Tag Archives: neuroscience

The Angel and the Assassin: The Tiny Brain Cell that Changed the Course of Medicine

Available January 21st, 2020!

Hi all!

My new book, THE ANGEL AND THE ASSASSIN: THE TINY BRAIN CELL THAT CHANGED THE COURSE OF MEDICINE will be out in just 2 months, on January 21st, 2020! After two years of reporting, researching, writing, factchecking, I can’t wait to share it with you!

If you haven’t heard me yammering about it on social media (Instagram and Twitter and Facebook, please follow me?) here’s some of the news that I’ve been sharing!

I’m grateful for early praise pouring in from leading authors, scientists, physicians, and experts in their fields, people I think of, really, as Heroes of Humanity!

Susannah CahalanNew York Times bestselling author of Brain on Fire calls The Angel and the Assassin “A fascinating deep dive into the unsung heroes (and villains) inside our skulls….Donna Jackson Nakazawa has a journalist’s eye for story, a scholar’s understanding of the research, and patient’s appreciation for high the stakes truly are.”

Dan Siegel, MD, Psychiatrist and Clinical Professor, UCLA School of Medicine, and author of Mindsight says, “An inspiring account…will provide a game-changing view of health for generations of researchers, clinicians and citizens for years to come. Bravo!”

Shannon Brownlee, Senior Vice President of the Lown Institute, author of Overtreated writes, “Few non-fiction writers can tell the tale of scientific inquiry so vividly the reader can feel the excitement of discovery with every word. Donna Jackson Nakazawa is one of those writers, and this book tells the tale of one of the most intriguing and groundbreaking discoveries in all of medicine.”

Thomas Insel, MD, Former Director, National Institute of Mental Health 2002 – 2015, writes that The Angel and the Assassin is “A deft, scientific story about the ‘Cinderella’ cell of the brain, microglia . . . Jackson Nakazawa explains the possible translation of the science into solutions for brain disorders, health and disease.”

Christina Bethell, PhD, Professor of Child Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health says,  “A captivating, page-turning story of the scientific discoveries that overturn centuries of medical domga. The Angel and the Assassin offers extraordinary promise and heralds new hope … paradigm shifting reading for us all.”

Mark Hyman, MD, Director, The Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, New York Times bestselling author of Food, says, “[This] is the rarest of books, a combination of page-turning discovery and remarkably readable scientific journalism. A book to both savor and share.” 

Susannah Tye, PhD, Director, Translational Neuroscience Laboratory, Mayo Clinic calls The Angel and the Assassin “An impressive, inspiring, timely call to arms.”

Terry Wahls, MD, author The Wahls Protocol, says, “The Angel and the Assassin is riveting, engaging. Nakazawa’s work is visionary.” 

Peggy OrensteinNew York Times bestselling author of Girls & Sex, writes, “The Angel and the Assassin is one of those astonishing medical yarns that you almost can’t believe: how the power of this tiny cell was so long overlooked, how integral it has become to our understanding of neuroscience and immunology, the way it has transformed the most basic ideas of who we are as humans. It is especially essential reading for women, who face depression, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune disorders at higher rates than men.”

Andrew Weil, MDNew York Times bestselling author of Healthy Aging says, “Donna Jackson Nakazawa puts forth a revolutionary new way of thinking about the brain’s immune system and its interactions with [the] rest of the body….Much of the information here was new to me, and has made me more optimistic about the future of medicine.”

If you ARE maybe thinking of buying a copy of THE ANGEL AND THE ASSASSIN one day, would you consider pre-ordering? One of the most helpful things you can do to support an author’s work is to preorder the book from your independent, community bookseller. Here’s why! (Get ready for an INSIDE PEEK at publishing!) When you preorder from your local bookstore, the bookstore owner takes note: OH! HEY! PEOPLE ARE INTERESTED IN THIS BOOK! That makes them more likely to order copies, stock the book, place it in the bookstore window, write about it in their newsletter, and suggest it to other readers! (Oh, and to invite said author to do a book signing near you :). ALL THIS LEADS TO ANOTHER UNBELIEVABLY HELPFUL THING!! INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES report pre-sales and sales to The New York Times Bestseller list (and other lists!). Lists RELY on small, privately owned bookshops sales reports for rankings! HOW CAN YOU DO THIS? IT TAKES ONE MINUTE AND FOUR CLICKS. This link takes you to the page for THE ANGEL AND THE ASSASSIN where you’ll find options for pre-ordering. Click on INDIEBOUND. Type in your zipcode (on the right where it says “Buy at a local store.”) ORDER! (Maybe that is only three clicks? Even better.) If you want to buy on Amazon or Barnes & Noble that’s okay too! You’ll see those options at the same link. BOTTOM LINE: PRE-ordering an upcoming book from your LOCAL FRIENDLY BOOKSELLER IS THE ULTIMATE GIFT YOU CAN GIVE AN AUTHOR IF YOU VALUE READING THEIR BOOKS.

