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Archive for December, 2017

Maybe 2018 will bring better news. But as 2017 closes, I’ve received replies from only two of the research teams contacted this summer, both in the UK, who expressed interested in studying the pathological form of earworms (which some academics call “musical obsessions”). Both teams are currently unable to pursue the kind of studies proposed in my letters because they lack funding. One team also felt they lack the expertise to properly evaluate the dynamic brain scans and lab tests.

This is frustrating, but at the same time it made me realize that money is really the only obstacle in the way of meaningful research. Only money…

But let’s back up a sec…

For those who haven’t followed the progress of this recent quest, a recap might might be helpful.

A brief history

I have suffered from these persistent, maddening earworms ever since I began the transition into menopause about 15 years ago. After one solid year of having not one single second of quiet in my head day or night, I thought I would lose my mind. I eventually quieted the earworms with a combination of hormone replacement therapy and over the counter (OTC) supplements that suppress cortisol.

But early this year (2017) the earworms came back. I tried to determine what had changed in my body. Two things came to mind: (1) my hormone patches seemed to be far less effective than they had been before the product patent expired and generics became available; and (2) I had switched to a cheaper brand of one of my supplements, phosphatidylserine (or PS). I went back to the original brand of PS, and over the next month or so, the earworms began to fade again. Not completely, but dramatically.

During this same time, I continued to receive emails through my blog from more sufferers all over the world: Turkey, Columbia, Australia, the UK, and the US. Some of those people were suffering terribly and, sadly, I couldn’t help them other than to suggest they try PS. But even then, some countries don’t allow many vitamins and supplements to be imported. These people would go to their doctors, who would give them powerful psychoactive drugs, which, in some cases, made the symptoms worse or triggered new symptoms!

I had contacted many researchers and “experts” about 10 years ago and got nowhere. But I now knew so many more people tortured by these earworms who might be helped if only we could get someone to study what I’ve learned so far and to test my hypothesis. So I decided to try again.

This summer, I sent letters to six of the most promising research teams qualified to tackle the challenge of persistent earworms or music stuck in one’s head. These researchers had already studied various phenomena relevant to my hypothesis regarding the cause of, or predisposition for, our torturous looping music. I followed up a month later by email and received only two responses. Both were interested and sympathetic, but declined due to lack of funding.

The hypothesis

My hypothesis proposes that, when our bodies are subjected to certain chemical conditions, our brains become “sticky” or “magnetic,” so that songs we hear (or just think about) stick in our heads and play over and over, sometimes for months or years.

These conditions seem to have something to do with stress and the adrenal stress hormone, cortisol. They might also be related to the insulin resistance that excess cortisol can cause (but which can also have other causes, including diabetes).  Whether these are direct causes of earworms or symptoms of some other dysfunction that triggers or enables earworms, I don’t know. I just knew that some of us (like me) had found ways to quiet the earworms, and we needed to know why and how to apply that knowledge to help others.

The letters requesting research

The letters asked researchers to conduct studies of earworm sufferers alongside an equal number of control subjects to find out if there are specific patterns or conditions (in the brain scans and in the lab tests) that are peculiar to those of us with the earworms, and that are not present in control subjects.

Brain scans. The first request was to use dynamic tests such as fMRI or SPECT scans to observe the real-time activity in the brains of earworm sufferers versus that of unaffected control subjects. The hope is that scans of sufferers will show parts of the brain “lighting up” that should not be so active under resting conditions where no music is actually playing. Those differences might lead to further hypotheses about what parts of the brain are involved in this persistent earworm phenomenon, what can cause those areas to light up, and what consequences might result from such overactivity.

Lab tests. The second part of the proposal asked researchers to look at patterns of key chemicals in the blood or saliva of earworm sufferers versus those of unaffected control subjects. Any striking patterns or peculiarities in the labs of earworm sufferers would lead to new hypotheses about what might cause those patterns/peculiarities and how they might affect the brain.

Among the experts I contacted, a few were researchers who had studied common (short-term) earworms, and one who reported on the clinical history of patients with “musical obsessions” (persistent/pathological earworms) over the past several decades. And I contacted a few who have studied the connections between certain psychological conditions (such as depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder/OCD) and either cortisol directly or dysfunctions of the larger hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

Disappointment and hope

So here we are at the end of 2017 and so far, nobody has stepped up to do any parts of the research. Yes, it’s very disappointing. But, again, I realized we are only held back from this research by money.  If we had enough money, researchers would be lining up to work with us. But we don’t, so what CAN we do?

Can we conduct lab studies on our own?

Yes, absolutely. It occurred to me that with even a manageable personal investment, many of us sufferers could at least fund and participate in the lab portion of the studies. There are a number of lab tests that can be ordered online and performed in the home. Some use saliva samples, while others use a tiny drop of blood on a card. We can test for sex hormones (estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, DHEAS), adrenal hormones (cortisol, cortisone, epinephrine), and neurotransmitters, among others.

We would have to either find funding for the control subjects’ tests or ask each earworm sufferer to pay for two sets of tests, one for themselves and one for a control subject.

Even without knowing the deeper significance of the results, we could nevertheless identify any obvious differences or patterns in sufferers versus controls and use that information to take the hypothesis to the next level, or, ideally, intrigue qualified researchers to follow up with new studies.

Can we conduct brain scans on our own?

As you might imagine, this part isn’t as simple. You can’t just show up at an imaging center, university, or hospital and ask for a brain scan, not even if you have a lot of money. However, those of us who are suffering with earworms might persuade our doctors to order such scans for ourselves and to code them in such a way that our insurance will cover the cost. Maybe our scans alone would be enough to show distinct, yet consistent, anomalies in our brain activity.

That just leaves the control subjects. How do we get dynamic brain scans of unaffected people? If we had enough money, we could pay researchers and fund their use of the scanning equipment. But we don’t have that kind of money. At least not right now.

Where do we go from here?

There are a few paths I can take next, including:

  • Continue looking for researchers with the interest, skills and funding to do our full studies.
  • Look for grants or private funding that would make it much easier to attract qualified researchers.
  • Find out if enough of us are willing and able to fund and conduct our own lab tests and organize such a study.

Although my earworms have subsided considerably since going back on the more expensive PS supplement, I know many others cannot get PS or do not get relief from it. There are more than 100 of us so far who have contacted me through this blog and who desperately need relief.

This is not a psychological disorder. If I can “cure” my earworms with hormones and supplements, and if others can cure theirs with diets that improve insulin sensitivity, and if still others can cure theirs by diagnosing and treating their diabetes or pre-diabetic conditions, then it is clearly a chemical problem with a (natural) chemical solution.

We don’t need drugs, we need to rebalance our bodies’ natural chemistry. But we need to know more about the condition and why/how certain chemicals affect us, so we can bring the diagnosis and treatment of this condition into mainstream medicine as well as to the naturopathic community.

If any of you have deep pockets or know someone who can afford to fund this research, please contact me to help us find a cause and cure for this maddening condition.

Wishing us all a quieter, more peaceful new year.

-Pat

 

 

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