Guest Post: Is the Recession Affecting Your Health?

Submitted by Leo Kolivakis, publisher of Pension Pulse.

Today is my birthday. I am now 38 years old. No big deal, it is just another Sunday for me. I woke up, had a cup of java and watched ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

There was an interesting interview with Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The roundtable discussed President Obama’s first 100 days and George Will stated he is convinced that the $9 trillion of public borrowing will lead to “stagflation” four years from now and this will be reflected in the polls, hurting Obama.

Poor George Will. Love listening to him but he is always wrong when it comes to economic prognostication. Four years from now, we will be in the midst of the longest debt deflation episode in post-war history (you can quote me on that!).

But today is my birthday and I wanted to discuss health issues. First, I read an interesting article in the Telegraph stating that adult stem cells ‘able to reverse symptoms’ of Multiple Sclerosis (MS):

Some have been left free from seizures and better able to walk after the treatment.

Researchers said that the results suggest that the “very simple” injection of their own cells can stimulate the regrowth of tissue damaged by the progression of the disease.

The preliminary findings add to the growing evidence that stem cells could be used to treat the crippling neurological disease, which affects about 85,000 people in Britain.

Last year experts suggested that stem cell therapy could be a “cure” for MS within the next 15 years.

Patients’ symptoms were still improving up to a year after the treatment, the new study shows.

One, a 50-year-old man, who had suffered more than 600 painful seizures in the three years before treatment has not had a single one since the infusion of his own cells.

Another patient’s ability to walk, run and even cycle are still improving 10 months after the therapy.

MS is caused by the destruction of myelin, a fatty protective sheath surrounding the body’s central nervous system.

Sufferers typical experience fatigue, difficulty walking or speaking and pain and there is currently no known cure.

Dr Boris Minev, from the University of California, said: “All three patients in our study showed dramatic improvement in their condition.

“While obviously no conclusions in terms of therapeutic efficacy can be drawn from these reports, this first clinical use of fat stem cells for treatment of MS supports further investigations into this very simple and easily-implementable treatment methodology”.

He added: “None of the presently available MS treatments selectively inhibit the immune attack against the nervous system, nor do they stimulate regeneration of previously damaged tissue. We’ve shown that [the] cells may fill this gap.”

Earlier this year another study in 21 patients injected with their own bone marrow stem cells, found that 81 per cent saw significant improvements to their disability.

A spokesman for the MS Society said: “The preliminary research presented in this literary review is intriguing and we would be interested to see if what is shown in these case studies can be repeated in properly controlled clinical trials.”

The three case studies are described the Journal of Translational Medicine.

Meanwhile scientists are claiming a major breakthrough in generating safer stem cells from adult cells.

Scientists usually use a virus to make the switch but this makes the resulting stem cells incredibly dangerous for use in humans as they can cause cancer.

Now a team at the Scripps Research Centre in California, which published its findings in Cell Stem Cell journal, claim they can use harmless proteins to carry out the same task.

This discovery has the potential to spark the development of many new types of therapies for humans, for diseases that range from Type 1 diabetes to Parkinson’s disease, they claim.

MS is a disease that I am intimately aware of. I was diagnosed with it twelve years ago. Luckily, my disease course progressed slowly, but it progressed. I now limp and there are days where walking 500 meters is a challenge.

But I remain hopeful, and for all the frustration the disease has caused me, it has also taught me how to appreciate the simple things in life, to remain positive and to fight and persevere in face of what often seems as insurmountable obstacles.

Earlier this week, we learned of the tragic death of David Kellerman, Freddie Mac’s CFO, of an apparent suicide. What you might not know is that there is a rise in male suicides in this recession:

As the recession continues, it often seems that male workers are bearing the brunt of the downturn. Yesterday’s announcement of David B. Kellerman’s suicide highlights part of the impact that the economy is having on men, but hints at a societal shift whose effects may linger long after the unemployment crisis ends.

