Tag Archives: Medicine

Boost Your Immune System in One Easy Step!

Boost Your Immune System in One Easy Step!

Get sick.

No, seriously. That’s it. Get sick. It will get your immune system working like nothing else can, guaranteed.

People have this idea that the immune system is like a neighborhood watch, cruising around your body looking for suspicious characters and picking them off before they can do any damage. That’s. . .not even wrong.

Skeptical Raptor has an excellent article called Boosting the immune system–sorting science from myth, and you should go read it, but I’m going to take the part that explains how it works and share it here. First, the Innate Immune System. . .

This is the immune system’s ability to prevent or detect foreign material, then eliminate it without a specific physiological response of the body. It is the body’s quick and initial response to disease causing organisms (pathogens) which invade our body. The innate response either directly prevents an infection or slows it sufficiently for the slower but more effective and selective adaptive Immune system to activate. But it isn’t a simple system, the innate immune system is extremely complex, consisting of:

Anatomical barriers–These consist of physical barriers. The skin itself is impermeable to pathogens providing defenses like a solid wall. Our nasal passage is lined with mucous that is constantly moved into the stomach catching pathogens and killing them. Our eyes are covered in caustic tears and our mouths in saliva which contains a variety of enzymes. all these ensure that the vast majority of pathogens are killed before they can even enter an area where they can cause harm.

Inflammation–This response include the symptoms we associate with inflammation, fever, swelling, increased blood flow, and other activities, is due to the localized response of the body to the presence of a foreign body or pathogen. It’s main purpose is to provide a physical barrier to control the spread of infection and to heal damaged tissue in the region. Damaged cells release an array of chemical factors which cause pain and blood vessels to become more permeable. This response then attracts phagocytes, cells which recognize and consume foreign or dead tissue. Inflammation is normally a healthy response to injury or pathogen invasion, but in some autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, it can be painful and debilitating.

Complement System–This system is group of biochemicals, produced by the liver, that helps or “complements” the ability of antibodies and phagocytic cells to clear pathogens from an organism. It is part of the immune system that is not adaptable and does not change over the course of an individual’s lifetime. However, it can be recruited and brought into action by the adaptive immune system.

Cells–Mostly white blood cells (WBC) are involved in the innate immune system:
Mast Cells – A group of cells that mediate the inflammatory response. Although they are often associated with allergies, they are a critical part of the immune response.
Phagocytes – Large cells that move like amoeba. They “eat” other cells by surrounding them with their plasma membranes producing “bubbles” in which they can release enzymes safely without damaging other cells. They also have a “clean-up” role to remove the body’s dead and dying cells.
Macrophages – Large phagocytic cells that efficiently consume multiple pathogens. Heavily motile and actively cross from the blood stream into tissue to hunt down pathogens. They kill by manufacturing and releasing free-radical oxygen in a local area.
Neutrophils/Eosinophils/Basophils – A group of similar cells that are the “first responders” to migrate to an inflammation site. They appear at the site of a wound within a few minutes of trauma.
Natural Killer Cells – These cells recognize the body’s own cells that are infected by viruses or are cancerous. They then induce controlled cell death to halt the spread of the infected or cancerous cells. Recent research shows that Natural Killer Cells also play a role in the adaptive immune response.
Dendritic Cells and Gamma/Delta T Cells – These are the bridge between the innate and adaptive systems and their main role is antigen presentation. They harvest antigenic proteins from damaged pathogens and present them to T-Cells, which allows them to find and attack the pathogens.

Then there’s the Adaptive Immune System.

The dendritic cells, from the innate immune system, activate the body’s adaptive (or acquired) immune system. The adaptive immune system is composed of highly specialized, systemic cells and processes that eliminate or prevent pathogen growth. In acquired immunity, pathogen-specific receptors are “acquired” during the lifetime of the organism (whereas in innate immunity pathogen-specific receptors are already encoded in the germline). The acquired response is said to be “adaptive” because it prepares the body’s immune system for future pathogenic challenges. In some cases, the acquired immune response can be maladaptive when it results in autoimmunity. Antibodies, produced by B-lymphocyte cells, are the main weapon of the body’s immune system to battle pathogens. It is a larger response than innate immunity and once sensitized to an antigen, the adaptive immune system often fights of diseases even before we can exhibit symptoms of disease. Immunizations introduce the pathogen’s antigen to the adaptive immune system so that it can form those pathogen-specific receptors and, thereby, are able to quickly and efficiently respond to an attack by a pathogen.

