Tag Archives: health

Shonda Rhimes “Yes”

Shonda Rhimes “Yes”

Shonda Rhimes was a guest on Andrew Ross Sorkin’s annual DealBook Summit and I was intrigued by her intelligence so I read her 2015 book “Year of Yes” when she forced herself out of her writing shell by accepting speaking and social invitations, learning to stand up for what she really wanted, and how to gracefully accept a compliment.

I knew about “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice,” and “Scandal” all being in production at the same time but Andrew Ross Sorkin pointed out that she had shed 150 pounds. Knowing, as I do, that the five food groups for writers are caffeine, sugar, nicotine, alcohol and fat, I wanted to learn more. I loved how she captured the nuttiness of TV production but the first three-fourths of the book has almost no self-disclosure. The photos start on page 233 and the good stuff follows.

She was the youngest of six to academic parents with a very strong marriage. Her older siblings are insightful and supportive and Delorse muttered, one Thanksgiving, “You never say yes to anything.” Shonda chewed on that as she realized that, as successful as she was, she wasn’t really happy. It’s nearly at the end of the book when we learn that she was engaged to a wonderful man that she didn’t want to marry and that’s when her weight started to really go up. By saying “yes” to telling the truth, she broke off the engagement and broke her pattern of suppressing her feelings with food.

Over the course of the year she discovered that healthy, kind people find each other and that some of her friends did not like how she was changing and growing. She realized they were not really on her side and she had to let them go. She explained, brilliantly, why it is SUCH a problem when people interrupt a writer who is in flow with dialog and story.

Five Miles

She describes “five miles filled with chocolate cakes, good wine, books I want to read, emails that have to be answered” and she has to get past this five miles every times she sits down to her computer to write. In the beginning it takes a day, or an hour, but it never takes less than 20 minutes to get past the five miles of distractions and get back into the flow. Even if the interruption is a well-intended, “would you like some coffee or water?” breaks the flow and she has start running again to get past the five miles.

You Needed Permission

At the end, Shonda explains to big sister Delorse how much the muttered phrase “you never say yes to anything” changed her life — saved her life. Delorse shrugged.

You did all the work, but it’s like you needed permission. I’m your big sister. I gave you permission and I’m extremely proud of you. You were joyless. All you ever did was sleep. Now you have completely transformed. You’re alive. Some people never do that. You are this happy because you said yes to not getting married.

Shonda explains that having it “all” is no guarantee of happiness, especially if what you want doesn’t conform. We spend our lives punishing ourselves for not living up to some standard we think applies across the board to all of us. The book is a plea to recognize that happiness comes from living as you need to, as you want to.

Pathological Overconsumption of Food was Cured by Telling the Truth

Los Olivos and High School Friends

Los Olivos and High School Friends

Left home at 4:30 on a Wednesday morning to bypass SF and San Jose rush hour traffic on my way south on 101 to Los Olivos, just beyond Santa Maria. Highway 101 is so much easier on my 1994 Volvo than Highway 5 (in gray) because on the travel speed is a temperate 65, not the 85 mph demanded on the 5.

As I approached Salinas, daylight was just cresting above the Gabilan mountains to the east, a silver ribbon outlining the gray ridge, then trimmed by overhead rows of gray clouds of varying stripes. The Coastal mountains on the right grew brighter as the sun rose and I pulled into Salinas to enjoy breakfast at Dudley’s.

Salinas at Daybreak

After breakfast I walked around for a few blocks and admired the creativity of the Hallowe’en decorations in a downtown alley.

At 10 am there was no one in my lane for as far and the eye could see, forward or backward. The drive was beautiful and meditative, and around noon I stopped in Santa Margarita, high in the mountains and still shrouded in fog, even though it is just 10 miles straight uphill from San Luis Obispo. At about 3 pm I met up with my friends at the VRBO in Los Olivos and we visited some of the shops and wine tasting rooms.

Rocking my Moroccan Bag in Downtown Los Olivos Which is Three Blocks Long

I cooked up a quiche for our first night, and on our second and final night we visited restaurant Bar le Côté.

At Bar Le Côté: Regina, Jane, and Moi

Shopping at Garden Supply in Los Olivos

We hadn’t seen each other in ten years, since the 50th high school reunion that we organized. It was such a pleasure to catch up and to fill in the blanks about how we got to where we were. They spoke about what they felt when they visited my house when we were in high school.

Jane: your mother seemed like a child.