While the Freddie Mac CFO’s death has garnered more attention than most, it is indicative of a much larger trend. This year, hardly a month has gone by without the newspapers reporting on a horrific murder/suicide involving an unemployed male. In locales as far apart as Washington state and Maryland, California and Massachusetts, the stories have been remarkably similar: a father is unable to support his family and, in a fit of depression, kills himself and members of his family. In some cases, the man is reported to have had previous psychological problems; in others, not. Most of the men are poor, but many are wealthy. Sometimes, as in the case of Kellermann, they occupy a prominent place in their society.

The rise in male suicide is among the most eye-catching news stories of the recession, but the trend only represents the tip of a very large iceberg. According to the Financial Times, 80 percent of the 5.1 million jobs lost in the recession were previously held by men. Consequently, while the female jobless rate is currently 7 percent, the unemployment rate among men has risen to 8.8 percent.

As in anything that divides the genders, the FT‘s survey has become somewhat controversial. The paper itself pointed out that a large part of the reason for the disproportionate split is the fact that the industries hardest hit by the recession — construction and manufacturing — are dominated by men. More traditionally female jobs in education and health care have emerged relatively unscathed.

Some have used the current downfall of male workers as an impetus to question what they see as “male dominance” in the workplace, as if men had this coming to them. The reasoning here is that, it’s only because women were underpaid relative to their male counterparts that they’re now more cost-effective and have been able to keep their jobs. Some have even gone so far as to aver that the “hidden sector” of the female unemployed who worked off the grid has skewed reporting, suggesting that the recession is not only robbing women of their jobs, but also of their voices.

However, for those whose analysis is based more on mercy and less on gender warfare, it’s clear that the recession has been devastating for the male of the species. While the past 30 years has done a great deal to modify traditional gender roles, many men still feel a strong responsibility to be the primary breadwinners in their families. The inability to do so has has wide-ranging effects that are only beginning to be noticed. On the whimsical side, it has resulted in the “recession beard” trend, in which the recently unemployed assert their masculinity by indulging their ability to grow whiskers. On the darker side, as DF’s Jonathan Berr noted yesterday, it has resulted in a spike among calls to therapists and suicide hot lines.

For some men, however, talking to a therapist is yet another sign of weakness, which means that many victims of the recession — and the economic troubles that underlie it — have been loath to seek help. Unfortunately, this masculine stereotype is particularly well-entrenched in Wall Street and in low-income communities, two areas that have been especially hard hit. Another “macho” group, military recruiters, has also been struck by a rash of suicides in recent years. Beset by work pressures and encouraged to repress their emotions, it is hardly surprising that so many men have been lashing out in inexplicable ways.

While economic estimates about the next few years vary wildly, it seems likely that the recession will bring about a broad-based reconsideration of vulnerability. As the tragic story of David Kellerman demonstrates, the people who seem strongest sometimes need the most help.

My father and brother are psychiatrists and what you should all know is that mental illness often goes unreported or isn’t taken seriously. Importantly, despite the economic downturn, in any given one year period, depression strikes 10% of the population.

This is why you should learn to recognize the signs of depression and if you or a loved one suffer from it, get help as soon as possible. Employers should also start discussing mental illness more openly and offer services to their employees who might be very stressed out.

No matter where we are in the economic cycle, my advice is to always make your mental and physical health a priorirty. I invite you to read Ashton Embry’s site on the best bet treatment for MS (lots of excellent nutritional information there) and to always scope out the latest health news. And sometimes what seems healthy isn’t really very healthy for you. For example, I was surprised to hear about how fruit juice doubles the risk of obesity.

I think like anything else in life, you should approach things in a sensible manner. You should exercise (even moderately), eat very well, sleep at least seven hours, and try to maintain a positive outlook on life.

But if you need help, do not be embarrassed to seek it out. The old myth that “men do not need psychologists” is just that – a myth that might end up costing you your life.

Recession or no recession, never take your mental or physical health for granted. Always remember that life is short and while you can replace money and things, you can’t replace your health as easily.

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  1. SameAsItEverWas

    I actually feel that the Freddie Mac CFO did a very honorable thing by taking his own life. He may be one of the few at or near the top of the financial pyramid who realized that his lies and subterfuge have caused untold pain (and even the deaths) of millions of others who are innocent (unlike him). Now we need other scum at the top of the financial pyramid to come to this same realization. If they don’t have the stones to off themselves, they can at least step down from their undeserved positions at the top of the financial pyramid scheme.

