When our bodies undergo the trauma of a partners illness, death and the aftermath, our bodies take a toll. Chemical changes in the brain lead to physical break down and more. Understanding these issues, we can perhaps apply modern therapies and treatments to perhaps avoid longer term impacts and recover more quickly from the physical issues and grief.
In this episode we tap an expert to discuss, interviewing Russ Scala, the founder of Scala Precision Health, delivering evidence based, gender specific nutritional and hormonal testing and imaging, along with customized treatment protocols to improve patient recovery, health and performance.
Russ is the author of the book American BioHacker, as well as a speaker, educator, and consultant, and we leverage his clinical expertise and research to deep dive on the impact the loss of a loved one can have on the body, and what you can do medically , nutritionally, and physically to get balance restored: to help better recover from grief to growth.
Russ: We know that when you are grieving, there are physiology changes for the widower. Their thyroid may slow down, their testosterone levels may dip, their hormone levels will drift and will stop producing growth hormone, If they’re under stress, we see the elevated cortisol levels, much like those in high stress professions or in warriors. We see elevated cortisol and people that are in the grieving process.
Tom: So the first of when we’re going through a traumatic experience, the limbic system is going to be activated, that’s the middle part of our brain, and in particular, the amygdala. And the amygdala is what kicks in and fires to then fire up the reptilian brain, the brainstem and then the rest of the nervous system, your breathing, your heart rate, your respiration, all of that. And essentially, it puts you into fight flight freeze or a new one I learned now fawn mode.
Russ: A lot of guys are proud, they don’t want to ask for help. And this is one of the only times that you know, you want to be able to ask for help and not worry about what people are thinking.
Russ: You’re running scenarios in your head, you’ve just lost somebody, you lay your head down on the pillow at night and you start circulating these thoughts and you start ruminating. Well, in our 30s, we used to have little Pac Men that ate up that extra stress. Once we get in our 40s and 50s. Those little Pac Man called monoamine oxidase disappear. So if we cycle or we get upset after three o’clock, it will disrupt our sleep patterns through the night. Being aware of this is a good start, and then plugging in some interventions that people can try to improve. Sleep is extremely important.
Russ: During stress, you could be pushing out too much cortisol, and then you hit a wall and your adrenal glands don’t put out any cortisol at all. And it has to be supported. Cortisol also suppresses thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and growth hormone, older people and war veterans and police and fire cortisol hammers, the hippocampus, And the hippocampus….there’s people that are under a lot of stress, they always start to lose their short term memory.
Tom: If you can get the balance in the brain fixed so that the serotonin is being produced, the dopamine is being produced the right way, then you feel less of a need for that medication. Same thing when it comes to the doctor medication of antidepressants, and sleep aids, right? If you can get the melatonin right, if you get the dopamine, the serotonin, serotonin and oxytocin kind of all at the right levels, then maybe you don’t need those antidepressants and sleep aids in the long term.
Russ: As you know, we talked about neuro-plasticity. While you’re going through this process, while you’re following some basic protocols, your brain is developing new brain tissue because your brain is releasing something called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. That’s Miracle Gro for the brain. Now, if you take an antidepressant, or if you medicate yourself with alcohol, you may be shutting that process down. So again, I always try to meet people where they are, and really see how their metabolism and their being impacted. I like to get the patient to tell me what they do on a daily basis from getting up in the morning, to going into bed at night, that sort of gives you an idea where people are.
Tom: It’s finding your tribe from a mental and spiritual place, but also if you’re in a place where you can help, and you can have that purpose. And you can feel like, hey, even if I’m grieving, and even if I haven’t figured everything out, if I could just be there for someone else, and be there to listen and be there to help them. That actually helps you at the same time. And I know this has been, you know, creating Growth through Grief and participating in this with other widowers has helped me as much as this helped anyone else.
Russ: It’s gonna be painful. But suffering is optional. You don’t have to suffer.
Russ: You know, Eric Topol, the head of the Cleveland Clinic wrote a book seven years ago, it’s called The Patient Will See You Now. He said people are going to form communities, people are going to run their own lab work. People are going to heal each other, like Tom is doing here with you all, all without a physician. And that’s coming true as as we’re talking.
My guest today is Russ Scala who I’ve known Ross for a number of years. He’s the founder of Scala Precision Health, where they deliver evidence based, gender specific nutritional and hormonal testing and imaging, along with customized treatment protocols to improve patient recovery, health and performance.
