Many philosophers have argued that memories are the food that enriches our soul. Sherlock Holmes, the brilliant but fictional detective, refused to memorize everything; he compartmentalized and prioritized what he wanted "filed" away in his memory.
The beauty of our memory is that we can make it whatever we want.
For some of us, our memories are all that we have left. I remember my father always referring to his younger days and how just thinking about the memories from 20 to 30-plus years ago made him feel happy, especially as he looked at his grandchildren. But clearly, this might not be true for all of us. The way we think and remember could have a tremendous impact on our health. The main culprit: stress.
Everyone is under some kind of stress — every day — good stress and bad stress. The good stress could be something like a new job or buying your first home. The bad stress could be anything from a difficult financial situation to a sick family member to missing a train or trying to hail a cab for more then an hour in midtown Manhattan... in pouring rain.
Short-lived stress tends to have limited lifespan and rarely affects long-term health. But sometimes stress becomes chronic and difficult to identify. Stress manifests itself through feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, frustration, guilt or excitement. One's moods start to fluctuate. Some people drink or smoke, others opt for healthier outlets such as jogging. And who can forget retail therapy? Eventually, your body starts to ache here and there, first a little bit, then more and more. Those may seem like "phantom aches" at first, but as time goes by they can become legitimate physical health threats. If left unchecked, they can ultimately affect our physical health, leading to effects especially in our immune system and blood pressure oscillations. And when our immune system weakens, we are a lot more susceptible to illnesses which our body would under normal circumstances be able to fight.
Sometimes managing stress is not hard. It's not a rocket science after all. But there is one group of people for whom stress is NO piece of cake. Have you heard of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)? PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that occurs following an extremely stressful experience or witnessing a life-threatening event (terrorist attacks, violent personal assaults, natural disasters, etc). People suffering from PTSD have symptoms that include flashbacks, difficulty sleeping , mood changes, depression, the inability to deal with everyday life, etc. But make no mistake, these are not those nutty people walking around in ripped and filthy clothes, talking to themselves and their imaginary friends. They are fully functioning people, who often times, don't even know they have PTSD. The current treatments are limited to medications and psychological counseling.
So why am I telling you all this? Well it seems that what Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet found in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" may be the way of the future. Yes, erasing memories! It seems that scientists are creating treatments to erase bad memories...with a tiny little pill.
Canadian and Harvard University researchers are reporting preliminary results on 19 patients suffering from PTSD; the results seem encouraging. It seems that an old drug to treat high blood pressure, Propranalol, might be effective in making people forget their memories. But how do you separate the PTSD from all other stress? How do you know how much and what you want to forget if some of it is suppressed in your awaken state and only creeps up on you when you are hoping to catch some Zz’s?
Are we no different from Mr. Holmes, but our compartmentalizing is not necessarily deliberate?
So how would this "miracle memory-eraser" work? It appears that when people experience a traumatic event the body releases adrenaline (stress hormone) burning the memories deep into the brain. Propranolol blocks the action of adrenaline dimming the memory of the event. The research is far from conclusive but promising.
Imagine a world without bad memories? Let's see, I'd like to forget my teens or the first time I began to notice that I was loosing my hair. My producer Shayla would like to forget those three years she lived in Sarajevo during the war in Bosnia. BUT IS FORGETTING A GOOD THING? I do not know. A part of me feels that memories make us stronger and shape who we are. I also understand when it is better to forget. Shayla says she would not give those three years of pure hell back for anything in the world. I believe her. Please let me know what you think.
P.S. Don't forget to watch FOX News Channel. And please feel free to write to me at DRMANNY@FOXNEWS.COM and tell me what you think. Ask a question, share a thought, share a remedy — We'll try to answer all of your mail online or on the air.