    Now, when a middle class or poor person takes their own life and/or the lives of close family members, it is indeed tragic. We need to get these people to redirect their anger and sadness in more appropriate ways. Perhaps a visit to would give these folks ideas for more productive uses of their anger and sadness.

  2. DB

    Thanks for the post on mental health — certainly the current economic situation can add new pressures on those already struggling with such challenges, and I know from personal experience that intervention and treatment can make huge differences.

    On George Will’s “point,” where would this future bout of “stagflation” come from? Is he just tossing around a scary word for the sake of effect?

  3. Michael

    Happy Birthday Leo! I have enjoyed your posts and respect your intellect.

    All the best in the coming year.

  4. Leo Kolivakis

    SameAsItEverWas wrote: “I actually feel that the Freddie Mac CFO did a very honorable thing by taking his own life.”

    I will appreciate it if people can refrain from these type of comments. Mr. Kellerman was a human being with a family. He had a wife and five year old daughter. I do not know what brought him to take his own life, but I find it tragic and not “honorable”.

    We live in a competitive society where people are always struggling to keep up with the Jones. We need bigger houses, nicer cars, the kids have to go to the best private schools, and so on.

    Perhaps all this consumerism has left many spiritually and morally bankrupt. I am more secular than religious, but I think one good thing about a recession is that families spend more time together and remember what’s really important.

    Note that I will be deleting many frivolous comments as they add nothing to the discussion.



  5. kilgores

    Thank you for that timely post. It was an inspiring and helpful message about a very serious topic.

  6. twocents

    Most stem cell claims for the future are purely to stimulate federal funding, especially now that abortion is safe once again.

    Stem cells may prove helpful some day, but already stem cell side effects of various sorts are beginning to be noticed.

  7. Leo Kolivakis


    The article discusses adult stem cells from one’s own fat tissue. Also, the Bush Administration did a great disservice to stem cell research. Most of the abortion fetuses were being discarded and we could have used them for research (60 Minutes exposed this a few years ago).



  8. B. Mull

    As a neurologist who is also bipolar I can relate. If you don’t take care of your health first, you’re going to be in trouble.

    I believe stem cells will probably be the first cure for MS. The most promising line of research to me is with stem cell-derived microglial cells. Microglia naturally home in on inflammation in the CNS, and it’s not too difficult to get them to produce almost any protein you want.

    You’ll know we’re getting close when we start seeing cures for a group of rare but devastating diseases called LSDs, of which Tay-Sachs is one. They are ideally suited to this approach, though I think it will work for MS as well.

    I do have some doubts about the Telegraph story because it begins, “Some have been left free from seizures…” Seizures are highly unusual in MS and so these patients are generally excluded from reputable studies, to avoid accidentally including non-MS diseases.

    Anyway I find your writing very informative and happy birthday!

  9. Tim

    Happy birthday Leo…

    I have been following your work for a long while, I have never posted.. I always lurk, but I wanted to come out of my “lurking” mode to wish you a very happy birthday and to stay strong and postive!

    Leo, I absolutley agree with you that the embroyes that were going to be discarded should have been used for research. Bush made a bad mistake with this. (I oppose creating embroyoes to destroy them, but those embryoes were going to be destroyed anyway and they could have helped advance so much stem cell research)

    2cents: As a moderate democrat, and a pro-choice (life or abortion, not necessarily pro-abortion), Bush never outlawed abortion. He was excessively pro-life, but he never outlawed abortion, and his excessive pro-life position is just as disturbing as Obama’s excessive pro-abortion position (he voted for the born alive act, which even Planned ParentHood and most democrats absolutely opposed). Born alive act allowed medical staff to NOT help a baby born from a botched abortion, and not be sued for this.

    Leo: keep up the good work, love your work at your blog, thanks for all the information you post!

  10. Tom

    For what it’s worth, there is considerably less auto-immune disease in the tropics (i.e. asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, MS, etc.) It seems to be related to parasite infections. At least 60% of the world is living with a parasite. A chronic parasite infection seems to downregulate the immune system. Here was an article in the lay press which you may find of benefit.

  11. Tim


    would you mind explaining what you mean by this statement?

