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Monday, July 30, 2012

The link between asthma and intelligence

The following was published at on June 13, 2011.

Does asthma make you smarter?

So does asthma really make you smarter?  I'm not being facecious either by asking this. In fact, the idea that asthma makes you smarter is one of the aformentioned "Seven Benefits of Asthma."

Asthma certainly can make you smarter!  Right?

I think so.  I surmise asthma forces us to become philosphers of sorts, and philosophers must be perspicacious to see questions others haven't thought to ask such as, "Does Asthma Make You Smarter?"

I'm pondering this idea today because I had a patient recently who was admittedly a hardluck asthmatic.  In fact, she's so hardluck she's become a good friend of mine.

She's admitted for asthma a lot, yet she's quite convivial, and she usually has to set down a book when I enter her room.  It's often our love of stories that sparks a discussion, and usually we become so rapt in some intelligent idea -- often philosophical -- time gets lost, sometimes hours.

She and I also have the asthma link to discuss.

We both love to learn. Her bedside stand usually has a stack of books, and magazines, and newspapers.  She might even have her laptop open to an interesting article, or her Kindle on.

Interestingly enough, one of our recent discussions was about my post about the benefits of having asthma, particularly about how I wrote that asthma can make you smarter.

She liked that idea, and noted asthma has obviously made both of us more astute.  Perhaps near death experiences force one to appreciate and to think uniquely.

Seneca wrote about this 2,000 years ago, back when the most effective asthma medicine was patience.  He wrote how having asthma forced him to find something useful to do with his mind, and he ultimately became a Senator and philosopher.

He wrote, "It is your body, not your mind as well, that is in the grip of ill health.  Hence it may slow the feet of a runner and make the hands of a smith or cobbler less efficient, but if your mind is by habit of an active turn you may still give instruction and advice, listen and learn, inquire and remember, Besides, if you meet sickness in a sensible manner, do you really think you are achieving nothing?"

Now it's not scientifically proven that if you have asthma your brain will somehow magically become bigger and you will somehow develop a higher IQ. Yet it is a proven fact that if you read and think you WILL get smarter.  It happens by default.

In fact, I read once that you have a memory muscle in your brain.  Lack of thinking causes it to atrophy, yet excessive thinking causes this muscle to increase in scope and size, such as when an athlete pumps iron.

Another interesting fact about asthma is it forces you to take a time out.  Often breathing exercises and relaxation exercises are needed to help you ease your mind and catch your breath.

New evidence, as you can see from this study, even shows that mindfulness meditation can help "relieve pain and improve memory by regulating a brain wave known as the alpha rhythm, which 'turns down the volume' on distractions."

While most asthmatics -- including myself -- may not be trained in mindless meditation, I think sometimes we're forced to do something similar to ease our minds and help us cope with our dyspnea.  

Even if my perspicacity is on the wrong track and I'm spurious with the brain wave conception, many asthmatics do tend to read more.  It beats sitting around feeling sorry for yourself when you're brothers are out in the allergy ridden woods chopping down trees.

Regarding this, Seneca wrote, "Leet me tell you, the things that provided me consolidation in those days, telling you to begin with that the thought which brought me this peace of mind had all the effects of medical treatment.  Comforthing thoughts contribute to a person's cure; anything which raises his spirit benefits him physically as well.  It was my Stoic studies that rally saved me.  For the fact I was able to leave my bed and was restored to health I give the credit to philosophy."

Many asthmatics before and since have experienced a similar epiphany.

To delve into a good book is so much more productive, and fun, than to sit around and say, "Oh, woah is me!"

Sure you can ask, "Why me?" Yet those of us with good character take advantage or our down time and we make the best of it.

If you're like me and my good friend -- and Seneca, you'll find something fun to read, or an idea to mull over, or at least some productive hobby to keep you busy. And by default you'll make yourself smarter.




Drew said...

Very nice, I'm asthmatic since I was 11 years old and recently one of the doctors who helped me in the past told me about the correlation between asthma and intelligence so I started my research and I found this article; I could have never imagined the relation between this two different things, because I'm the only asthmatic I know in real life, so I had no way to find a common denominator.

Rick Frea said...

There are a lot of really interesting things about our disease. For instance, did you know the ancient Greeks associated asthma as a blessing from the gods. While asthma caused much suffering, most asthmatics (as William Henry Osler Once said) pant into old age.