Cells involved –There are three types of cells involved with the adaptive immune response:

T – Lymphocytes (also known as T-cell) – The main role of the cell is to recognise cells infected by viruses and trigger the apoptotic pathway that destroys the cell and its viral contamination. Since viruses only replicate inside cells by hijacking the cell’s manufacturing process, this apoptosis kills the virus (and the host cell) and phagocytes swoop in to consume the destroyed cell debris and digest the contents. The antigen of the viral cell is recognised by surface antibodies on the T-Lymphocyte, which activate it. There are also helper T-Cells whose role is control and organisation of the apoptosis response to the infected cells.

B – Lymphocytes – The main role of these cells is to produce humoral (free floating) antibodies that recognise pathogens and mark them for destruction by other cells. This process occurs by activating the complement system and by causing the pathogen to become “sticky” but only with other pathogens. This causes them to clump together and make them easier to kill by T-cells.

Memory Cells – After an infection has passed (and most of the T-cells and B-cells have died), a few do remain in circulation to remember the antigens of the pathogens who attacked. In future infections these are rapidly activated to produce a humoral response which quickly destroys any new infections even before they produce any symptoms. There are two types of these cells: Memory B cells, which, produce the antibodies that recognize the pathogens, and Memory T cells, which remember the viral antigens that infect cells.

The article continues with more specific information about how the system works, but essentially, most of the immune system’s action consists of responding to a pathogen. Ergo, if you want to “boost” it, then you need to introduce a pathogen into your system to make it work. So get sick.

If you want to boost it a little, you can cut yourself and get it infected. Some food poisoning or a common communicable disease can boost it some more. A chronic condition is the gift that keeps on giving – your immune system will constantly be boosted.

But if you really want to boost your immune system to the max, then you need to go for an autoimmune disorder. This will boost your immune system so much that it won’t attack just harmful invaders, but your own cells. Even though they’re cells you’d kind of like to keep. I’d suggest Diabetes, that’s one that’s a little easier to self-induce. But there’s always Lupus, or Multiple Sclerosis, maybe Rheumatoid Arthritis. Get yourself one of those, and you will have one of the most boosted immune systems it’s possible to have.

Unfortunately, no amount of boosting your immune system is going to make you healthier. And that’s why, even if those ads for stuff that “boosts your immune system” sold stuff that worked, you really wouldn’t want it.

My Brain Diary, Part 11

My Brain Diary, Part 11

Right now is not so good. I’m going to be pretty frank, but I don’t want people to worry. I’ve been through some bad brain stuff even before Roscoe took over my life, and even when I’m close to the bottom of the deep well of suckitude, I can still remember to look up to the light at the top and know there’s a way up as well as a way down.

My medications aren’t working the same way as they did before, which is no surprise. If you look at the early MRIs, there was a lot of compression. Blood supply was rerouted or restricted. Neurons were obviously going to be moving around trying to get past blockages. And the limbic system, where most of our emotions are seated, was pretty wonky from getting pushed out of shape. So this is just like starting all over again from scratch. Cymbalta is too stimulating an antidepressant because it’s a norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, meaning that my whole “fight or flight” reaction is on higher alert than it should be. I also had to discontinue Adderall for the same reason, and add in Klonopin because my life had become all panic, all the time.

When you’re transitioning from one antidepressant to another, there’s this horrible period during which you’re getting too little of both of them. That’s where I’m at right now. I’m titrating down on Cymbalta – 15mg per day. This is enough to reduce the panic and keep the brain zaps to a minimum, but not enough to affect my depression. At the same time, I’m beginning sertraline (Zoloft) but only a measly dose of 25mg. Not only not enough to even tickle the edges of depression, but also only starting the 4-6 week journey before it shows any effect whatsoever. In a few days I’ll be off the Cymbalta (protip – it’s a capsule full of beads, so if you feel a brain zap, and ONLY if you feel a brain zap, take one or two BEADS. Makes it less awful.) and up to 50mg of sertraline. Still a baby dose, and still at least two weeks away from making even a tiny bit of difference.

So, yeah, I’m in a pretty bad way right now. Fortunately, even when a smidgen of suicidal ideation pops up, it’s easily quashed by reminding myself of the light at the top of the well of suckitude and by making a plan so elaborate (typical ADHD) that I’d decide it was too much effort before I even came close to doing anything about it. No matter what I might say in the throes of depressive misery, you’re not going to get rid of me that easily. Heh.