    “George Will stated he is convinced that the $9 trillion of public borrowing will lead to “stagflation” four years from now and this will be reflected in the polls, hurting Obama.

    Poor George Will. Love listening to him but he is always wrong when it comes to economic prognostication. Four years from now, we will be in the midst of the longest debt deflation episode in post-war history (you can quote me on that!).”

    can you explain what “stagflation” means, and what you mean by “debt deflation”?

    I thought these were both the same, could you please explain what the difference between George Will’s position and your position?

    Thank you in advance.

  12. B. Mull

    Tom said… “For what it’s worth, there is considerably less auto-immune disease in the tropics”

    I believe this is mainly due to nutritional factors necessary to maintain a vigorous immune system, but I’m not recommending starving oneself and getting worms to prove the hypothesis. There are many other diseases which are *more* common in the tropics for just this reason.

    Genetics is also a component, and I’m convinced one or more common viruses, probably herpes viruses, act as the trigger for MS flare ups. That this has been hard to prove doesn’t mean it isn’t true. It makes a lot of sense.

    OK I’ll be quiet now. Usually with finance I don’t understand what I’m talking about, so when the subject turns to something where I do…

  13. Leo Kolivakis

    Dear Tim,

    Stagflation is low growth, inflation like we had in the late 70s after the oil supply shock. Debt deflation is low growth, falling prices like Japan had in the 1990s and continues to have till today.

    Debt deflation happens when consumer and government debt reach a breaking point. It takes years to pay off those debts so people save, consume less and aggregate demand falls, bringing down consumption and prices.

    We are also experiencing a demographic shift with baby boomers entering retirement age. this is also deflationary as more people save for retirement.

    That is why the fed and the Treasury are desperately trying to create inflation by printing money. They want to inflate their way out of debt.

    It might work but it might fail in a spectacular fashion.


    Thanks for the insight. If you want to take a look at the Neurology article, go this link:

    There is a link to the PDF file.



  14. Valentine Michael Smith


    I really appreciate the explanation of debt deflation. I’ve been puzzling over the possibilities a great deal and somehow never came across the scenario you spell out in one sentence. I figured either stagflation or runaway inflation as the long-term possibilities, especially with the current “printing money” mode, having read about the problem of finding the “off switch” Keyenesianism is theoretically supposed to have for its solution once it’s “worked.”

    I’ve also tried to figure in the demographic shrinkage, which I figure is happening throughout most of the “first world.” The pyramidal aspects of whole economies (and institutions such as Social Security) seem poised to show up once the expansion necessary to their health officially stops. For instance, what happens when we don’t really need very many more new houses?

    And as with “peak oil” I think something like ‘peak consumer demand’ may manifest a set of possibly disproportionate-seeming consequences to small but suggestive shifts that appear to be harbingers of irrevocable changes.

  15. Valentine Michael Smith

    Misery seems in my case to enjoy company.

    There is a strange sort of comfort for me in the devastation I find around me. The business I’d had for two decades was slowly failing over the last few years; it was sold in ignominious circumstances about a year and a half ago. I lost my income and insurance, and felt shamed as well. My new business introduced it’s product about a year ago, falling pretty flat. I’ve felt like a failure. I’ve felt depressed about all of this.

    But I can commiserate with other people now. A year ago when I went to see my dentist he chided me for not visiting more regularly — didn’t seem to hear me when I told him why I was feeling financially constrained. This last time I visited for a new emergency, he told me he’d just lost a huge portion of his retirement money. He had no trouble understanding my need to make choices I wouldn’t have made in the past.

    I chat with a neighbor who lives down the street, who never would have been out walking his dog except for having become unemployed. We have some feeling of commonality and wish each other well.

    People sympathize with each other at parties about what’s happened to their savings, their mortgages, their jobs. No one seems to think it’s my fault the new business is doing so poorly. I’ve almost gotten relaxed about it — except for worries about what happens when my savings run out.

    Oh — despite the handle I chose for myself, I’m female.

  16. VegasGurl4Fun2

    Ah, so now I have high blood pressure, had a foreclosure January ’09, need I go on. So whose tombstone should I deposit the ashes of my and my clients foreclosure papers on. Thanks.

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