

Initially critics of the research argued that the drop in blood pressure was small since it fell by only a few points at most during meditative sessions. Benson responded that these were people who meditated daily, practicing and “toning” their meditative abilities the way you would tone a muscle through exercise. Their resting blood pressures were already extremely low—much lower than an average person’s. Their unusually low blood pressures were a direct result of their diligent daily practice of the relaxation response. Benson argued that these people, simply through meditation, could produce a wave of positive physiological changes in the body.

Dr. Benson wrote an important book, The Relaxation Response. There is a healthy memory blog post titled “The Relaxation Response,” as well as many additional posts on this topic. Here are instructions: “Close your eyes. Relax all your muscles, Breathe through your nose, slowly and evenly, in and out, while focusing on a word, phrase, or sound in your mind—a mantra that can keep unwanted thoughts a bay and get us out of the “monkey mind,” or our repetitive thoughts and fears. For the mantra, one could use words that are personally soothing and meaningful, or associated with one’s own particular or religious practice. In his many presentations on the topic, Benson is quick to reassure audiences that unwanted thought will come (HM attests to this)—this doesn’t mean failure. The important thing is to refocus and continue. He recommends keeping the session going on for ten to twenty minutes.”

At the time of this posting there is a coronavirus pandemic. We are supposed to stay in our homes except for exercising outside or trips to the grocery or pharmacist. Being restricted like this can cause interpersonal problems. Advice on coping with psychological difficulties is published. But except for rare exceptions, the relaxation response is not mentioned, and it is the most effective technique. Plus there are additional advantages that follow in this post.

Dr. Benson writes, “We know now that meditation can literally change the shape of the brain. Sara Lazar and other colleagues at Harvard ran an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program and found that it measurably increased cortical thickness in the hippocampus, the part of the brain in charge of memory, feelings, and regulation of emotions. Not only that, but it actually shrank the amygdala, the part of the brain that dispenses fear hormones and triggers the fight-or-flight response.”

Dr. Rediger writes, “when it comes to spontaneous healing our focus is mainly on the autonomic nervous system—the branch that runs the brain to all your essential organs, full of billions of neurons and nerve fibers. This aspect of your nervous system runs silently, not really under your conscious control. Unlike, say, deciding to lift your hand and then lifting it, the organs, blood vessels, glands, and other systems controlled by the autonomic, nervous system are run by the subconscious mind.” Meditation is a means of affecting the autonomic nervous system and the subconscious mind.

Chronic Inflammation

April 10, 2020

This post is the eighth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. Lifestyle illnesses—cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung disease and diabetes are the top causes of death and disability in the United States, and they account for 75% of all health-care spending. Two-thirds of all deaths in the United States are caused by these five diseases alone. And what do all these diseases have in common—chronic inflammation.

Dr. Rediger writes, “With inflammation-based lifestyle illnesses, we’ve made incredible breakthroughs in surgery, medications, and technology to mitigate or treat these illnesses when their symptoms flare up in the most painful and immediately life-threatening ways. We can insert cardiac stents when the blood vessels aren’t allowing enough blood through; we can bring down blood sugar when a person is in diabetic ketoacidosis and sliding into coma. We can brilliantly manage all manner of other crises. But to truly prevent and heal illness—to place a guardrail at the top of the cliff rather than just line up ambulances at the bottom—we need to change a whole lot more than that. Chronic inflammation comes from how we think, how we feel, how we live.”

A woman, Juniper, is used as a case study. She had ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a devastating form of arthritis that, as it progressed, would fuse the bones and joint;s of her pelvis before working its way up her spine. In most of the roughly one hundred autoimmune diseases it is suspected that they can be activated by everything from a genetic code, to an environmental toxin, a tick bite, a pregnancy, a food allergy, or another co-occuring illness that somehow trips the switch. But doctors are rarely able to identify the specific cause. Doctors would tell Juniper what her immune system’s cells were doing—harming her by trying to help—but not why they were doing it. How had such an essential, intelligent body system gotten so off track?

Dr. Rediger writes, “Autoimmune diseases and inflammation are inextricably linked. According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, there are over a hundred known autoimmune disorders, and as a group, they are all categorized as “inflammatory” illnesses—causing a repeating cycle of inflammation in the body or brain. Chronic inflammation can often pave the way for an autoimmune disease, which then intensifies in the body. The illness breathes heat into the smoldering coals of inflammation, and this ground fire continues to spread through the body, preventing health from taking seed.”

