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Status Thymicolyphaticus

Status Thymicolyphaticus.



A member of the Stone Family recently had cardiac bypass surgery to restore blood flow to five blocked coronary arteries. After surgery, his cardiologist insisted that he take a statin to reduce his serum cholesterol level even though it measured in the normal range. Apparently, the cardiologist wanted to make his normal level more normal if any such thing exists. This scenario reminded me of a morbid piece of medical history. I believe it is worth sharing.


In the early 1900's, several scientists attempted to find the reason why children suffered from crib death, a disease known as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) today. Basically, SIDS is a disorder that afflicts a healthy child, typically a baby who has been put to bed and mysteriously dies sometime in the night. Over a century ago, early anatomists studied cadavers to establish normal anatomical criterion; but there was an extreme bias of the sample of the bodies. Data suggests that ninety-nine percent of the research autopsies performed in the 1800's were on the poor.


The poor were not always as healthy as the rich, especially in the nineteenth century. Now it is a well-known fact that chronic recurrent stress will reduce the size of some glands and enlarge others, but at the turn of the nineteenth century the anatomical effects of stress were unknown. The poor were much more traumatized than the wealthy, so their anatomical normal was actually abnormal. Their bodies, including babies, were much more representative of the physiological changes that arose due to living in harsh environments. Chronic secretions of stress hormones cause the adrenal gland to enlarge (hypertrophy) and the thymus gland to shrink (atrophy).


A. Paltauf, a German anatomist, performed the first study on a series of SIDS babies of the middle class. He found that their thymus glands were much larger than normal. Remember that normal was derived from examining bodies of poor babies who actually had atrophied thymuses. Comparing the two groups, he surmised that the SIDS children were dying from their abnormally enlarged thymus glands. The syndrome was called Status Thymicolyphaticus.


The logic that followed was simple. To protect children from SIDS, doctors needed to somehow shrink the enlarged thymus glands of otherwise healthy children. Physicians devised a way to irradiate the throats of babies to artificially shrink the enlarged thymuses. In the neck, the thyroid gland is closely positioned to the thymus. A catastrophic result of the radiation was that ten thousand people died from thyroid cancer caused by radioactive scatter. SIDS was not cured.


In the 1930's, scientists uncovered the error in concluding that the thymus was larger than normal in children dying from SIDS. Dr. W. Nelson at the University of Pennsylvania was the first pediatrician to realize that the children did not have abnormally large thymuses, they had normal sized ones. Even though Dr. Nelson made his plea to stop the radiation, the medical industry continued to irradiate babies for a significantly long time afterwards.


So, what does this have to do with cholesterol levels? Everything. Who knows what normal individual cholesterol levels are for people? Physicians have established ranges that are normal and ideal. The greatest predictor of cardiovascular disease risk is not a person's cholesterol level; rather it's their C - reactive protein and fibrinogen levels. My patient had a high C - reactive protein and normal cholesterol level. During stress, LDL-cholesterol levels increase and HDL-cholesterol levels decrease. LDL-cholesterol is the sterol backbone of cortisol, the adrenal glands' major gluco-corticoid stress hormone. Chronic adrenal stimulation releases a seemingly endless supply of cortisol. In order to meet the adrenal's cortisol demand, more backbone molecules are needed to manufacture cortisol. The liver makes more LDL-cholesterol to meet the demand. LDL-cholesterol is also the backbone for sex hormones: progesterone, DHEA, testosterone, estradiol, and estrone. Since high levels of cortisol suppress FSH and LH in the pituitary, sex hormone production slows perhaps contributing significantly to the elevation of LDL-cholesterol in chronic stress. Regardless of the source of the LDL-cholesterol elevation, inflammation is a result of chronic stress. It is not a byproduct of LDL-cholesterol or total cholesterol. The liver also makes C - reactive protein.


I am particularly moved by the story of Status Thymicolyphaticus. Normal was established by a group of scientists ignorant of the artifact of bias sampling. Treatment was based on abnormal findings, but they were in truth, normal anatomical findings. Radiation was a relatively new therapeutic technique used cavalierly at that time. Large numbers of people died from the complications of the treatment for an anatomical abnormality that really did not exist. It took generations to establish the new normal and discontinue the commonly accepted practice of irradiating thymus glands to prevent SIDS.


Be careful of creating a normal in your worldview. It's clear that once you have convinced yourself of it, and proclaimed it, you have forever distorted your ability to challenge it and see it for what it really is. Look around. Seek truth and be open to the possibility that what everyone considers normal may not in fact be. The only consistent normal that I have found is the normal cycle on my electric clothes dryer in the laundry room. Think about it.


Are you normal?



Posted by Amanda Sanders at 12:28 PM
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