Sunday, June 29, 2008

Enduring love or just never letting go?

When it is our time to grieve, we must live each day as it comes,
dealing with both the mundane routine of living and our inner struggle.
Grieving and living through the entire experience of bereavement will
change us, and if we do it well, the change will be for the better. We
know we are becoming whole when we can look to the future with some
readiness to engage once more.
--Carolyn Jaffe "All Kinds of Love: Experiencing Hospice"

Grief, of course, has been a part of my life and thoughts this past year, both during the final months of my mother's life and the time since she died in late March. I have been surprised at the ease with which I've made this transition since her death, realizing though that she and I had ample time to say good-bye and knowing that she was ready to exit when she did. Interesting research from UCLA(1) suggests that those who experience what is termed 'complicated grief'--defined as feelings of loss that are so overwhelming that the person is debilitated and unable to resume normal life--have characteristic patterns of brain function underlying this show-stopping state of mind.

Psychologists there studied a group of women who'd experienced the loss of a mother or sister in the previous five years. The subjects were classified as either complicated or noncomplicated grievers. Using functional MRI imaging (fMRI), a technique that can identify which parts of the brain are actively at work, the researchers found that all the women lit up their pain centers when they viewed either pictures of their loved ones or words related to loss. Neutral words or pictures of strangers did not elicit this response.

They were surprised, however, to discover that those women suffering from ongoing complicated grief also activated the nucleus accumbens area of the brain. This region is the neurological command center for experiences of pleasure and reward. While it is unclear why this occurred, lead researcher Dr. Mary-Frances O'Connor theorized that intense attachment in complicated grief activates reward centers in ways similar to that experienced by contact with the loved one before death occurred. Those with fMRIs lit up in reward centers all reported 'yearning' but there was no correlation with the time that had passed since the death.
O'Connor, MF, Craving love? Enduring grief activates brain's reward center. Neuroimage 2008 May 10. [Epub ahead of print]

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Just ashed my Mom...

and she knew that this was a great final resting place. She started life in Leadville, Colorado, and arrived back there on June 21, 2008, her 88th birthday!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Aromatase inhibitors and body aches

Many breast cancers behave enough like normal breast tissue that they are stimulated to grow in the presence of estrogen. While premenopausal women produce most of their circulating estrogen in their ovaries, the postmenopausal set converts androgens (male hormones) from their adrenal glands into estrogen via the aromatase enzyme.

For that reason, the risk of recurrence of estrogen receptor positive breast cancers can be reduced by either blocking cellular estrogen receptors with tamoxifen or preventing the production of estrogen with aromatase inhibitors. In fact, use of drugs such as exemestane (Aromasin) or letrozole (Femara) over 5 years has been shown to improve disease-free survival compared with 5 years of tamoxifen therapy.

Unfortunately, some women do not tolerate therapy with aromatase inhibitors due to joint pain. This discomfort may be due to the effects of lack of estrogen on tissues of the musculoskeletal system similar to the body aches experienced by some women as they enter menopause. Here's an excerpt from a March, 2008 issue of JAMA as one woman describes her experience with Aromasin:

As planned, I switched to taking exemestane [from tamoxifen]. But while taking it, I was feeling like I was a hundred years old. When I got up in the morning and opened my hands, all my joints would be sore and my arms hurt. All of my joints felt creaky. I started thinking, why should I stay on the exemestane for another 2 1/2 years? Why am I doing this to myself? So I called my doctor and asked him to switch me back to tamoxifen.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Of frogs, princes, shoes, and feet

One of my favorite books whilst growing up was an illustrated version of Grimms' Fairy Tales. Contrary to popular belief, the princess in the tale of The Frog Prince was so sickened by the attentions of the slimy frog that she "...picked [him] up with her finger and thumb, carried him upstairs, and put him in a corner." When he came creeping up requesting a spot beside her in bed, "she felt beside herself with rage and, picking him up, she threw him with all her strength against the wall, crying 'Now will you be quiet, you horrid frog?'"

So what's this got to do with horrid feet? I've been vainly attempting to replace my broken down not-so-New-Balance exercise shoes. Alas, New Balance no longer makes that model, so I must've tried on a dozen pairs of other NB styles at DSW's Denver store. Thank heavens the help pays you no mind there, because I was close to heaving a shoe or a salespunk, which one mattered not, at the wall. I left with sturdy Easy Spirit slip-ons, but no go-fast shoes.

Today, I scored by stepping out of the NB box into Balance shoes (that's Balance with a backwards B that looks like d that rhymes with c that stands for made-in-China comfort). Danced my heart out at Jazzercise an hour later with no pain at all.

The moral of my story is don't settle for sore feet. Try rolfing, neurokinetics, orthotics, Yoga Toes, orthopedists, and kiss as many shoes as you need to so that your feet can carry your heart, brain, bones, and muscles intact to the finish line.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


It starts with ectopic lipid deposition. Don't you just hate that--looking for fat in all the wrong places...and finding it? But we're not talking thighs, waists, and back ends here, but rather heart, muscles, liver, and pancreas.

Researchers theorize that our overconsumption of lipid-rich foods results in oversecretion of insulin. As a result, our livers produce too much sterol response element binding protein 1c (you might know it as SREBP-1c) which results in that organ gearing up to take those extra calories and turn them into fat molecules called triglycerides. Great gobs of these calorie-dense triglycerides then float through the bloodstream on their way to some storage depot where they will sit waiting for the coming famine that never comes. It's merely annoying to wear the extra fat in rolls about your waist, but it's downright toxic to stow them in your heart, muscles, liver, and pancreas.

Ectopic fat, i.e. triglycerides stored in all the wrong places, results in a world of metabolic trouble with a capital T that rhymes with D that stands for diabetes. Once in muscle cells, the fatty acids cause the muscle tissue (our biggest bodily consumer of sugar) to resist the actions of insulin, thus preventing the uptake of sugar out of the bloodstream and into these cells.

Fat stowed in pancreatic cells further amplifies this metabolic mess by killing off the very cells that make insulin. When the human body goes one Big Mac over the line, therefore, we not only eat fat but our liver makes more fat, our muscles become insulin resistant, and our pancreas are rendered less able to make more insulin.

Too much fat in, too much fat made, too much fat stowed in the wrong places. The lipotoxic effects of overeating, the lipocentric theory of diabetes. Two lessons: 1) Don't ignore the high triglyceride levels on lab panels--they're a huge red flag that you're on the way to diabetes, and 2) Don't discount the enormous value of any weight loss, even a little, with respect to preventing and treating diabetes.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Want to smile and feel good about growing older? This movie is about remarkable old people in a singing group. Remarkable not because they've aged without physical ailments but rather because they've aged with spirit and humor despite their infirmities. The documentary follows them through the initial rehearsals to their sold-out performance with interim stops for a show at a local prison, and several trips to hospitals.

I need to find a singing voice and a fifty-something musical director in 20 or so years so I too can be young@heart.