And I think you’ll understand a little bit about Russ’s business when I mentioned the name of the book that he wrote, which is American Bio-Hacker.
So this session is all going to be about our biology, as we’ve experienced grief and loss, what happens to us and how you can use bio-hacking to overcome.
Russ is a speaker and educator. He’s an amazing consultant. He’s a generous and empathetic caregiver as well, taking so much time with every patient that he deals with. And it’s an absolute honor to have him here today.
Russ Scala welcome.
Hey, how are you guys doing? It’s good to be here.
Thank you so much. So many of us, we’ve been through an incredible battle. And for me, it was a 10 year on and off roller coaster of dealing with first my wife’s breast cancer, and then a glioblastoma brain tumor. Amd unfortunately, the battle was lost. And it’s traumatic when we go through that kind of experience. What I want to know from you, Russ is what happens to our body during that battle. And then the aftermath of the grief.
Tom, you’re very knowledgeable in this, I knew from our first meeting months ago that you were trying to affect change, and that you’re on a journey yourself. So this is going to be really important.
This is one of those situations where a traditional medicine really doesn’t have the answer. And one of the answers they do have is medicating emotions, you know, with antidepressants, and we want to avoid that.
So I want to teach people physiologically, what’s going on with our metabolism during the grieving process. So one of the things that we’ve learned is that everyone is biochemically unique. One treatment protocol can affect everybody differently,
I have to meet the patient, where they are, for instance, how long they have been going through the grieving process. We know that their physiology changes, their thyroid may slow down, their testosterone levels may dip, their hormone levels will drift and will stop producing growth hormone,
If they’re under stress, we see the elevated cortisol levels, much like those in high stress professions or in warriors. We see elevated cortisol and people that are in the grieving process.
So again, how long has the person been grieving? What’s their metabolic state right now? And what can we do to get them off of the railroad tracks, so they could power through this and come out the other side, healthy?. And so that’s sort of a 60,000 foot view of where we are.
Russ, let’s dive a little bit deeper. Because I know that a lot of the folks that listen to the podcast really are interested in some of the details.
So the first of when we’re going through a traumatic experience, the limbic system is going to be activated, that’s the middle part of our brain, and in particular, the amygdala. And the amygdala is what kicks in and fires to then fire up the reptilian brain, the brainstem and then the rest of the nervous system, your breathing, your heart rate, your respiration, all of that. And essentially, it puts you into fight flight freeze or a new one I learned now fawn mode. Talk about that, and the impact that that can have?
You know, my history goes back to when I was a paramedic attached the SWAT team for 20 years, I started face to face with patients at the most critical times their life, but because I worked in a small town Winter Park,
I got to see the aftermath of some of these patients as well as my co workers. What was the stress doing to my co workers with their constant responding to emergency calls.
So Tom, you’re right, the amygdala is the alarm center. When that goes off when we’re in basic flight or flight, although there are unique distressful impacts where everybody is a little different, metabolism starts to change. Because it can be a very frustrating time losing loved ones f, like what I went through with losing both parents at once, and the people that are listening here, often don’t have the tools and help to understand how to get through this and mitigate the metabolic impacts.
A lot of guys are proud, they don’t want to ask for help. And this is one of the only times that you know, you want to be able to ask for help and not worry about what people are thinking. Get those two friends that you can really trust that will help you through this, even if they’re just in the room.
Because physiologically, you don’t have to read the book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers to understand that stress, at whatever level physical, mental or emotional stress starts to cause nutritional deficiencies, hormonal deficiencies, and this will impact our feel good neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine.
Now just knowing that, we know that people are going to go in the tank, a lot of them get medicated with antidepressants. The antidepressants can help a bridge, because we have to get through this. But medicating emotion long time really suppresses all your growth and your activity, your positive activity.
Now, one of the things that happens is sleep gets impacted, right when we’re stressed out talk about the impacts on sleep first, and we’ll go through a couple of the other impacts as well.
Yes, sleep is very important for recovery. The idea that we all need eight hours of sleep is completely wrong. There’s actually five different levels of sleep.
I’ve been studying the sleep process, where long distance runners that run 200 to 400 miles actually could do something called micro-sleeping where they can sleep for a minute and slowly recover. On the far side, police, firemen, myself, people going through grief, or divorce, interrupted sleep patterns slows the recovery process of the trauma,
Interrupted sleep patterns caused an imbalance in the gut brain connection. The intestinal tract is the second brain. I traveled to the first gut testing lab in 1996, called The Great Smokies Diagnostic Lab. This is very important. Your gut is very important during the healing process. It’s very important to understand your microbiome when you’re trying to sleep.