Regina: your father was handsome but very scary. Manipulative.

It was such a relief to feel seen and understood. Because I departed at 10 am, the Friday afternoon trip took seven and a half hours but I enjoyed digesting all the insights and camaraderie.

Great trip.

Ferritin Update

Ferritin Update

I donated blood between my trip to Lyon, France and my trip to Morocco, and took a Ferritin test when I returned from Morocco.

In 2020 I learned that I carry the mutations of Hereditary Hemochromatosis. My first report flagged anything outside a range of 15-150 so I squeaked by with 150. I started taking milk thistle and cutting back on iron and I drove the Ferritin down to 26 by July of 2021 but I felt awful. I could feel that I went too low. I created this graphic that guessed at the ideal ferritin level.

The NYTimes just published an article explaining that hemoglobin measures anemia but ferritin measures iron-deficiency and that ferrutin levels should be between 30 and 50 icrograms per liter. They described iron-deficiency symptoms as:

Symptoms are often nonspecific and vague, like fatigue, brain fog, lightheadedness, sleep disturbances and a reduced ability to exercise.

When I got back from Morocco, my doctor commented on the new score of 116 and recommended a target level of 50, suggesting two blood donations before March 2024. The NYTimes article says tea and coffee with meals are absorption blockers. The problem with cutting back on meat is my effort to battle scarcopenia.

Levi-Montalcini Praises Imperfection

Levi-Montalcini Praises Imperfection

“In Praise of Imperfection” is the memoir of Rita Levi-Montalcini who won the 1986 Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering Nerve Growth Factor in cancer cells. She was the fourth woman to ever receive a Nobel prize. The book details the research, including a 1952 visit to a longtime friend’s cell culture laboratory in Rio de Janeiro. Together, they discovered critical chemical tools that the body uses to direct cell growth and worked out its biochemistry. Dr. Levi-Montalcini recalls her work in Rio as “one of the most intense periods of my life in which moments of enthusiasm and despair alternated with the regularity of a biological cycle.”

Although she was highly focused and single-minded in her research, she also saw life and research as a series of cycles, not linear events. “It is imperfection — not perfection — that is the end result of the program written into that formidably complex engine that is the human brain, and of the influences exerted upon us by the environment and whoever takes care of us during the long years of our physical, psychological, and intellectual development.”

Although she worked in the U.S. at Washington University in St. Louis for 30 years (from 1947-1977), she returned to Italy in the to continue her research there. She became more outgoing over the years and loved to host dinner parties, even though she was not herself interested in food. Always beautifully coiffed, and designing her own clothes in later years, she lived exuberantly until 103. Here are some quotes and a two-minute video from Nobel.org.

The final chapter in her memoir deals with the death of her brother at the hands of the Nazis.
She laments how people are driven by greed and the desire for power and territory. She observes that the body’s limbic system has remained essentially unchanged for thousands of years while the neocortex has enjoyed explosive growth. Unfortunately, we are mostly blind to the drives from the deepest part of our nervous system. As a biologist, this uneven development of human brainpower has caused much suffering and loss. The limbic system manages functions like breathing as well as instinctive behaviors like survival and mating. I realized that maybe the reason the yogis tell us to “return to the breath” is a way to connect consciously with this important but often forgotten layer of the nervous system.

Irene Lyon: Who Heals?

Irene Lyon: Who Heals?

Irene Lyon says that, ideally, we develop a sense of safety and belonging within our bones, guts, and cells as our attuned caregivers encourage us to feel self-worth and personal agency over the pivotal first three years of our lives. Because we are too young to think and reason, our learning is stored into our body posture and the muscles that move us, the muscles that give us strength and a felt-sense of confidence to take on the world.

Father son attunement

Photo taken by Mother

The sensation that we are worthy of the effort it takes to get what we want comes up from our gut which sends more signals to the brain than the brain does down to the gut. As we grow up, we become conscious of our thoughts which get laser-beamed down to the gut, reinforcing the feeling that we can cope with the challenges of our life.

Vagus Nerve

Afferent Signals Arrive in the Brain

Calm is not the same as Regulated – PVI Oct. 2023

The energy that forms how we sense our gut and organ systems (what we call our Sixth Sense) defines our sensations of ourselves as physical, emotional, mental, relational and creative beings. When we are unable to connect to ourselves, to others and our to environment, this shut-down behavior is often described as PTSD. How did this connection get faulty?