Dr. Rediger writes, “Up to 80% of visits to primary care doctors are stress related, yet most doctors are trained to focus exclusively on disease symptoms and medication management. Multiple studies have demonstrated that half of all outpatient visits, in fact, have no identifiable basis. Chronic stress dramatically increases a person’s risk for developing coronary heart disease (CHD) as well as a wide range of other illnesses, and there’s strong evidence that a single emotional even can trigger a CHD episode. Though the exact biological mechanisms are still being delineated, the road that runs from stress to inflammation to disease is a well-traveled one. And people who recover from “incurable” illness seem to find an off-ramp to exit that highway, turn around, and start driving the other direction.”

He continues, “We’re beginning to see that unmanaged chronic stress wears your immune system down over time, the same way constant unrelenting waves wear down a rocky bluff. Anxious thoughts and feelings, the constant drip of stress hormones into your bloodstream—these internal inflammation triggers are just as powerful, if not more so than a food you’re allergic to or a dangerous toxin in your environment. In numerous studies, the majority of people (80%) who developed autoimmune disease like Juniper’s reported “uncommon emotional stress” just before the onset of their first symptoms.”

Dr. Rediger writes, “One particular startling study even found that chronic stress can alter the very genes of your immune cells. Chronic stress disrupts and rewrites a code like a malware virus wiping a hard drive and replacing it with destructive programming.” These cells are reprogrammed to cause inflammation.

Dr. Rediger writes, “To begin, we need to start opening lines of communication with our bodies. Those who recover from incurable illness often try a lot of different things before they home in on the specific lifestyle changes that start to help them feel better.” A period of trial and error is needed to figure out what modes of eating really worked to make them feel better, more energetic, and more joyful. There is no one “anti-inflammation” prescription you can follow, though you can begin with some common tactics that help most people knock down inflammation and reclaim immune function.

Dr. Rediger writes, “It’s a good idea to start with the basics: move toward a more nutrient-dense diet (nutrient-dense diets are, in general, inherently more anti-inflammatory) and get rid of processed foods and sugar, which can kickstart the inflammatory response. And start to look for your personal stress triggers. They aren’t always what you think. When do you start to feel stress or anxious? What are the major points of friction in your day when you feel overextended, worn down, overwhelmed? Sometimes these may have obvious fixes once you become aware of them—adjusting a routine, asking a partner for more support in a particular area, or even letting go of responsibilities that are simply too much for you during this era of your life. Other times, you may have to engage in a larger life overhaul to eliminate unnecessary stressors and prioritize health. Juniper, and many other who recovered from incurable illness, ended up making radical changes to how they lived their lives that may have helped reboot their immune systems in a more anti-inflammatory mode.”

Juniper took a yoga class. At first the experience was quite painful, but she persevered. She could picture the new yoga poses—which she performed clumsily, shakily—breaking up the calcification on her bones, freeing her skeleton from their vise grip. Moving slowly and painfully into a new pose, she visualized what she hoped would happen: the thick calcifications shattering like plaster and falling away leaving her joints smooth, the bones sliding past one another like they were supposed. This was the goal she was imaging, that would eventually be achieved after many more practices. She was pregnant and for most of the pregnancy, she didn’t have inflammation or pain; it temporarily faded was as the pregnancy progressed.

In the weeks after birth, as the pregnancy hormones faded the pain began to return. She quit her job, moved to LA with her husband and started their own business management firm. She deepened her yoga practice. She pursued Rolfing—a type of bodywork that’s like massage, but deeper. It’s goal is to rework and reorganize the connective tissues of the body—the fascia and ligaments that bind joints together. She went even deeper in her yoga—holding poses longer, lengthening farther into the stretches. She started hot yoga, reasoning that the heat would help warm up her joints and ligaments and allow for a greater range of motion. Macrodosing with with cannabis gook ended off the Rolfing sessions, which could be quite painful.

Eventually, she realized that to try heal, she needed to reorganize her life. She and her husband sold their business and moved to San Diego to focus more on her well-being and the children.

Looking back, she isn’t exactly sure when the pain stopped completely. She didn’t need a new diagnosis from her doctor to know that she was better. She could feel it.


April 9, 2020

This post is the seventh on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. The section on nutrition is detailed and complicated. Consequently, there are dangers in trying to summarize it. There is a danger of someone adopting a diet than may be unhealthy or even dangerous for him or her, as there are important individual differences. Consequently, HM is presenting four brief but important points Dr. Rediger offers.

“First, it’s important to understand that unhealthy levels of sugar and salt are hidden in processed foods, sugar often disguised as corn syrup or under other names.

Second, just because something is advertised as ‘healthy,’ as a ‘health food,’ or as containing healthy ingredients doesn’t mean that it is or does. ‘Whole wheat bread,’ for example, is almost always made with enriched flour, which means that it isn’t made from whole wheat.