You’re running scenarios in your head, you’ve just lost somebody, you lay your head down on the pillow at night and you start circulating these thoughts and you start ruminating. Well, in our 30s, we used to have little Pac Men that ate up that extra stress. Once we get in our 40s and 50s. Those little Pac Man called monoamine oxidase disappear. So if we cycle or we get upset after three o’clock, it will disrupt our sleep patterns through the night.
Being aware of this is a good start, and then plugging in some interventions that people can try to improve. Sleep is extremely important.
In fact, just shutting your eyes, for 30 minutes is beneficial to the metabolism. So meditation can help, and then just making sure you’re getting as much sleep as you need.
I know that I used a sleep monitor to try to help. I knew that I wasn’t getting enough sleep through recovery on some of the exercises and other things I was doing, and also just from stress. I mean sometimes as you said you put your head down on the pillow, and it ruminates over the fear of going forward and reliving the loss and things like that. And I know a lot of people are suffering through that.
The other thing that stress and the amygdala being fired can do is digestive issues, and you mentioned the gut biome how important it is. Many of us who’ve gone through this loss, sometimes the increased stress levels can suppress your appetite, and it can also mess with the absorption of nutrients even if you’re eating well. Russ, talk about that a little bit.
Everybody goes through stress differently. Some people can compartmentalize it better than other people I’ve met that just can’t get out of bed.
I recently drove over to Tampa to meet an executive last year that was polishing off a fifth of vodka a day and was just staying in his robe on the couch.
So again, stress hits everybody a little differently. We’ve got to meet those suffering where they are.
You wanted to know how the gut biome, digestion and intestinal tract is affected, with the appetite suppression first where that can be an issue for some.
If we’re under stress, our blood circulation is going to go to our legs where we may have to run, we may have to move as a result of our fight or flight response, and it’s going to move away from our stomach.
So if somebody’s grieving, and they’re in the grieving process every day, basically, depending on the study, you need about 21 minerals, 13 vitamins, nine amino acids from protein, and two essential fatty acids. If you don’t get that during the grieving process, you’re going to mine it out of your own tissue. And that’s what you want to avoid. You want to avoid being severely deficient, as you see your way through this process.
Because everything is interconnected. We can’t just treat nutrition, we can’t just have counseling, we can’t just treat hormonal levels, we can’t just treat the gut. What my team does is we look at everything. And depending on where the patient is, and the feedback and the testing, we kind of get a basic idea of what to help them with.
You mentioned cortisol, which I know is the stress hormone. And we’re talking about stress. So talk about cortisol levels, the short and term long term impact of that. And I know for me, I believe that’s what caused adrenal fatigue, because I was going through stress for such a long period of time.
That’s a great example. I’ve worked with endurance athletes, myself, police fire, a lot of people that have secreted excess cortisol levels, including executives, mothers with postpartum depression, and certainly those grieving.
So cortisol wakes us up in the morning, and, and carries us through the day. It’s a natural hormone in our body. It’s made from cholesterol. And then right around two or three o’clock in the afternoon, melatonin starts to be released, and our body gets ready for sleep. So the cortisol, melatonin circadian rhythm is extremely important, but often gets disrupted under grief.
How do you restart that circadian rhythm? One of the things we do is have somebody go outside and let the sun hit their eyes for about 10 minutes. That restarts it.
So I measure cortisol saliva testing. When somebody’s in adrenal fatigue, we have to support their adrenal glands with Hydra- cortisol, five milligrams to 40 milligrams. So everybody is on a continuum. Cortisol is extremely important.
During stress, you could be pushing out too much cortisol, and then you hit a wall and your adrenal glands don’t put out any cortisol at all. And it has to be supported.
Cortisol also suppresses thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and growth hormone, older people and war veterans and police and fire cortisol hammers, the hippocampus, And the hippocampus….there’s people that are under a lot of stress, they always start to lose their short term memory.
So that’s some of the things that we can see right away, and kind of alert people that they need to plug in some behavioral intervention so they could see their way through this.
Now, Russ, what I want to do is talk about what people typically do to address some of these issues. Right, we’re under stress, we’ve got the fight flight, freeze fawn response going, we’ve got our hormones messed up, cortisol production, melatonin, maybe not being produced, and we’re not sleeping. So what does the grieving widower do?