We've gotten lots of mail from viewers. Unfortunately, we cannot post all of the messages we get and cannot answer them all at once. But we surely will try to get back to all of you. Here are some randomly selected messages:
“I am in my office and it is quiet. I cannot read the paper or listen to the news for fear of hearing about Nixzmary Brown, the little girl that was savagely murdered. I believe in God. When my friends read the news, their first question was, ‘Well Teresa, where was God while this was happening.’ Quite honestly Dr. Manny, I asked myself the same question. My niece is a single mother with three little ones. I couldn’t wait to hold them and kiss them when I read what happened to this little girl. What can I do to REALLY help? Can I write to see that stronger laws are instituted? Let me know what organizations I can contact.” — Teresa
“This country is too focused on tobacco use as ‘the cause of heart disease.’ Have you checked the label on a can of corn for salt content? You don't have to smoke to get a heart health problem, all you have to do is eat what is available at the grocery store. My husband and I needed to go on a low-salt and low-cholesterol diet. We spend hours reading labels in the grocery store. Very few foods salt-free foods seem to be available. When is someone going to fix this problem? I haven't heard of anyone taking the food companies to task. How long until big business says you can't work here if you ingest a lot of salt because of rising healthcare costs.” — Victoria (Greensboro, PA)
“Parents seem as if they don’t have the time to spend with their kids today. They expect the schools to baby-sit them. I raised eight children and they always had chores to do. Dinnertime was always storytelling time. Each one told what they did that day. Today, kids run off to their room and watch TV or tinker around on the computer. Dr. Manny, have you seen what these people put on their plates in a restaurants? It seems like playtime not eating time! The children get on the games and the food is tossed away.” — Shirley
“Thank you for speaking out so clearly about these seemingly disposable children. Each child is precious. However, before all the blame is placed on caseworkers, social workers, ER doctors, etc., please take a look at the laws and legal system that protect parents' rights, not children's rights. Children are still treated as somewhat above dogs, but less than any adult. There have been attempts to correct this and kudos to the many who try to protect these children. But we need to work out a way to find nurturing places for these kids who silently cry and not just keep them ‘reunited’ with abusive families. Why should parents and caregivers not be subject to ‘one strike and you’re out’ when a child has been horribly abused? We put our priorities where we put our money and our laws. Many caseworkers are not social workers but folks who are trained on the job. Our communities don't know what really happens because only the worst of the worst cases make the news. Please keep going down this path. It is sorely needed.” — E.
“I am a non-smoker and I would like to see smoking wiped off the face of the Earth as much as anyone. However, I believe our freedom is at stake here. Employers pay us for the jobs we do. THEY DON'T OWN US! If an employer is allowed to fire an employee for smoking, where will it end? If an employee engages in high-risk activities such as mountain climbing, white water rafting, motorcycle riding, etc, should he or she not be allowed to earn a living? If an employee has cosmetic surgery from time to time should he be fired because of the risks involved? I'm sure you get my point. If healthcare cost is really the issue, and I don't believe it is, then pass the difference in cost along to the employee, but don't fire him! It's bad enough our Christian beliefs are under attack. Are we under the watch of Big Brother, or what?” — Gail (Grass Valley, CA)
“Insurance companies need to start using higher deductibles if a patient goes to an ER for something other than a true emergency. People, and especially new parents, need to be better educated about symptoms and when it is necessary to seek a doctor or the services of an ER. I am stunned at how many new moms take their babies to the ER because of a slight fever and sniffles when the baby is only teething. It costs insurance companies, state welfare programs and hospitals millions of dollars. Maybe you could address this issue in your blog or your daily comments.” — Jo (Cottonwood, AZ)
“The average waiting time for an emergency room visit is 47 minutes? Where? The last time I was at the emergency room with my 2-month-old grandson, we waited two hours before we were called into a room. Then we waited an hour for the doctor. Our main concern was RSV but we were left in the waiting room with about seven other sick people. Every experience I've had with the two emergency rooms in Amarillo (taking co-workers, husband, daughters) have resulted in hours of waiting. Everyone in my family has a primary care physician, but accidents and illnesses don't always happen during office hours. I would LOVE to find a emergency room that has 47 minutes waiting time.” — Tammy
“Thank you for addressing the ER emergency. It has been a nightmare in large cities for years! You have thousands, perhaps millions of people, with NO health insurance who know that they can’t be turned away from an ER room. A friend of mine recently spent 10 hours in a Twin Cities hospital waiting to be seen in the ER and they DO have insurance. You have thousands of Hmongs in St. Paul with health problems, not to mention, thousands of illegal immigrants — and that is just the tip of the iceberg in Minnesota. America needs to wake up to this critical situation and not wait for Washington to solve it, as none of the people in Congress need to worry about poor healthcare, as they get nothing but the best.” — M.K.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Click here for more information on Dr. Manny's work with Hackensack University Medical Center. Visit AskDrManny.com for more.