Third, eating is a way of sharing love and community, and food habits are highly linked to traditions. The goal at the end of this process is improved quality of life rather than less. Life, relationships, and food are complex, so being practical is important.

Fourth, when making nutritional changes, it’s critical to focus on the nutrition you’re giving your body and being grateful for that, rather than focusing on what you can’t have. This shift of focus is critical for beating the mental game, for building a mind-set that works for you rather than against what you are trying to accomplish. It takes some work to educate yourself and figure out the details of this new path, but there is no substitute for true knowledge and real understanding when it comes to what you are putting into your body.”

The Microbiome

April 8, 2020

This post is the sixth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. The microbiome is an entire microscopic ecosystem that is living and thriving inside our bodies. Dr. Rediger writes, “It is complex, smart, and influential, to the point that it could be determining your ability to heal…or not.” Trillions of bacteria reside on the outside and inside of the body. Most of them live in the gut, but they are speeded throughout the body, an interconnected web of life that in many ways functions like an additional organ. The vast majority of these bacteria are actually beneficial bacteria. They work for us, digesting food, producing certain vitamins and neurochemicals that our bodies need, and even preventing “bad” bacteria from gaining a foothold. These beneficial microorganisms, which live in symbiosis inside the body, actually account for up to 3% of the body mass. For every human cell in the body, there are one hundred bacteria cells.

Individual microbiomes are as unique as a fingerprint. The microbiome is shaped at birth, when it was colonized by the bacteria in the mother’s birth canal as the baby moved through it. From that time forward, the microbiome has been shaped by the environment, by the foods eaten, the places visited, and the kinds of jobs worked. Every new environment adds to the ever shifting microbiome, ideally making it richer and more diverse. But one thing can massively set back the microbiome: antibiotics.

Although antibiotics are a major leap forward for medicine and a lifesaving intervention, come with their own set of adverse effects. And one of those is that in the process of wiping out “bad” bacteria, they also wipe out “good” bacteria that support healthy immune function. Dr. Rediger writes, “In fact, approximately 80% of the immune system cells are in the gut, and we are finding more and more evidence that a healthy, rich, diverse micriobiome can shape an immune system that is more effective against both external threats like viruses and infections, as well as internal threats like mutating cells that may turn into cancer if not caught.”

Continuing on he writes, “So how do the ‘good bacteria’ in the microbiome pay a role in shaping a healthy immune system? The one hundred trillion bacteria that live in the body come with their own set of DNA. Collectively, the DNA of those bacteria are their ‘genome.’ We are beginning to discover that the human genome, which comes preprogrammed to resist certain diseases and can be taught to resist others through exposure to them or through vaccines, doesn’t actually have enough ‘code’ to protect us from all the disease threats that exist. It’s like we’ve filled up our hard drive already; we just don’t have the space. We rely on the genome of our microbiomes —our gut brains—to store information, tactics, and disease-fighting knowledge for us. Wipe that out by taking too many antibiotics, and it’s like burning a library.”

Continuing still further, “A single round of antibiotics can impact gut bacteria for up to a year. Of course, antibiotics and other immunosuppressive interventions that affect the microbiome—like chemotherapy—are at times necessary, even lifesaving. The trick is using them and using them wisely. And the problem is that instead of taking care of our lives and bodies so that we are less likely to get ill in the first place, we’ve created a trigger-happy culture in medicine that leaps to these sorts of later interventions. The microbiome is essentially an extension of our immune system. And yet, our default approach to treating major illnesses usually involves decimating the microbiome while we do so.

Dr. Rediger concludes, “There are still many deadly blind spots in medicine today, holding us back from lifesaving progress in medicine. And one major holdover blind spot is that we continue to operate on a model of pathology: we fixate on tearing down disease at all costs instead of building up flourishing health and immunity. Since Pasteur’s time, we have developed a philosophy of medicine that is primarily a science of disease rather than a science of health and vitality. We’ve become locked into this mode where destroying the microbe is our only tool—and we all know the adage, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything gets treated like a nail.”

The situation has degenerated to the point that completely antibiotic superbugs have emerged. In early 2017, a Nevada woman developed an infection that failed to respond to any of the increasingly strong antibiotics used by her doctors. And more and more of these incurable infections will be seen as the bacteria we’ve been coexisting with learn to dodge available medications. “Superbugs” are being created.

Dr. Rediger writes, “Spontaneous remissions gives us enormous insight into how we can bolster our immune systems to prevent these diseases from taking hold, or roll back their damage if they already have. As new studies into the immune system emerge, I continue to find how the kinds of things that stimulate natural killer cell activity line up with the kinds of changes that survivors of incurable diseases make before they experience their spontaneous healing. Certain diet changes, such as increasing one’s nutritional level, turn out to support natural killer cell activity, as does reducing (or more effectively managing) stress. Studies even show forgiveness to be linked to a spike in natural cell killers.”