Well, a lot, go and grab a few extra drinks a day to help them relax and go to sleep, or as you said, maybe they go to a doctor. And that doctor wants to provide relief, and they prescribe an antidepressant, or maybe they prescribe a sleep aid to to affect the short term issues. Talk about this kind of medicationL self medication, and then prescription medication and then what I want to do next is kind of get into, what’s the real way to go about addressing this?
So alcohol first, right? So I meet people where they are, and if somebody is really grieving, and they really, obviously, you can tell that it’s just been a few weeks. I try not to impact their diet or they’re drinking.
I’m just just listening to them. Run some lab work, and I sort of move real slow with them because I know they’re feel good neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine are really low. And a lot of people going through this grieving process, all their dead air, all their downtime is about thinking about this person that they love, they miss. How am I going to replace this person, to have to get back out in the dating field? How am I going to get back to work?
They’re constantly cycling thoughts in their mind. And one of the things they got to do, and I hear this all the time, it’s Russ, how can I shut my brain off?
Well, there’s ways we could do that. But what happens to people and you can understand this, I worked in the addiction field for 20 years, people that drink alcohol, the alcohol elevates their estrogen levels. And estrogen elevates the feel good chemical serotonin. So you can understand why men start drinking. They’re basically medicating their brain with alcohol, and then they’re following it up with simple carbohydrates. White rice, pasta, bagels. These simple carbohydrates will also elevate serotonin levels, I call that the poor man’s Prozac package. And so they medicate themselves.
A lot of times when I correct hormonal levels. I hear this all the time: “Well you know, I didn’t even want to drink today, for some reason”. And that reason is because the hormones, the estrogen and testosterone, that progesterone we’re providing people with is balancing out their brain chemistry. And they don’t associate these levels with drinking, but you know, that’s what it is.
Now, Russ in my personal journey, we’ve talked about this at the coffee shop that we both frequent, that I went cold turkey. The day after my wife passed away, I knew that I was using alcohol to medicate through the process. And I also knew that it was going to be a big inhibitor, if I were ever to try to make improvements going forward.
I was drinking very sugary oriented drinks, which doubly compounded the negative impacts. And then after the drinks, I was grabbing a bag of tortilla chips, especially well paired with the margaritas that I drank. It was not a healthy lifestyle.
And I was blessed enough to be really motivated, having hit rock bottom through the loss, to quit drinking and stick with it. As you said, you worked in the addiction field for a while, and we know that there are great treatment programs out there for those who can’t quit on their own. There’s nothing wrong with going to ask for help. There’s nothing wrong going through a 12 step program or something similar to overcome the drinking challenge.
But eventually you do have to get off of the alcohol, it will produce that extra estrogen, which may have the feel good, you know, in the near term, but it will then overcome overpower the testosterone in your body. And as we men get older, in particular widowers, we’re going to suffer from that elevated estrogen level and ultimately, the lower testosterone
And the alcohol, it’s a temporary fix. It’s medicating and as we look to grow through this process, which we’re all here to grow through the grief, and create a new 2.0 version, as you said, right away, your recommendation is try not to change too much. I agree with that. A lot of us do need that temporary crutch. It isn’t a bad thing. But longer term, getting off of that alcohol, I think is important.
Yeah, I mean, a lot of people that I meet Tom, they’re a little standoffish. They’ve got their guard up. They want to know about me, they want to know about my history, they want to know about what I went through. And I let them know right away that I’m not the food Nazi. I’m not the alcohol Nazi.
We got to see this thing through. I say there’s four stages of liver failure. So we’ve got a lot of time, but eventually we want to cycle out of these bad behaviors. Because I know you want to move forward with your healing. You’ve got kids that you want to see, and you love other people and other family members.
Right now, a flash bulb just went off in your face. I don’t expect you to pull the eject on this jet fighter that you’re in. You’re being twirled upside down. You’re going 1000 miles an hour, Mach two with your hair on fire. You’re trying to make decisions and they’re not going to be good decisions.
So I try to stay on the sidelines in the beginning, send them research, tell them learn about other people that I’ve worked with, get some lab work done, point out the nutritional deficiencies that affect their brain chemistry.
Like one guy I just did a test on last week. He’s in a bad spot. He goes, man. I didn’t know I was deficient in magnesium. I go well, some people are, some people aren’t. Magnesium is involved in over 700 reactions in the body. He started replacing magnesium. He said he could really feel it after the first week. So I didn’t say anything. I’m like, Okay, now I’ve got buy-in.