As we get closer to pub date I’ll be sharing my speaking schedule, where I’ll be signing books, and other big news! Stay tuned and THANK YOU for all of your help and support! I’m lucky to have the best readers on the planet! (Oh, and please share this widely!)

Donna

Why We Need to Talk About the Unique Biological Effects of #ToxicChildhoodStress and #FemaleAdversity on Women’s Bodies and Brains.

The Female Body and Brain on Toxic Stress

(CRUCIAL NOTE HERE BEFORE YOU READ: Boys’ immune systems become dysregulated in response to #toxicstress too, and that leads to disease and changes to the brain that we also need to talk about more openly AND compassionately. Today I’m focusing on girls’ unique immune response to #toxicstress.)

So, exactly what happens in a girl’s body, in response to #toxicstress, that leads girls to be more likely to be ill as adult women? EVERY WOMAN WAS ONCE A GIRL. So, we should figure this conundrum out, right?

(For more on the scientific link between toxic childhood stress, being female, and later developing autoimmune disease, depression and other conditions, please read PART I of this essay, Why Girls Who Face Toxic Stress are More Vulnerable to Adult Illness: The Shocking Relationship Between Being Female, #ACEs, Autoimmune Disease and Depression)

Well, it turns out that girls’ developing immune systems react differently to toxic stress than boy’s do. This is because of some basic physiological differences between women and men. Women are, generally, physically smaller than men and our hearts and lungs are much smaller in size. Yet our anatomy makes added room to carry a fetus in order to create new human life.

Our smaller heart, lungs, and organs still have to be able to do everything a human male does – pump oxygen, circulate blood, run fast, think fast, be awake 16 or 17 hours a day – and have the necessary fuel to carry a child to term. We have to do double duty, on half the machinery.

Women can do so much more on less because we also have higher baseline levels of the hormone estrogen. Estrogen acts as a kind of messenger, carrying information between groups of our cells. Say we are stressed, or catch a flu, or get a vaccine – estrogen helps us, as women, have a more robust immune response. This more robust immune response is also thanks to steroid hormones known as glucocorticoids (or GCs). Glucocorticoids are produced by the adrenal gland and are anti-inflammatory. They help regulate inflammation.

If a woman is pregnant, glucocorticoids help us to keep our baby safe and carry it to term, even if we come down with the flu, or have a physical injury. Our immune system is poised, all the time, to protect our ability to carry another life.

This heightened female immune response also means that when our immune system sets out to fight off any foreign invader, such as a virus or bacteria, as women we also produce more of what are called antibodies, or fighter immune cells. That’s good. BUT it can also be a problem. As women, when we produce more antibody fighter cells, we also produce more autoantibodies. Autoantibodies are rogue fighter immune cells that can mistakenly attack the body’s own tissue or organs, in what we refer to as friendly fire. As in #autoimmunedisease.

When women, ESPECIALLY GIRLS, repeatedly face #toxicstress during the developmental years, over time, their stress response begins to be dysregulated. Glucocorticoids, or GCs, become less able to properly regulate a healthy, appropriate immune response, which leads to more inflammation.

Now remember, in the face of threats that prick up the immune system (which includes infections, physical injury, AND social threats and stressors), girls ALSO make more antibodies AND more rogue autoantibodies – again, because we have so much more estrogen.