How to Talk to Your Immune System

April 7, 2020

This post is the fifth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. Dr. Rediger writes, “Successes in immunotherapy today tell us that the power to overcome incurable illness may very well be locked inside each of us. Immunotherapy is a highly technical, precise way of targeting specific cells in the immune system and making them work against cancer. While you can’t practice immunotherapy yourself at home, you can communicate with your immune system, perhaps even—like so many of those who experience spontaneous healing—to the point of changing the way it functions, turning the tide against the disease.”

The key question is why do our natural killer cells sometimes target and remove mutating cancel cells and other times overlook them? When do they work for us, hunting down pathogens and viral invaders, and when do they turn against us, attacking our own tissues and biological systems?

The nervous system is an intricate network of nerve cells that winds and sparkles through the entire body. There are literally billions of nerve cells, or neurons, that allow us to do everything from lifting a finger to feeling an intense emotion. Nervous system cells are unceasingly sending messages through our body, whisking through the body as fast as electricity.

The immune system and the nervous system are intricately interwoven. They are not separate systems operating independently in different sectors of the body but overlapping networks that can swap information and “talk” to each other.

The nervous system connects directly to the thymus, one of the powerhouses of the immune system which nurtures and deploys natural killer cells and other types of white blood cells into the body on command. What is even more fascinating is the researchers now know that the cells of our immune systems actually have neuroreceptors on them. Neuroreceptors were believe to be limited to the brain and the nervous system until Candace Pert, often called “the mother of psychoneuroimmunology,” discovered the presence of neurotransmitter and neuropeptide receptors on the wall of cells in both the immune system and the brain. These neuroreceptors proved a way for the nervous system to communicate cell to cell. The cells of the immune system, roaming throughout our entire body at all times have that radio channel turned on. They are in direct communication with the nervous system, meaning whatever’s going on in your mind is being broadcast directly into the immune system. It is possible for our emotions to talk to our immune systems—sometimes with dramatic and unexpected results.

One recipient of a spontaneous remission attributed part of his healing to an ongoing, unshakable feeling of being loved by a special person who’d been important to him. Dr. Rediger writes, “Could this powerful feeling of being loved have been broadcast into his immune system, revivifying something deep within him? Whether it comes from a therapeutic session, a loving relationship, deep meditation or focused imagery, love touches and heals something that medications can’t touch.

The Immune System

April 6, 2020

This post is the fourth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. Jedd Wolchok, an oncologist and immunotherapy innovator at the Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer clinic has said that “spontaneous remissions” are either divine intervention or the immune system. Along with the nervous system, it’s the most complex system in the human body. It’s made up of organs, tissues, and cells that form an intricate and multipurpose web of protection throughout the entire body. It starts with your skin, your saliva, and mucus membranes inside the nasal passages, which stop, trap, and neutralize many pathogens before they even enter the body. It goes as deep as the bone marrow, where white blood cells are born: the intelligent, specialized, rapid, and ruthless soldiers of the immune system, which hunt down and take out everything from invading pathogens to burgeoning cancer cells.

New white blood cells are constantly being born in the bone marrow. From there, they are sent to the thymus—a small organ that sits behind the breastbone—where the grow and mature before fanning out into the bloodstream, fully grown and ready to fight. They move through the body even faster than the blood does, each with its own specific job, can develop hundreds of tiny legs, grip the blood vessel walls, and move millipede-like when they are running to the site of a cut, infection or other breach in the immune system’s barrier, or to the site of an internal emergency like rogue cells that have mutated into something dangerous.

Many symptoms that we might think of as “bad”—and that we are in the habit of medicating away—are actually an important part of the immune system’s pathogen-fighting process. Consider the redness and swelling that appears around a cut or scrape. The redness is caused by the veins and capillaries dilating to allow infection-fighting immune system cells to arrive as quickly as possible to the site. Once at the site, the cells organize themselves into teams—some in charge of cleaning, others repair, and others generating new tissue. This causes swelling as the cells do their work. As long as they are successful in preventing infection from setting in, this type of inflammation is a normal and healthy response that is necessary for healing.

When we get a fever, we tend to immediately try to figure out a way to get rid of it. Until recently, it was standard practice in medicine to recommend controlling a fever with over-the-counter medications called antipyretics. But theories began to emerge that fevers might actually help our immune systems—as long as they aren’t dangerously high.