He understands that what we’re doing is looking at his biochemical individuality and we’re going to not use sweeping generalizations but we’re going to have specific targets, like a sniper, to help him get off of the railroad tracks.
So it’s like walking up a flight of stairs Tom with a yo yo when your hand we’re going to take steps up together, up the stairs every day, the yo yo will be the diet, mood, fluctuations of energy levels.
Russ, if you can get the balance in the brain fixed so that the serotonin is being produced, the dopamine is being produced the right way, then you feel less of a need for that medication.
Same thing when it comes to the doctor medication of antidepressants, and sleep aids, right? If you can get the melatonin right, if you get the dopamine, the serotonin, serotonin and oxytocin kind of all at the right levels, then maybe you don’t need those antidepressants and sleep aids in the long term.
And one of the things if you go through this, and change your physiology, your brain is actually developing new brain tissue.
As you know, we talked about neuro-plasticity. While you’re going through this process, while you’re following some basic protocols, your brain is developing new brain tissue because your brain is releasing something called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. That’s Miracle Gro for the brain.
Now, if you take an antidepressant, or if you medicate yourself with alcohol, you may be shutting that process down. So again, I always try to meet people where they are, and really see how their metabolism and their being impacted. I like to get the patient to tell me what they do on a daily basis from getting up in the morning, to going into bed at night, that sort of gives you an idea where people are.
So when you begin the healing process with your patients Russ, to overcome grief, if someone’s suffering, you first like to get a baseline with them. Right? What is a “day in the life” of the patient?
First of all, I do therapeutic listening for a few hours.
I send him some videos, because I want to educate them. I’ve got the Russ Scala YouTube channel where I have a lot of free videos where they can learn about the gut brain connection, how stress impacts the body and more. Those videos are four minutes long, for short attention spans, but I start planting the seed.
Then, about my third or fourth conversation, I start plugging in some very basic interventions that they can apply. Because at that point, they’re only trying to get through, and not even by the day, they’re trying to get through every couple hours.
And then Russ, you go and do some blood testing, right? Talk about that talk about what you recommend there.
Well, our blood testing that we do, are not typically offered by their general practitioner. So I share the blood work with them that they need to get from their general practitioner.
And sometimes the general practitioner says I don’t know what I’m going to do with this, I don’t know what these results are going to be because I’ve never ordered this before. But we make sure they get them anyway.
And the tests are basically looking at estrogen, testosterone, growth hormone … basically all the hormonal levels, and the endocrine system.
The other test that we do is a urine sample. It looks at vitamins, minerals, amino acids, microbiome, and whether environmental toxins are damaging your DNA.
We look at all your feel good chemicals in your brain.
So that’s the baseline and herein lies the rub with this. I can see whether they’re severely deficient in serotonin, severely deficient in dopamine. They may not be able to compartmentalize stress, and so have a couple of drinks a night. Well, a couple of drinks a night after you just lost a loved one to me is not that bad. And if they’re hanging on and this is getting them through and they are sleeping, then I could adjust the treatment protocol. Now if they’re going off the deep end, driving their car fast, they’re using drugs, life in the fast lane. You know some people gravitate towards highly dangerous behavior, then I’ve got to incorporate something ASAP. And I’ll even have a counselor that will call them daily.
So once you’ve got that baseline, and you begin making these adjustments, how do you make those adjustments to the brain chemistry to the gut biome?
One of the things we do is we look at everything that impacts brain chemistry. Where are they right now. So in a man we may look at the HPA axis, so we optimize his thyroid T-three and T-four, we optimize his testosterone.
Now a male testosterone level will go from 300 to 1000. If a doctor sees you at 400 while you’re in the grieving process, he says, Oh, you’re fine and within range. That isn’t what we want. We want to get the range up into the higher 900 range. So the testosterone, the natural producing testosterone will help elevate serotonin levels.
So for a male, we look at estrogen and testosterone, and progesterone ratio. Progesterone binds the same receptor sites as Prozac and Xanax. Very important for brain chemistry.
We’re looking at thyroid T-three and T-four, fasting insulin, cortisol and hemoglobin, A1C,
That’s just the blood work that we do that will give me an overall view of the brain chemistry.