The whipped cream and cherry on top is the visit to the neurosurgeon. My brain, right now, is about as good as it’s going to get. I’m going to see a neuropsychologist for an evaluation, and probably end up with some kind of therapy to help me adapt to my new neurological paradigm, but I was kind of hoping for normal. Having that hope dashed is not helping with my mood. Yes, I’m way, way better than I was two years ago, but there are things that are a struggle still.

My spatial relations are vastly improved – I have a much better concept of where I am in the space that surrounds me, I have my sense of direction back, and I’m aware of objects around me, both moving and stationary. However, “mirror images,” both literally (myself in the mirror) and figuratively (looking at pictures or looking at other people) are bizarre and confusing. I have trouble telling right from left, and forwards from backwards. Up and down are intact, thank goodness. Blow drying my hair has been an adventure, and I still haven’t quite mastered the art of flossing my teeth without hurting myself. If I look at my MRIs, I have to pretend that they are someone else’s, because their orientation is like a mirror, and they start from the far side and come forward. If I think of them as mine, I can’t get past the idea that my left side is on the right of the image, and the coronal slices as they move from the back of my head to the front are coming towards me instead of moving away from me.

I don’t lose my balance all that much anymore, either. . .but it still happens.

Since the tumor smooshed my left occipital lobe and left temporal lobe, I also have some problems that are related to vision and vision-related language performance. I don’t have any consistent object or color blindness, but sometimes I will look at things, see them, but not really “recognize” them, or know what they are. Quick example – we were at a food kiosk, and I wanted to leave a tip. There was a bright blue tip cup by each cash register. On the one that was right in front of my face, I couldn’t see the word “tips” written on it. I saw only the “s” and thought for some reason that it meant that was a cup for straws. So I reached over and put the tip in the cup on the other side of the kiosk, because I could perceive the whole word on that one. Other times, I won’t see things outside of what I’m looking at because I simply don’t understand why the thing I’m looking at isn’t the thing I want. Really. I look at it, and I think “this isn’t what I want? Why isn’t it what I’m looking for?” and the thing I want is right there above it or below it or next to it.

The most frustrating thing, though, is the anomia. This is where the temporal lobe gets involved. Most of your language processing occurs in your left temporal lobe, and the normal loop between seeing something and saying it involves the visual image that’s processed somewhere in your right hemisphere (depending on what it is) being “translated” by your left occipital lobe and sent into the language loop in your temporal lobe. That’s not happening for me. But only in one direction. If I see an object or a person (or picture an object or person in my head) there’s a good chance that I will not be able to name that object or person. I could tell you everything about that object or person that I knew, except for what that object or person is called. And the name I remember this morning may well be completely inaccessible in a few hours. No amount of prompting, besides actually telling me the word, is going to bring that name into my conscious thoughts.

In the other direction, no problem. If I hear or read a noun or a name, I have no trouble whatsoever picturing that object or person in my mind. But it is kind of a problem – because when I’m circumlocuting to try to use the words I have to describe the word I don’t, people try to be helpful and finish my sentences for me. And once they say the word that isn’t the one I’m looking for, it creates a new mental image that supersedes the one I’m trying to describe, and all is lost. I know they’re trying to be helpful, and I know it’s awfully difficult to listen to me when I’m struggling through this, but really, the only thing it accomplishes effectively is to make me feel like crap and maybe even start crying. Just a heads up. I won’t hold it against you, I promise, but I will probably start to cry.

So. . .I see the psychiatrist in another couple of weeks and we’ll ramp up the sertraline if it’s working OK. I may even be able to go back on Adderall once my dose is stabilized. We’re looking at mid-March here. If you’re worried about my mood, look at your calendar. If it isn’t halfway through March, stop worrying. I’m just transitioning between medications.

February 11th, I go for a consult with the neuropsychologist, and get another dose of reality about how much improvement, if any, I can expect with therapy. Until then, I have regressed to the mean, and everything I just described above is SOP. And that’s just the way it is.

Treating the Symptoms, and the Placebo Effect

Treating the Symptoms, and the Placebo Effect

Proponents of various forms of alternative medicine regularly rally under the claim that medicine treats only the symptoms, while their favored modality “treats the whole person.” I’ve long known that this is wrong, and I could enumerate all the reasons why, but only now did it occur to me that there’s an even deeper level to this inaccurate claim that I haven’t seen addressed elsewhere – irony.