Fevers, as uncomfortable as they are, are one of the immune system’s many ingenious tools. They help rid the body by producing extra virus-fighting cells to get rid of a cold or flu faster. This finding leads back to Dr. Coley’s discovery over a hundred years ago—that a high fever somehow corresponded with the disappearance of cancer tumors. What Coley had tumbled upon, without completely understanding it, was that when the immune system turned the heat on to kick itself into gear to fight an infection, an unexpected side effect was that it got better at fighting, too. So, when we take medications to suppress a fever in response, we may also be suppressing our immune systems’ efforts to guide us toward recovery.

Not surprisingly, sometimes things go wrong. When lacking the physical and emotional nutrition it needs, the immune can become confused when it deploys to attack a threat; it can overreact or set its sights on the wrong target. Allergies provide an example.

In the case of autoimmune disorders, our immune systems can go haywire. With these diseases, our own body turns on us, attacking what it was sworn to protect. It flags our own cells, tissues, or organs as “foreign” and assaults them. Type 1 diabetes is an example of this: the immune system destroys the cells of the pancreas, making it impossible for the body to produce the insulin it needs to metabolize sugars and survive. Some autoimmune diseases, such as Type 1 diabetes are present from a young age, coded into the DNA of the person who suffers from it. But many other autoimmune disorders don’t appear until much later in life and often don’t have a strong genetic component. Once they appear and begin to progress, most are considered “incurable,” and the focus becomes how to live with the disease and manage it, as opposed to how to cure it. Some of the individuals profiled in this book are those who recovered completely from autoimmune diseases once thought be to incurable—diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, lupus, and ankylosing spondylitis, a devastating and readily progressive form of arthritis that “freezes” the bones of the spine and pelvis.
In all these cases, the individuals stumbled upon a way to reset their immune systems—to wipe out the bad programming that had it attacking its own cells and tissues, and reset completely to normal, healthy immune function.

Building an Effective Immune System

April 5, 2020

This post is the third on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. Dr. Rediger writes, “What we want is an immune system with well-nourished cells that are fast, smart accurate, and ready to fight for us. “ It needs to be fully staffed, not depleted and sluggish, sending out sloppy troops that hit the wrong targets or are ineffective. Our immune systems need to have twenty-twenty vision, and be able to see viruses as they enter our bodies and rogue cells that threaten to mutate into cancer.

Unfortunately, many of us are walking around with immune systems that are chronically worn down. They’re sluggish, exhausted, and impeded by poorly managed relationships with stress and nutrition. Missing are key positions in our army of fighter cells, leaving it sparse and thinned out. This leaves us more vulnerable not only to colds and flus, but to cancer, heart, diabetes, and a wide range of serious autoimmune disorders.

Spontaneous remission gives us insight into how we can bolster our immune systems to prevent these diseases from taking hold, or roll back their damage if they already have. As new studies into the immune system emerge, Dr. Rediger continues to notice how the kinds of things that stimulate natural killer cell activity line up with kinds of changes that survivors of incurable diseases make before they experience their spontaneous healing. Diet changes, such as increasing one’s nutritional level, turn out to support natural killer cell activity, as does reducing (or more effectively managing) stress. Studies have shown forgiveness to be linked in natural killer cells.

Dr Rediger writes, “It’s easy to look at these findings and leap to the conclusion that simply changing your meal plan or learning to meditate can spur your natural killer cells into action and turn off your disease like hitting a switch. But what my work with remarkable recoverers has taught me is that it’s not that simple. There are no silver bullets or quick fixes with spontaneous healing. In fact, there is nothing spontaneous about spontaneous remission. In many cases, the stage had been set well before the ‘miraculous’ remission occurred.”

Dr. Rediger continues, “The best way to repair a cracked and ineffective immunological wall is to build health and vitality from the ground up. The body—if you can get out of its way—is a brilliant self-correcting organism that wants to get better. Cases of spontaneous remission, as unique and individual as they are, offer clues on how to get out of your body’s way and give it everything it needs to build and maintain a thriving, smart immune system.”

Here is the story of one individual, Claire, who hd a spontaneous remission. She faced her fear of death. She didn’t know to what she should attribute her remarkable recovery, the mysterious disappearance of her pancreatic cancer. She just knew that at some point between walking out of her surgeon’s office and returning to the hospital years later for an unrelated issue, it had vanished. The profound changes Claire made in her life were not made with the intent to cure herself; she fully expected pancreatic cancer to take her life. Dr. Rediger writes, “The changes made were about living fully and more authentically with the time she had left. They were about confronting fears and other obstacles that had held her back from doing the things she really wanted to do. But perhaps this combination of factors—diet changes, lifestyle changes, and deep emotional and spiritual changes—had in fact altered the terrain of her body like nurtured-rich compost added to thin, barren dirt.”