And part of my contracts with clients is they’ve got to maintain their general practitioner, and usually I could get them to run that lab work through their GP. And then we figure out a fee moving forward, whether they want to continue to stay on a monthly program. If they want us to also balance their nutritional hormonal levels, there’s a separate fee for that.
So part of it, as you mentioned, is there’s a nutrition component, right? It’s what you’re putting in your body, both drink and eat that is going to help to boost those levels or repress the ones that you want to repress a little bit more, there’s going to be supplements that you take. And then I I’m curious about this because I haven’t taken advantage of it yet, is bio-identical hormones. So talk a little bit about nutrition and supplements, and then bioidentical hormones and then anything else that you’re using as a tool to kind of help?
If you go online and look at it all, there’s a lot of testosterone gurus out there. My expertise is in performance and longevity. How does physical, mental or emotional stress compromise our body.
Well, there is a sweeping generalization, we all start losing our hormones at around 30. Testosterone is extremely important for the heart. If you have low testosterone levels, and low normal levels, your arteries may become blocked. You know, we’ve got 30,000 cardiologists in the United States that still think fat causes heart attacks, but this isn’t true. The paradigm in heart disease treatment is completely changing.
I just shot a couple of videos on my YouTube channel about the heart, which beats 100,000 times a day. It circulates over 2000 gallons of blood. And just that motion alone can cause blockages in the arteries. And that’s what a lot of people don’t understand. Can you imagine a pump that starts a few weeks in vitro and can be all the way up until you’re almost 90 years old? It’s phenomenal to think about.
So we also know that testosterone is extremely important to keep the arteries dilated, keep blood sugar down. Now doctors because of the performance enhancement scare, they’re all worried about testosterone. Instead, I say “Doc, do you have a hard time giving somebody thyroid hormone”? Oh no, I go “Well, thyroid and testosterone work together”.
So this is where we educate the patient. We send them research to take to his doctor, It is extremely important to optimize thyroid, progesterone, estrogen, testosterone and cortisol.
So when we look at the gut biome, which you mentioned, I got a gut biome test from a company called Viome. Naveen Jain, his company. And it was really helpful for me to balance my diet to really optimize my “second brain”, my gut, which then influences your venal vagus nerve, and then communicates up to your brain and it goes right into your limbic system, to control those feel good chemicals. You know that saying “a gut feeling”. That is your gut talking to the brain and the limbic system, activating to control your emotions, and that’s the emotional tie to the gut.
So the gut is really responsible for a lot of mood, a lot of fight, flight, fear and fawn responses that go on, and you’ve got to optimize that.
So when I got the gut biome test, It provided me with a picture of what it looks like from a bacteria and viral level. But also, here’s the foods that you really should be eating to turbocharge that good bacteria, to instill growth in that good bacteria. And then also the foods that you should be avoiding, that are going to create more of the bad bacteria or affect viruses within your gut.
Exactly. And, you know, you, you did a good thing. I’ve watched your evolution over a few years, the only thing different is, if you were, if you and I met a few years ago, we would have pulled all this together really fast for you. And that, that that is what it is. But now, by sharing this information, people are going to listen to us, they’re gonna see that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, they’re gonna know that their doctors don’t have this information. And this is how we pay it forward. Tom, it really is.
Yeah, for me, it was a lot of trial and error. So I couldn’t agree with you more, I probably shouldn’t have been on a program with you from the beginning. But, you know, wherever that journey is, we talk about “not going it alone”, and the emotional impact of grief. Talk about that a little bit.
Dr. Sapolsky, who wrote the book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. And he wrote another book, 700 pages, called Behave. He’s really focused on psycho neuro immunology. And that’s a big word. But it basically says that, while we’re under stress, our immune system becomes suppressed.
And he studied monkeys and baboons. He went to Africa and he would knock out baboons with sleeping darts and measure their cortisol levels. I mean, this guy is definitely on the tip of the spear, when it comes to understanding this. And then he applies a lot of this to what happens to humans.
We know heart diseases kill 17 million people a year, and a lot of people die from heart attacks when they’re under stress. So the hormones cortisol that you and I talked about and adrenaline actually caused vasoconstriction. It causes your arteries to close up.
The stress definitely lowers our immune systems capabilities to fight. When our body is mining nutrients, and our testosterone levels are low, believe it or not muscle mass can decline. Muscle wasting is called sarcopenia. And it just got labeled as a disease, we think people over 60 are going to experience so much muscle wasting that their immune system is really going to go in the tank. So we’re trying to understand how to maintain muscle mass as we age.