For some of us, it goes back for generations, including how our parents were raised and how they mirrored this behavior in our early years. Where large broods are the norm and poverty is widespread, babies were often seen as “yet another mouth to feed” rather than an opportunity to build something wonderful for the next generation. Beating children and chronic shaming practices that use disconnection (get out of the car, now!) and humiliation as a way to control a child’s behavior creates a high level of toxic stress and biological shame that becomes infused into the ENTIRE organism of the young child. In very young children, these feelings are learned as body sensations, which can’t be rationalized later as words or stories. These bad feelings must be addressed where they are: in the body and nervous system.

Those of us who experienced this kind of toxic shaming in infancy and childhood don’t know what it means to feel safe and relaxed in our bones, gut, and cells. We have learned to always be on guard and to express something along the lines of

“all connection is bad and everyone is to be suspected as dangerous and a threat.”

The chronic betrayal by parents and primary caregivers, from which an infant or toddler cannot escape, can instill a quality of hopelessness and defeat such that the person, as an adult, will feel they are in fact bad meat. This underlies self-harm and addictions. The internalized belief that they don’t deserve to be treated well (as the adult may have screamed while the beating the child) leads them to risky situations and abusive relationships. The pervading sense that they are not valued, or even wanted, can lead to a constant cycle of resistance to doing the work, fleeing from healthy behaviors, and rejecting the care of healers and supportive situations. See Irene Lyon‘s blogpost on why every trauma survivor CAN heal, but not everyone will.

For those of us who had mothers who were not capable of soothing us, we lived our early lives ping-ponging between hypervigilant and freeze response. We must learn what it feels like to be biologically calm and to cultivate an internal sense of safety and connectedness. So much restoration work is required, including realizing that maybe the mother herself never felt safe or calm. Coming to accept that my mother could not soothe me, even though I was capable of being soothed by my godmother, allowed me to forgive both my mother and myself. I see now that maybe I am good seed that fell upon rocky ground.

Oprah says, “Feeling that you deserve something is not the same thing as feeling worthy.” And simply feeling deserving and worthy doesn’t mean there isn’t a Competing Commitment such as “if I become biologically calm, I won’t be on the same wavelength as my family and they will reject me because they believe that I must be like them to be liked by them.” If someone has a (maybe unconscious) belief that getting well would betray their connection to their (birth) family, they might get trapped on the hamster wheel of spiritual seeking. See this Harvard Business Review article titled The Real Reason People Won’t Change.

Update Dec 2021

NYTimes Opinion “Opioids Feel Like Love”

The connections between brain opioids and motherly love were first explored by the neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp decades ago. Dr. Panksepp, who died in 2017, told me that when he first tried to publish data connecting brain opioids to attachment, he was rebuffed by a top medical journal. His research showed that morphine, in doses so low that it didn’t cause sleepiness, eased separation cries made by baby animals in multiple species.

The idea that the purest, most innocent love — between parent and child — could have any commonalities with the degradation of heroin addiction was “too hot to handle,” Dr. Panksepp told me. Today, however, decades after he published his work in another journal, what is now known as the “brain opioid theory of social attachment” is widely accepted.

When people nurture children or fall in love, hormones like oxytocin are released, infusing memories of being together with endorphin-mediated feelings of calm, contentment and satisfaction. This is one way that social contact relieves stress, making bonding a fundamental protector of both mental and physical health. When we are far from our loved ones or sense that our relationships are threatened, we feel an anxiety that is not unlike withdrawal from drugs.

So if “all connection is bad and everyone is to be suspected as dangerous and a threat,” the endorphins and oxytocin are not endogenously generated. Attachment does not become pleasurable or soothing. Spending time with others does not produce “calm, contentment and satisfaction.” No wonder Maia Szalavitz says “Addiction is A Learning Disorder.”

Update October 2023

BOTSA PDF link updated Brain Opioid Theory of Attachment. The endogenous opioid system plays a central role in sociality in primates, including humans. Conclusion:

We conclude that there is significant evidence for a role for the endorphin system in a range of mammalian bonding behaviours, including separation distress, play, gregariousness, grooming, infant attachment behaviours, positive affect and affiliative behaviours.

It goes on to say that emotional pain is reduced not only by endogenous opioids but also by oxyctocin, so maybe a caring kiss really does soften the pain. Reducing emotional pain using opioids, endogenous or not, flattens all emotions, not just the painful ones.