Dr. Rediger continues, “With cases of spontaneous remission, something shifts that allows the immune system to once again do its job. In several healing centers in Brazil, I’d witnessed a higher-than-usual rate of spontaneous remission. There was something about these healing centers that was allowing these deep fundamental shifts to occur in the immune system so that healing could be unlocked. Perhaps they represented a cluster of cases for a phenomenon that is happening everywhere, invisibly, stalled up by statistics and averages. In Abadiania, for example, people ate nutrient-dense foods. They exercised and meditated, They left behind the stresses of their everyday lives. They turned inward and faced themselves: their fears, their forgotten dreams, their beliefs about themselves and the world they had never before questioned. They reinvented themselves, often completely rearranging the bedrock of their lives.”

Continuing, “Somewhere in these physical, mental, and spiritual transformations that so many visitors experienced—and which were also described by other survivors who emailed me from around the country, with their startling stories of recovery—there may lie the code to spontaneous healing: the precise combination of numbers that have to be punched in together to unlock the door to healing. I suspected that it couldn’t all be boiled down to one single trigger but instead was a serendipitous combination of all the right factors that lined up to create a rare and “miraculous” phenomenon—like an eclipse.”

HM apologizes for publishing this post prematurely.  Even though it is premature, it still should be comprehensible.  The posts that should have preceded it will now follow.

Going to Brazil

April 4, 2020

This post is the second on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. Shortly after the author had accepted a dual appointment to McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School and had opened a small private practice he met Nikki, an oncology nurse who works down the road at Mass General when she came in for a joint session with her adult son. He’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and she wanted support in breaking the news to him.

Shortly thereafter she took an indefinite leave of absence from Mass General; her health had declined to the point where she could no longer work. She was exhausted, having difficulty eating, and losing weight. She planned to travel to Brazil, to a tiny town in the countryside called Abadiania, to visit a Brazilian healer. She’d tried everything that Western medicine had to offer to fight her disease, and she’d decided that she had nothing to lose.

Two weeks after she left she called Dr. Rediger from Brazil. She said, “You have to come down here. I’m getting better. I’m seeing things that you wouldn’t believe.” Dr Rediger had to remind himself that the goal wasn’t to come to a conclusion as soon as he stumbled upon an apparent “answer.” The goal was to improve the quality of the questions. And the first question was: What was really happening in Brazil?

The healing centers were tucked away in little towns in rural Brazil. He found a markedly different culture from his own. They operate with a belief system that accepts the belief that a healer could communicate with and channel spirits, or engird, get from another plane—an invisible world that is realer and more important than the visible world that we can see and touch. In their view the physical world is a faint shadow of this deeper, truer world. In this belief system, ineffable qualities like love and the human soul are thought to be extremely powerful forces, especially in regard to illness and healing—illness begins in the soul, and when healing occurs there, the physical body then “catches up” to this new realty.”

“People flocked to these centers from all over the country sometimes selling possessions to afford the trip. The center that was the focus of his trip was the Casa de dom Inacia Loyala, in Abadania. This place was a little different from the others because it attracted people from all over the world. More reports of remission were coming from this population, and at least a few of the ones I’d vetted before coming down looked interesting enough to pursue. This was the place that Nikki had urged him to investigate.”

One of the first people interviewed was Juan, a vigorous older man in his eighties who went to the Casa each year with his family. He was a soybean farmer from another part of rural Brazil, and his hands, worn and polished like wood, showed his years of outdoor work. Decades earlier, he’d been diagnosed by biopsy with glioblastoma multiform, a deadly and fast-moving type of cancer that few people survive—within five-years of diagnosis, only 2 to 5% of patients are still alive. This small percentage drops to zero pretty quickly after that. There is no cure for glioblastoma multiform; treatment is palliative, wirth the intent to make patients comfortable and, if possible, extend their lives a bit. Yet here was Juan, decades after diagnosis, incredibly healthy for his age and radiating a quiet, meditative calm.

When asked to what did he attribute his impossible recovery, he shrugged, and opened his palms. Who could know? He said he started coming to the Casa after his diagnosis. Since then, he’d come every year to sit in the energy room and meditate. He thought of it as an annual tune-up, like an oil change.

When asked what he changed about his life after he was diagnosed, he shook his head and said he didn’t know.

His wife, who’d been sitting next to him during the interview, listening his, suddenly began to cry.

She said, “Everything changed. She described how pre-diagnosis, Juan barely spent any time with her or their children. He was either out working, off drinking, or who knew where. There was a lot of tension a lot of strife. To her, he felt like a boat drifting farther and farther out to sea, on its own course. When he was diagnosed, and death was suddenly staring him in the face, his life and priorities were completely reordered. He seemed, almost overnight, like a different person. She said, “he came home to us. He’s so much more connected to us now.”

