Ray D'AlonzoRay D'Alonzo, Ph.D., is a visiting professor in the Chemistry Department of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a retired R&D Manager of Procter & Gamble where he worked for over 31 years. He has led research programs in bone metabolism, infectious disease, respiratory disease, arthritis, and nutrition and has published scientific papers on a wide variety of topics from the chemical composition of fats and oils to the pharmacoeconomics of osteoporosis. Dr. D'Alonzo is the recipient of the Chancellor's Medal from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in part, for his contributions to the development of new pharmaceutical agents. As both a patient and scientist, he has made a personal effort to increase the awareness of Chiari in the health care sector and to assist others afflicted with the syndrome. He has published the story of his personal struggle with Chiari in a book, Contents Under Pressure, with 100% of royalties going towards Chiari education, awareness, and research programs.

September 1st, 2012 --

I have been involved in the Chiari world for about 13 years. It is not as long as some others but long enough to have a fix on things. Over the years, I have talked to many others who did not experience the desired outcome after decompression surgery. The first thing I always tell them is that it takes time. While I do not have any long term recovery data generated from a controlled study, I have observed many who have improved significantly after 2 to 5 years.

There is also an important emotional component to recovery. It is hard to feel good emotionally when you feel bad physically. This is very natural. Likewise it is hard to feel well physically when you feel bad emotionally. It is the classic bird in the net syndrome. Emotional well being is complex. I do not profess to be an expert in this area but I do understand that it encompasses many aspects of life. I have actually seen individuals who were struggling for an extended period of time after decompression surgery make a turn-around recovery upon separating from an unwanted spouse or job. I am not stating this as an example to advocate divorce or quitting your job. I mention it to point out that what may seem peripheral to recovering from Chiari can in fact be integral. Individuals who continue to struggle after surgery need to get a handle on all aspects of their life in order to sort out their emotional state. Seeing a therapist for help in this regard is something I often recommend.

When we feel bad, it can be amazing what we are willing to do. We’ll try all kinds of medication, various different nutritional supplements, and many different types of alternative therapies ranging from acupuncture to hypnosis to cranial sacral therapy. I am not saying that these things are wrong but when patients engage in these approaches month after month and do not make the progress they desire, they need to consider perhaps some of the basic things they can do for themselves to promote physical wellness. By that I mean, eating right, sleeping right, and partaking in regular exercise.

All the various molecules in our body depend on one another. There is a balance between them like all the various different instruments in an orchestra. The technical term for this is chemical or biochemical homeostasis. Just as the first violinist tunes the orchestra by setting the pitch, we need to tune our biochemistry by controlling our weight and optimizing both our sleep and activity. Taking antidepressants and getting acupuncture weekly is not going to be effective if you are overweight, sleep too much or too little, and refuse to exercise. All three of these basic control rods influence the production and balance of numerous biochemical molecules and pathways. Taking drugs to suppress appetite or induce sleep is only a good idea for the short term. When used chronically, they grossly interfere with the natural homeostasis. By the way, nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol are also molecules that interfere with homeostasis. Rationalizing their frequent use will not change this fact.

There seems to be countless diets and ways to lose weight. The mere fact that this is the case tells me that they are largely ineffective. One thing I know as a chemist is energy consumption and storage or calories in and calories out. If you reduce caloric intake, you will lose weight. Whatever diet you may be trying, eat until you are no longer hungry not until you are satisfied.

Sleep can be a tough one with all the sleep aids and medications. Try discontinuing them altogether and initiating something called sleep compression. By this I mean reduce the time you spend in bed not sleeping. There is a great book I recommend that explains this called “Desperately Seeking Snoozin” by John Wiedman.

Last but not least, there is exercise. Most people realize its importance but hate it or find it easy to conjure up excuses not to do it. Here I recommend thinking about exercise as some time to have to yourself. We all need time to ourselves, some time to think and reflect. If you think of exercise as some time to escape from everything, you may find yourself more motivated to do it.

So remember, treatments, procedures and pills can be very good if not essential in the short term. They are not however the key to natural homeostasis and wellness. Make it a long term goal to return to the basics, give yourself plenty of time to heal, sort out your emotions and eat, sleep and exercise right.

-- Ray D'Alonzo

** If you would like to share your comments, thoughts, or ideas with Ray, please send them to dalonzo.rp@gmail.com. Due to the volume and nature of email received, individual responses are not possible. **

Ed. Note: The opinions expressed above are solely those of the author. They do not represent the opinions of the editor, publisher, or this publication. Mr. D'Alonzo is not a medical doctor and does not give medical advice. Anyone with a medical problem is strongly encouraged to seek professional medical care.