And even Elon Musk cares about this.. I read Scott Kelly’s book, where he spent a year in space, while his twin brother was on the ground. They did blood work, and he came back with low muscle mass, heart damage. And if we’re going to go to Mars, it’s going to take two years, nobody’s focusing on muscle wasting.
It’s very important, when you’re going through the grieving process. That’s almost like being in a zero gravity environment. You’re in another atmosphere going through the grieving process, because you’re mining nutrients, and amino acids from your own muscle tissue.
Because your brain consumes so much energy, there’s chess players that lose weight, playing a chess tournament in two days. Your brain is highly metabolically active, using 20% of our circulating oxygen, and your brain doesn’t shut off. Even when you’re sleeping and dreaming. you’re brain is burning calories. Well, the same thing with your heart that beats 100,000 times a day, those two things alone can drain your body of nutrition while you’re going through the grieving process. And nobody really helps people understand that.
Now, you mentioned the book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, but I didn’t hear, unless I missed it, the punchline as to why they don’t. Is it because of the herd that they’re in? Is it because they’re not alone? Is it because of something else?
Yes exactly. It’s a metaphor for exactly that.
Let’s look at a war veteran. If you and I are going to join the Marines and go to special forces and go through BUDS training and then become a Navy SEAL, you and I would never be five feet apart during the whole process. But if Tom, if you got injured or I got injured, you will go home alone.
Now they’re starting to rethink that whole process. You need to stay with your team, being with your team, being with people that understand you. This is why cops hang out with cops. You know, I was a paramedic, I hung out with paramedics, I isolated myself because a normal person that’s raising children, they don’t want to hear all the bad stuff that we see.
And me being an 18 year old paramedic seeing stuff I’ve never seen before. I didn’t have anybody to talk to. So I definitely didn’t want to take these horrific stories home to my parents or my girlfriend. So a lot of times I would isolate myself. I would drink at the time and try to deal with it and that wasn’t the way to go either.
And so having a tribe, like, what the Growth and Grief community is about, and other communities like grief share or other outlets, I think is really important. And I know that in the beginning, I certainly had friends that would reach out, friends that cared. But they were part of my old persona, right, of the husband of the Father. And those were the relationships. And I really needed to find almost a new tribe not to replace that old tribe, but a tribe of, as you said, kind of fellow paramedics, or fellow firemen. And now in this case, fellow widowers who have experienced this, so that we can share a little bit and so that we know that we’re not alone.
And what we’re doing right here is so important. It’s as important as nutrition.
What you and I are doing right now to educate people. You know, with me growing up in Jersey, my dad was a union president, we were pretty tough. When I lost both my parents, a few people came out of the woodwork and said, Well, I know what you need. I’m like, You have no idea what I need. I wasn’t negative, but for me to align myself with my tribe, I gravitated towards the war vets, the counselors that would help war vets, the counselors that would help alcoholic detectives, they kind of understood me a little bit better. And I was able to build a tribe that way.
Regular people that we consider friends, they know us, and they have a certain skill set. Maybe they could do some therapeutic listening, maybe they could sit down and have dinner with us. But that’s it. That’s all they can do, and no disrespect to them. But like you said, finding a new tribe of fellow widowers, you have more of a connection with them than you do your neighbor you’ve known for 15 years, right?
Absolutely. And like you said, it’s not like you abandon those old friends. Although I know that some people who’ve gone through this process have kind of reevaluated their friend groups to maybe remove the ones that were a bad influence, that could take them down that wild path or that destructive path, right?
Yes, replace out the energy vampires, those that suck out the energy from your life – the good energy out, and that then lets the bad energy in.
The energy vampires are very, they’re just not good. It’s like: “Bubba, let’s go out, you know, let’s go get a few drinks”. I’m like, I don’t need a few drinks, man. Yeah, I’m trying to get through this,
My clients that needed me are almost a second family to me. I’ve had clients for 15 years, and I maintain my client contacts. And even when I was going through my darkest time, I still felt like these people needed me and I had, I had to step up to the plate. And I couldn’t go down completely, because I knew they needed me. And that’s sort of how I was raised.
But the other people that, you know… I met a couple of counselors that said, I know what you’re going through, the guy sitting across the table from me was 300 pounds, I’m like, obviously, you don’t know what I’m going through. And you’re medicating yourself with food and drink, I kind of said that in my head. It’s very lonely. While you’re going through this.