This leads to a double whammy. It’s a simple equation:

A (Glucocorticoids stop regulating a proper immune response in face of #toxicstress)

+ B (Estrogen leads to production of more autoantibodies, which can attack the body itself)

= C (When girls face toxic stress, rogue autoantibodies can run amok, promoting slow-brew inflammation, and later disease)

This means that, over time, a woman’s immune system is a lot more likely to begin to attack her own body. This accounts for the fact that #autoimmunediseases strike women at three times the rate of men. For some illnesses that ratio is far higher. Examples. Women develop Hashimoto’s thyroiditis at a rate of 10:1 compared with men. In lupus, that rate is 9:1. In Sjögren’s syndrome, 9:1. #AutoimmuneDisease is one of the top ten leading causes of death in women under the age of sixty-five.

Fifty million Americans have an autoimmune disease, and three-quarters of these are women.

Women are also twice as likely as men to have chronic pain syndromes. Women with an ACE score of 3 are significantly more likely to have chronic pain syndromes including headaches, back and neck problems. Women are also more likely to have “contested conditions” – meaning the medical profession is still debating whether these autoimmune conditions are real or just psychosomatic — such as #chroniclyme, #chronicfatigue and #fibromyalgia.

A heightened inflammatory stress response also affects the architecture of the #femalebrain differently than the male brain. A girl’s brain, on adversity, is a vulnerable brain in unique ways. For instance, both boys and girls who grow up with #toxicstress demonstrate, on brain scans, fewer neural connections between the pre-frontal cortex (the decision-making center of the brain) and the hippocampus (an area of the brain that helps us to make sense of our emotions and experiences). But, in girls who grow up with #toxicstress and #ACEs, another area of neural connectivity is affected. It goes offline. Synaptic connections between an area of the brain known as the amygdala (the fear-and-alert center of the brain) and the pre-frontal cortex are also weakened.

This means that girls who experience #ACEs are more likely to grow up in a chronic state of hypervigilance. Fight or flight. Feeling that life is an emergency. This contributes to the fact that girls and women are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression as adults than are men. Stats bear this out. One third of men with an #ACE Score of 4 later develop depression—already a high and disturbing figure—while nearly 60 percent of women with 4 #ACEs develop chronic depression in adulthood.

That means that the risk that growing up with #toxicstress and #adversechildhoodexperiences will lead to neuroinflammatory diseases such as depression and anxiety disorders is, as with autoimmune disease, TWICE AS HIGH for women as it is for men.

Physical inflammation is increasingly linked to mental health disorders. Cutting-edge research shows us that our body and brain’s immune responses function in tandem. (I’m writing more about that in my next book, out in 2019, so stay tuned for The Angel and the Assassin: The Tiny Cell That Changed the Course of Medicine. I think it’s the most important book I’ve ever written.)

Still, it can take years, sometimes decades, for toxic childhood stress to translate into symptoms, much less visible physical disease. A young girl can face a lot of chronic #toxicstress at the age of 12. BUT it may take 30 years or longer for the inflammation unleashed by that chronic adversity to progress to disease symptoms. At that late date, the link between a stressed little girl and the ill woman she’s become is invisible to the patient – and her physician.

This plays into why so many doctors miss autoimmune disease in women. Recent studies show that the average woman sees five doctors over four-and-a-half years before receiving a proper diagnosis—and nearly half of women are labeled and dismissed as “chronic complainers” in the early stages of their illness.

This means that women who’ve faced #femaleadversity and who also face #autoimmunedisease often get dismissed TWICE. From early on in life, they know if they meet up with any type of #femaleadversity  or CHILDHOOD TRAUMA– sexual harassment, date rape, sexism, abuse, at home, school or work — if they report it their version of events, what they say may very well be dismissed. Disbelieved. Their self-reports are very likely to be distrusted. Years later, in a doctor’s office, when they report their PHYSICAL #auatoimmune or #chronicpain symptoms, they get dismissed or disbelieved all over again.

The past repeats itself.

(Later this week, I’ll be adding more to this thread, in PART THREE.)

If this topic interests you personally, because it speaks to your experience, or because you work with, teach, mentor, or are parenting girls, or if you work in #ACEAwareness or #trauma prevention, sign up for my blog and newsletter now. If you haven’t yet signed up for my mailing list and/or my blog, you might want to now.

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