Anterior Cingulate CortexEndogenous opiods ties in with pain management using self-hypnosis according to David Spiegel, MD, Associate Chair of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University and founder of Reveri self-hypnosis app. At about 40 minutes in to this podcast, he suggests that pain can be managed when self-hypnosis activates endogenous opioids in the dorsal portion of the anterior cingulate cortex (midline “default mode network” emotional regulation).

If you say, “Your hand’s in ice water, cold, tingling, and numb,” [an MRI shows that] you turn down activity in the somatosensory cortex here. If you say, “Well, the pain’s there, but it won’t bother you,” which is sort of the way people on opioids sometimes feel, it was in a different part of the brain, the dorsal anterior cingulate, which is a part of the brain that we’ve shown turns down activity when you go into hypnosis, so we understand how the brain is doing it.

Jan Winhall said, on October 5, 2023 in a PESI seminar, that trauma survivors can work to remove danger from their surroundings but that the numbing behavior, which was an adaptive coping strategy, sometimes continues and interferes with connection with the self and with others. She recommends shifting away from a pathologizing model of these adaptive behaviors and, when safe, to “turn down the dial” on endogenous opioid production so the person can titrate the willingness to tolerate emotional pain and “revivify” emotional attachment.

Ferritin and Milk Thistle

Ferritin and Milk Thistle

About 18 months ago, Peggy urged me to send the extra $100 to my DNA lab to find out if I was positive for genetic hemochromatosis (GH), as she was. Our sister Connie discovered she was also positive for heterogeneous GH and briefly got on the liver transplant list. Too late — she passed away on August 15, 2020. Peggy and I got serious about mitigating the effects of this hereditary mutation. Neither of us had a diagnosis of GH and we learned that the only treatment was phlebotomy.

Peggy and I promptly signed up to donate blood and did so together, racing each other to see who could fill the pint bag first. I always won, and the phlobotomists at the blood center told me it was because I was better hydrated, but I have been recently told by a doctor that my blood is “runny” and that I bleed more than expected for simple needle-prick procedures. It may be because of the 18 months of Milk Thistle I have consumed in an effort to lower my Ferritin, a measure of the amount of iron stored in the liver.

In early March 2020, shortly after Peggy and I donated blood for the first time in many years, I got my first Ferritin test. My result was 150, the highest one could get without it being flagged. I had just squeaked by. If I had received a diagnosis of GH I would have to PAY to donate blood! I continued to donate blood as often as they would let me and added Milk Thistle to my daily supplements. I also employed the following techniques to lower Ferritin:

  • aerobic exercise
  • more beans and whole grains like brown rice cooked with turmeric
  • cut out supplemental vitamin C, shellfish, uncooked fish
  • limit alcohol, red meat, and cooking in iron pots

A few days after the first Ferritin test, we were locked down for Covid-19. I spent the next year feeling pretty crummy and took the test again in July 2021. My reading PLUNGED from 150 to 26!

That was too big of a drop. I think it would be smarter to be in the green zone above. I have cut out Milk Thistle and restored vitamin C and meat. I think the Milk Thistle may be a powerful, ayurvedic-type herb that interferes with iron uptake in the liver, lowers blood sugar and can interfere with estrogen levels. I did NOT experience it as a feel-good overall tonic. I am using my cast-iron pans again. I hope to feel more energetic and creative soon.

Vagus Nerve: High-Tone, Low-Tone Dorsal

Vagus Nerve: High-Tone, Low-Tone Dorsal

Vagus Nerve High-Tone Low-Tone dorsal

As I learn more about Polyvagal Theory by Stephen Porges, I am starting to understand why experts say that one must be in the Ventral Vagal state to really heal. Starting with an image from an article in Frontiers in Psychiatry written by Swiss researchers, I added information on high-tone and low-tone dorsal from Meditate Not Dissociate.

Adrenaline is like stepping on the accelerator; ventral vagal is the ideal coasting state — generating nice Alpha waves, relaxed, engaged, compassionate, fully-present-emotionally, “tend and befriend” or “feed and breed.” Low-tone vagal is described as a gentle brake on the nervous system, allowing a calming/relaxed and alert state, “rest and digest.” High-tone vagal is slamming on the brake and accelerator pedal at the same time. It LOOKS calm, but inside the systems are disintegrating. The graphic below describes three states, but there are really four.

three states of vagus behavior

Update August, 2021

As I continue to watch Stephen Porges videos and participate in Rick Hanson on-line meditation sessions, I have refined the graphic. This version clearly shows that the ventral vagus, which develops myelination through interaction with caregivers, stops at about the navel, while the unmyelinated vagus, fully-functional at birth, extends all they way through the intestines. I lined up the stomach with the direction the brain is facing on this version, and clarified that high-tone dorsal (stuck in the high-beta wavelength of fear) is like pulling on the hand-brake while still in gear.