That’s why meeting like minded people… having people that are grieving together, what you and I are talking about, they can almost start the process after they watch our video and that ‘s what got me out of bed, when I knew we were going to do this., I’m like, okay, we could really make some difference, we can make a difference.
Absolutely, and you did mention helping others, and this is one of the ways that you heal, You had your patients, you’re able to help them. And I think there’s something really to be said, for that.
It’s finding your tribe from a mental and spiritual place, but also if you’re in a place where you can help, and you can have that purpose. And you can feel like, hey, even if I’m grieving, and even if I haven’t figured everything out, if I could just be there for someone else, and be there to listen and be there to help them. That actually helps you at the same time. And I know this has been, you know, creating Growth through Grief and participating in this with other widowers has helped me as much as this helped anyone else.
Yeah, I think that’s very important. You know, you would think that when you’re in the grieving process, you would think you’re handcuffed to the Titanic. And you don’t want it and you want to isolate yourself, but it’s the complete opposite.
Like if you meet somebody, and you know that they need somebody, and you kind of get up in the morning and you think about how they’re doing, how they may need you. It gives you that interval of time, Tom, like you did, you’re helping this person. And while you’re trying to impact their life, you’re forgetting about what you went through. And then when you lay your head down on the pillow at night, you’re going: “Well, I really hope so and so gets through this”. I really enjoy helping them and in fact, it seems like the two people I’m helping, I’m thinking about them at night and I’m going to sleep right away as a result. How did that happen? I swear I’m doing good. And sharing love.
I think it is so important in this process, even if you don’t feel like you’ve got it all figured out, or that you might not have love to give, it’s there. So absolutely, Russ.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d like to leave our Growth through Grief community, our growth warriors with today?
It’s gonna be painful. But suffering is optional.
You don’t have to suffer.
And listen to what Tom and I said. There’s some basic things you could do, even if your world is upside down. Even if you feel like you’re spiraling out of control, getting out in the sun once a day.
Getting your basic lab worked on, looking and finding deficiencies early on, because the only way around this is to go straight through it.
And you need to not go through this alone, but reach out and commune with certain people: your tribe. And this community. I don’t know of another community like this. This community can be life saving for you.
You know, Eric Topol, the head of the Cleveland Clinic wrote a book seven years ago, it’s called The Patient Will See You Now. He said people are going to form communities, people are going to run their own lab work. People are going to heal each other, like Tom is doing here with you all, all without a physician. And that’s coming true as as we’re talking
Russ, I absolutely love that. And thank you so much, brother for participating in the Growth through Grief podcast, sharing your biohacking advice.
I know that you too, have experienced the loss of both your parents simultaneously and know this well. So thank you so much for sharing your personal experiences and personal advice.
Yeah, I just, I just feel this is my mission. And I love what you’re doing. And hopefully we’ll keep brainstorming together.
Absolutely. And we’ll definitely have you back, because I do want to deep dive on a couple of these topics a little bit more.
Russ can be reached at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/russ-scala-54869a6
The Patient Will See You Now – https://www.amazon.com/Patient-Will-See-You-Now/dp/0465040020/
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The information in this podcast is for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical, mental health or spiritual advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental health counselor, spiritual advisor or other qualified health-care , mental health or spiritual provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, mental or spiritual challenges or treatment. Before making any changes to your health-care, diet, exercise or other aspects of your life, please seek professional advice, and never disregard professional advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or heard on this podcast or through other Growth through Grief resources.
About The Host
Growth Evangelist / Growth through Grief Founder
Tom Pisello is a widower and the father of two daughters. Tom lost his wife Judy in 2017 after her ten year battle with cancer.
Tom founded the Growth through Grief site, resources and ministry to help share his personal experiences to grow through the grieving process, and to share with others to help in his own and other’s healing process. Through this process, Tom gained his sobriety, lost 60 pounds, gained a growth mindset and rekindled lost faith, now sharing these hard-earned lessons and the lessons of other widowers and experts with you.
Prior to creating Growth through Grief, Tom was a successful serial-entrepreneur, analyst, speaker, and author of the business books Evolved Selling and The Frugalnomics Survival Guide. He was well known as “The ROI Guy”, founder of Alinean and Interpose, a Managing VP of analyst firm Gartner, Chief Evangelist for Mediafly and founder of the Evolved Selling Institute and host to the popular sales and marketing podcast – Evolved Selling
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