I’m not going to try to get into so much detail that it obscures the point (for a change) so I’ll stick to the examples that directly apply to my inspiration. Doctors and scientists who blog cover the overt falsehoods that are relative to their specialties with far greater specificity than I ever could. They can even tell you how each individual CAM treatment doesn’t work and why. I don’t think I need to do that, because I could never attain that level without the education, experience, and dedication that these science-based medicine bloggers have.

Instead, I’m going to draw from my own experience at a forum in which we discuss mental disorders – ADHD in particular, but also its other delightful companions and complications – where alternative treatments are accorded an undeserved level of respect and science-based medicine is treated with derision. In this place, since we are dealing with conditions that are complex in origin and difficult to reproduce and test in animal models, speculation is going to be a given. However, much of the speculation involves disregarding or even discarding the huge volume of information we already have from research.

There is absolutely no question that each condition being discussed is brain-based. There is absolutely no question that any effective treatment for these conditions is going to have to be a treatment of the brain. And there is absolutely no question that all the current approaches are aimed at relieving symptoms, whether through medication or other therapies, because research on the cause of symptoms yields results much more quickly than research looking at the most complex organ of the human body will yield information on causes. Science is churning away at brain research; new tools and knowledge are helping it to advance more quickly than it did in the past, and the findings from these are being used to develop even better tools and knowledge. Still, because there are practical and ethical limits on researching living human brains, results will not come as fast as they do for other diseases and conditions that involve other organs with simpler functions than the brain has.

Now that the introduction is out of the way. . .
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Chemotherapy is Poison, That’s Why It Works.

Chemotherapy is Poison, That’s Why It Works.

Unfortunately, I’ve known a few people who have had cancer over the years. Heck, I’ve had it – still do, but it’s not an aggressive, worrisome one. I’ve seen cancers cured with surgery alone. I’ve seen cancers cured with radiation alone. I’ve seen cancers cured with chemotherapy alone. I’ve seen cancers cured with a combination of two, or all three. I’ve seen cancers that have gone into periods of remission because of these treatments, allowing people many good years. And, of course, I’ve seen cancers that simply couldn’t be cured by anything. But what I haven’t seen is doctors pushing inappropriate chemotherapy on patients because they’re sadistic monsters who want to poison people.

“Cancer” is not a single disease, but over a hundred different diseases that form from a similar mechanism. Normally, cells in our body die off, and those cells are replaced. The cell death is called apoptosis, and different cells in your body apoptose at different rates (forget what you heard about that “every seven years” thing. . .) Because of a large number of factors, occasionally those replacement cells will be faulty. Your genetics cause a misreading of your DNA, or a mixup in the instructions from the RNA, or an epigenetic flaw causes a cancer cell to be expressed or a cancer suppressor to be repressed. Exposure to a known carcinogen can trigger the production of cancer cells in a similar manner – sometimes on its own and sometimes because you have a genetic susceptibility to the carcinogen. Age is actually the biggest culprit, because cell reproduction can degenerate in accuracy over time. For the same reason all the other cells in our body change as we age, and not for the better, a cancerous cell can be created instead of an identical replacement cell when the aging process interferes.
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Chiropractic Cures Nothing

Chiropractic Cures Nothing

There’s an interesting idea out there among people who adhere to a belief that can be proven to be less than substantial that in order to contradict or challenge that belief, one must become an expert in that belief. It’s silly, and it’s frustrating to run into. It’s also usually hypocritical, because people who are firm believers in something do not apply the same standards to themselves – and in this particular case, the folks who are insisting that one must become an expert in the workings of chiropractic before being qualified to dismiss them feel no such obligation to become expert in the voluminous amount of medical knowledge that provides robust evidence for the failure of chiropractic. I mean, you’re presenting me with a book about how chiropractic can fix an area of the brain. . .if I have to learn all about chiropractic to say it doesn’t work, how come you don’t have to become an expert in neurology to tell me that the neurological impairment evidence is wrong? (The first place I saw this argument was coming from Christian Apologetics. . .who didn’t, BTW, become experts in any other religions before declaring that they were immune from criticism by anyone without a degree in Biblical Theology. . .)