Dr. Rediger heard the same thing, over and over again, from interview to interview. everything changed.

Dr. Rediger writes, “In Brazil and elsewhere people were occasionally healing from incurable diseases, either without medical intervention or else with treatment but wildly outperforming the projected outcomes of those treatments. Some essential, unseen shift was occurring across a diverse cross section of individuals and diseases that was allowing their immune systems to somehow rise up and turn the tide against the disease. The “how” of this was what I needed to focus on. If spontaneous remission occurred at all, even occasionally, science should investigate it if I could could scrape away all the surface distractions: the false stories, the dismissiveness of the medical mainstream, and my own fears about how I would be perceived.”

He continues, “I’d launched my investigation into spontaneous remissions in part to begin asking better questions. So my first question was about immune function and why it isn’t more of a priority in medicine today. When someone comes to us with a chronic or incurable disease, why isn’t immune function the first thing we look at?


April 3, 2020

The title of this post is the first part of an essential book published in 2020. The remainder of the title is The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. The author of the book is Jeffrey Rediger, M.D., who is a psychiatrist. His driving interest is in spontaneous remission. Spontaneous means without cause. Dr. Rediger writes that in the history of medicine, we have almost never used the tools of rigorous science to investigate remarkable recoveries from incurable illnesses. He continues, “Common sense would suggest that these are the cases we would most want to study, that perhaps these are the cases we most want to study, that perhaps these people have stumbled upon profound pathways to healing that we would want to understand. And yet the study of spontaneous remission (SR) is almost completely unexplored terrain. We classify people as “flukes” and “outliers” and simply accept the narrative that they’re unexplainable. But I don’t see remarkable recoveries in health as flukes or outliers any more than I see extraordinary performers as flukes and outliers. Serena Williams and Michael Jordan are outliers, sure, but they are also luminous examples of human capacities, and by studying their techniques and their methods we can understand how to improve our own.”

He continues, “we push aside stories of remarkable recovery, which don’t fit into our paradigm of one cause, one cure. I’m willing to bet, based on experience, that most of us in the medical profession have seen instances of remarkable recovery. We don’t know how to think about them, and so, since, they don’t fit into our frame of reference, we pigeonhole and forget them, perhaps considering them occasionally only late at night, while musing with a cup of coffee at the nursing station, or quietly in the space of our own private thoughts. We don’t know how to explain them, we shy away from publishing them for fear of professional ridicule, and we don’t repeat them to the patients we see who are suffering from these very same diseases. We don’t want to give, “false hope.”

Over the past century the reports of spontaneous remission (SR) have increased in both number and frequency. Typically these reports spike after significant conferences, books, or major media stories. In the 1990s, the Institute of Noetic Sciences began gathering together all the instances of spontaneous remission that had been described anywhere in the medical literature. In 1993 they published the database, Spontaneous Remission: An Annotated Bibliography, that documented 3,500 references to spontaneous healing across eight hundred journals. Dr. Rediger writes, “the cases that actually were reported were only the tip of the iceberg. At the first talk I gave where I brought up spontaneous remission and what we, as doctors, might learn from it, I asked the audience of physicians how many of them had witnessed a story of recovery that made no sense from a medical perspective. Hands shot up all around the room. When I asked how many people had written those cases up and polished their observations, all hands dropped.”

Continuing, Dr, Rediger writes, “It wasn’t that spontaneous remission was rare—it was a culture of fear and judgment was holding us back from seeing the scope of it. How many cases were out there that never made it into the medical literature for fear of professional ridicule? As a new medical director at McLean, one of the oldest and most venerable psychiatric institutions, I felt it keenly. I was hesitant to publish my observations or seek support in the medical world. And yet each day, I saw how cases of spontaneous remission dovetailed with the problems cropping up with my patients whether in the medical, psychiatric, or ER setting. Every day, I was seeing patients with the most common yet deadly diseases out there: cancer, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune illness, and lung disease—the top assassins of the Western World. Many of them are increasingly known to have significant lifestyle components. I was starting to believe that if my patients could try half of the strategies that I was seeing people embrace in cases of remarkable recovery, there would be an improvement in general health, not only for suffering individuals, but also for society. But the pressure to remain within the dogmatic confines of my profession was strong, and I had a difficult time shaking it.”

Many posts on this important book will follow. These posts complement previous posts on The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style:
How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.

Applied Meditation

April 2, 2020

The exercises and meditation techniques to this point have been to enhance physical and mental health, and, of course, to build healthy memories. However, you should consider meditating to achieve other ends. Consider debating or having discussions to achieve a specific end. This can be especially difficult if you are trying to convince someone with contrary beliefs or opinions to your beliefs or opinions. Arguing one’s point straightaway is certain to fail, and it risks hardening your counterpart’s opinion against your opinion. Both parties suffer amygdala hijacks.