The myelinated ventral vagus is a state of biological relaxation where one can play, including wrestling the way puppies do or touch football, and still feel safe and connected. It is the interoception of the cues of safety from the ventral vagus that allows play. Modulated voice, smiling face, welcoming vibe. The ability to sit still and listen to another.

23andMe: Bad News Good News

23andMe: Bad News Good News

In early February, my sister Peggy alerted me that she had spent the extra money for the health information available with a DNA test on Ancestry.com. She learned that she carries two mutations that can lead to hemochromatosis, a disorder in which the body stores too much iron. I clicked the button on 23andme.com to get my health results and they were the same. Two tests were available to determine if the condition was active: Peggy and I are negative on both tests. We do not have the disease and we have both decided to donate blood regularly because, if we had the disease, phlebotomy would be the only treatment.

Now the good news. I also carry two GOOD mutations that bestow fast-twitch muscles.
Genetic Power Athlete

This report is based on a genetic marker in the ACTN3 gene. This marker controls whether muscle cells produce a protein (called alpha-actinin-3) that’s found in fast-twitch muscle fibers. While some people don’t produce this protein at all, almost all of the elite power athletes who have been studied have a genetic variant that allows them to produce the protein. This suggests that the protein may be beneficial at least at the highest levels of power-based athletic competition.

ACTN3: More than Just a Gene for Speed


One of the most promising genes in that regard is ACTN3, which has commonly been referred to as “a gene for speed”.

Studies have found that most elite power athletes have a specific genetic variant in a gene related to muscle composition called the ACTN3 gene. This variant causes muscle cells to produce alpha-actinin-3, a protein found in fast-twitch muscle fibers.


France v. Germany: 150 Year Pattern

France v. Germany: 150 Year Pattern

France v Germany Covid Performance

On May 14, I posted this graphic to a Francophile Facebook group and asked why Germany’s deaths were a fraction of those in France even though they had about the same number of infections. Today, the NYTimes ran an article that seems to answer the question that is apparently circulating around France, too. The article is about the book “Strange Defeat” written in the early 1940s by

Bloch, a historian and World War I veteran. He volunteered to serve on the front lines in 1939 and later joined the Resistance, before being executed by the Gestapo in 1944.

In 1940, as a captain who oversaw fuel supplies at the headquarters of France’s First Army, he enjoyed an insider’s view of France’s defeat: an overly bureaucratic and rigid military leadership, hewing to theories and traditions, was incapable of reacting to the German threat.

While French leaders were re-enacting World War I with an emphasis on infantry and artillery, the Germans came with tanks, airplanes, trucks and motorcycles.

In a painful summary of France’s defeat, Bloch wrote: “Our leaders, or those who acted in their names, were incapable of thinking in terms of a new war.’’ He added, “The German victory was, essentially, an intellectual victory.’’

Un Village FrançaisI have just watched the first two of seven seasons of “Un Village Français” which starts in 1940 with the German invasion of a village near Besançon. This article is a stunning insight into what I am seeing unfold in this series. I have just witnessed the “aryanization” of a Jewish-owned cement plant by the man in the center holding the hand of the woman in the red dress in the photo at left. It seems like France, itself, may be starting to recognize the pattern. The NYTimes article states:

In a meticulous analysis of the handling of the epidemic by France and Germany, “Le Monde’’ concluded that the crisis had led to another replay in the “eternal match between France and Germany, at the end of which the winner always seems to be the same.’’

It was the latest chapter in a relationship that has tortured and defined France since it was defeated by Germany in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, putting an end to French hegemony in Europe, said Pierre Vermeren, a historian who teaches at the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne.

“In the 1870s, after France realized that it was outclassed by Germany, there was what was called the German crisis in French thinking,’’ Mr. Vermeren said. “France couldn’t understand: ‘How did the Germans do it? Why are their schools better? Why are their soldiers better trained? Why are their soldiers athletic, and not ours?’

“This has been going for 150 years.’’