The flaw in the argument is that you really don’t need to be an expert in something to know it’s bogus if there’s good, solid information that it couldn’t possibly work and/or it’s making ridiculous claims in the first place. I could be picking anything to poke at right now, but because the thing that’s irritating me right now is ridiculous claims about chiropractic and being told to STFU until I become an expert in chiropractic, that’s what I’m gonna talk about.
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Wednesday Links

Wednesday Links

A new study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association about neuroimaging to determine response to medication or therapy in Major Depressive Disorder. It seems much more exciting if you don’t actually read it. Fortunately, Neurocritic did, so you have someone to explain what’s hope and what’s hype.

Paul Offit explains why we shouldn’t take multivitamins.

He also has a book coming out soon called “Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine” and USA Today covers some of the issues that make this stuff such a dangerous alternative.

And Darshak Sanghavi at Slate wonders why so many of us think we need to avoid gluten

Now, if you happen to be near Washington, DC, and you want to see some cool genetics stuff, hit the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History for an exhibit called Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code.

Teaching otters to use vending machines might not be the best idea, but it sure is cute to watch.

Wednesday Links

Wednesday Links

Yes, it’s been a while since the last set of links. I’ll try to do better. Enjoy these for now.

Carl Zimmer wrote an article on Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva for the Atlantic. One of the reasons I think it’s important to read stories like these is to see examples of the success that comes from investigating genetic origins of diseases. Another is to show that there are real reasons that a treatment may or may not be produced outside of the simple profitability of the treatment itself. All in all, this is a great story with some human interest thrown in for good measure.

I’ve often had the discussion with people about how even though we have names for colors, not everyone perceives them the same way. Well. . .who’d have known it? Apparently some of our perception differences arise from how we name the colors in the first place! Empirical Zeal discusses it in two parts. Part 1. Part 2.

Beyond Recognition: The Incredible Story of a Face Transplant
Yes, it’s graphic, but it’s also absolutely amazing.

Scicurious has an interesting piece about genes and environment. . .interesting not only because it shows an actual mechanistic result in the brain that can differentiate genetically identical mice, but also because those of us on SSRIs can take comfort in knowing our meds are assisting us in hippocampal neurogenesis.

Another thing that seems to be related to a mechanical malfunction in the brain is Body Integrity Identity Disorder, in which a person is uncomfortable with the very presence of a part of his or her body. Mindscapes: The man who needs to paralyse himself in New Scientist talks about some of the possible roots of this condition that makes people seek elective amputation procedures.

From Nature, an explanation of what a chemical is, and why it’s not inherently dangerous or toxic.

Some tips
on distinguishing science journalism from infotainment.

And. . .a tap-dancing seagull.

Wednesday Links

Wednesday Links

Welcome to another edition of Wednesday links. As you can see, I have been reading instead of writing. I hope to have some actual original content for you all in the near future. In the meantime, have some links:

The Discovery Institute feels sorry for my students is an excellent smackdown of Intelligent Design and the “cdesign proponentsists” who support it.

Several states are looking into legitimizing Naturopathy through legislation (as opposed to making sure its practitioners know anything about medicine.) Pretty Scary Stuff.

Fayhan al-Gamdi may actually be punished a little more for the brutal murder and rape of his five year old daughter, Lama. The Saudi royal family is shocked! Shocked, I say! Even though activist groups are pointing out that this kind of thing happens all the time.

Ben Hardwidge could give these folks a lesson or two. In Confessions Of A Former Misogynist he explains his mindset as a proud misogynist and the course of his enlightenment. He likens it to escaping from a religious cult, and I think that’s pretty apt.

And The Curious Case of Reeva Steenkamp’s Boyfriend has some food for thought about why we’re so concerned about the perpetrator but not the victim.

In case you’re not tired of women being hurt when they can’t fight back, read this piece by Amanda Marcotte about a woman who died in surgery, so we should abolish surgery.

LISTEN TO THIS FROG!!!

Wednesday Links

Wednesday Links

A collection of photos that show beauty in decay.

Did the ancient Egyptians play Dungeons and Dragons?

Now I’m going to have to learn more about mitochondrial DNA – P.Z. Myers explains why your mother’s mDNA might influence your lifespan.

It looks like the FDA is finally putting the moves on fake cancer doctor Stanislaw Burzynski

But the FDA is powerless right now when it comes to protecting us from other, potentially more dangerous medical threats. Now that Massachusetts has finally gotten its act together and actually inspected its compounding pharmacies, only 4 out of 37 passed.

Greg Laden goes to visit a creationist science fair. At least these kids are homeschooled. Some politicians want us to pay for this kind of education with our tax dollars.

And, finally, OTTERZ!! BAYBEEE OTTERZ!