Perhaps it is most profitable to use the phrase “point of view.” To change someone’s opinions or beliefs, you need to understand these opinions or beliefs. When preparing for a debate it is important to understand, in detail, the positions and arguments underlying the opponent’s position. Meditation with the purpose of mindfulness can be effective, perhaps even necessary, to alter opinions or beliefs counter to one’s own beliefs.

Consider nonjudgmental meditation. The arguments and positions of your adversary need to be considered nonjudgmentally. This means considering these arguments and refraining from the strong temptation to counter arguments. You are trying to understand this adversary’s thinking and how his ideas hang together. There can be strong difficulty in doing so nonjudgmentally. It is unlikely that they will appear to make sense, but perhaps some components might make sense. At a minimum you want to shed your emotional responses to these ideas and logic. The hope is that you can find some agreed upon points and then try to proceed from there.

Remember the post on “The Cult of Trump.” The author, Steven Hassan, was a former member of Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. In another words, he was a Moonie. He eventually freed himself from the mind control of this cult. He found inconsistencies in the Moonie teachings. They continued to grow until he was able of free himself from this cult.

From this experience he developed a skill in deprogramming cult followers. First he establishes empathy between himself and the cult follower. He has the cult follower explain his beliefs and listens patiently. When he finds an opening, which could be regarded as an inconsistency, he raises it and asks the cult follower what he thinks. If the cult follower does not have a problem with it, Hassan allows him to proceed. When he does find an inconsistency that the follower accepts, then he tries to build upon it. This is a very time consuming process.

So you should not expect that your meditating will immediately change your counterpart’s mind. Just be pleased if a cordial level of conversation has been achieved. Perhaps over time, there might be changes in the other’s beliefs. And, indeed, there might be some changes in your beliefs.

But hopefully, hostility has ended, and there have been some useful exchanges of information.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sensitivity to Context

April 1, 2020

Prof. Davidson notes that failing to correctly discern social context can lead to emotional responses that are appropriate in one setting but not in another. It’s appropriate to feel extreme anxiety in dangerous situations but not in other situations; if you can’t tell the difference, you are at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Prof. Davidson continues, Based on the success of exposure, we can surmise that a general strategy to enhance Sensitivity to Context is to gradually insure yourself to cues that make you anxious or angry:

To help you relax, start with a simple breathing technique from hatha yoga. With your eyes closes, attend to your breathing as you would in mindfulness meditation, counting the duration of each inhalation and exhalation.
Once you have counted for several breaths, lengthen your breathing cycle so it takes you one more second. Keep increasing the lengths as long as you feel comfortable. then maintain these longer breaths for five minutes.
Notice if the inhalation and exhalation are the same length. If one is longer, try to lengthen the other so that they take equal amounts of time. Do this for five minutes and then open your eyes.

Once you feel comfortable with this breathing exercise, move on to context training. Prof. Davidson uses the example of a boss who makes you so anxious that you start sweating just thinking about him, with this anxiety spilling over into your family life. The same principle would work with any source of anxiety or dread:

Make a list of the specific cues and behaviors of your boss that upset you. Maybe he looms over your desk during the workday. Maybes loiters outside your work space at 4:55, watching to see if you leave even a minute early. Maybe he excoriates the reports or other work you turn in. Be specific and vivid and detailed as possible.
Then, in a safe context such as at home on a weekend, gently and gradually bring to mind images associated with your boss. Conjure up exactly how he looks watching you at day’s end. Imagine his face as he reads your work.
Simultaneously, perform the breathing exercise. Continue to do this until you feel comfortable and relaxed imagining your boss’s glowering visage and his habit of hovering over you desk. Spend about fifteen minutes on this exercise.

Prof. Davidson writes, you can expect to experience some benefit after doing this for four sessions, and the hour you invest will be well worth it. By improving your ability to distinguish between the context of your work and home, this exercise should help you distinguish among other contexts, too, and thus display context-appropriate emotional responses. Although there have not been any studies comparing brain activity before and after such training the fact that exposure therapy helps PTSD patients suggest that it works by strengthening connections from the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex and other areas of the neocortex.
Prof. Davidson continues, there has been no research explicitly focused on moving people to the Tuned Out end of the Sensitivity to Context continuum, or on ways to weaken connections from the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex and neocortex. But if you feel that shifting your set point away from the Tuned In extreme would help you stop tailoring you behavior to each context in a way that feels excessively contrive, I recommend the exercises that cultivate Self-Awareness.

Much more extensive guidance is provided in The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style
How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.