More about Myelin

Lisa McLellan, a regular reader and commenter, mentioned the movie Lorenzo’s oil after the post on building talent. Since I had no idea what she was Potentialtalking about, I wiki’ed it. In a short moment I appreciated the profound difference between needing to lug my notebook (which was a yellow pad and pen, not some clever little thing with keyboard) to the SMU Science library where I spent the better part of my teen years and being able to sit in my office with the basic science at my finger tips.

What a difference 10 years makes. So first, a shout out to Lisa for pushing a new research idea on me and second, God Bless you wiki writers. Wikipedia can’t replace the science library, but organizes just enough information to make a post.

Back to the point. My recent fascination with Myelin is driven by my research on talent. After a particularly stellar personal running incident October 2008, I am convinced of the following:

1. Anyone has the potential to be a great talent.

2. The right hard work will get you there.

Feisty Grandmother takes to the streets
Feisty Grandmother takes to the streets

My grandmother, Moni, looks at me like I’m a bit slow. “Of course hard work in the right direction will make you more talented.” Of course indeed, but there’s so much attention on so-called natural talent and who hasn’t assumed that once you are past 22 your athletic career is over – never mind Dara Torres, Chris Chelios, Brett Favre and the host of over-40 mega talents. Most of us act like our lives are in permanent decline.

I’m too stubborn for that. Pardon, let’s call it driven instead.

So what’s the scoop on Myelin and health?

Myelin, the sheath that wraps your nerve fibers and helps you make the connection . . . literally, is subject to attack just as any other cell or set of cells. In healthy folks, myelin can be grown presumably until death though there evidence for decline both in production and decline of the sheaths overtime. Much as the skin gets thinner as you age, the myelin sheath thins. The replacement cell rate simply doesn’t keep up with the death of cell rate. Myelin cells are living and constantly turning over just as your hair, skin, nails and every other cell in your body does.

So what happens if you can’t build or maintain myelin?

Demyelinating diseases indicate problems building myelin or rapid loss of myelin such as Multiple Sclerosis and Leukodystrophies. Destruction of myelin can lead from minor nerve damage to significant central nervous system damage including speech loss, the inability to balance and lack of cognitive awareness.

When myelin degrades, conduction of signals along the nerve can be impaired or lost and the nerve eventually withers.

Lack of or destruction of myelin can be completely debilitating. The genes that express the demyelination may not set off until later in life. Which makes me wonder about MS. I have a few friends with MS who were unaware they had it until in their 20s and 30s. Could it be that only at the cessation of rapid growth (teen years) that a more subtle expression of the disease becomes noticeable? Or is it a switch that gets thrown?

The movie Lorenzo’s Oil was about a young chap who’s parents dedicated their lives to research on fixing, preventing, and understanding myelin in those with a certain gene expression that corresponds to demyelination.

Just as not every body can grow to 7 feet tall, some cannot build or maintain myelin.

For those who can, there is nothing much to stop you….

15 thoughts on “More about Myelin”

  1. I love the picture of your grandmother. She looks like an awesome lady!

    Regarding talent, my belief is that some people are genetically blessed with physical and/or mental characteristics or abilities that can, if developed, lead them to greatness in a particular endeavor. The key words in the previous sentence are, “if developed”.

    For example, Pavoratti had the bone and vocal fold structure that gave his voice beautiful timbre. Michael Jordan was blessed with good height and a great deal of fast twitch muscle fibers. Both of these guys put in the time (likely in excess of 10,000 hours) to develop what they had been born with into world-class greatness.

    Are there others out there that are similarly well-endowed? I would say that the chances are likely. However, on the flip side of the coin, could someone with an irritating sounding voice and no natural ability to discern pitch become a singer like Pavoratti? That would be a stretch, although that person could make great improvements, and become a better singer than most people. But, that hard-working person would not become as great a singer as someone with natural ability that put in the same amount of work. In this sense, I do believe in inborn “talent”.

    What do you think about this?

  2. Lorenzo’s Oil is a fantastic movie. What makes it so touching is that it is a true story. Though the oil is not a cure, it has extended the life of Lorenzo and other boys long past what was expected. Anyway, whenever I hear the word Myelin – that’s what I think of.

    Lisa McLellan

  3. I’m guessing the degeneration or inability to maintain myelin is more of the exception rather than the case, right?

    Thanks for these articles on Talent and Myelin. I’ve read quite a handful of books about success and know the whole hard work, 10000 hours of practice, etc information, but I have always wondered about late bloomer success. I think this area could use a lot of focus. Hearing someone was amazing through hardwork is motivational, but when you hear they started when they were 3 or 4 and had been practicing since, it makes it seem as if it is too late to be exceptional.

    I like the fresh perspective backed up with science.


  4. Lorenzo’s Oil sounds like an inspirational movie. Will need to see that sometime. I have so much respect for people who go all out for their children.

    Keri Eagan

  5. Hi Kate,

    I remember seeing that movie years ago although I could not have told you whatsoever what the little boy’s illness was. Superb performance from Susan Sarandon. I like how you granny chimed in.

    Yes, we like to call that perseverance and tenacity!

    Happy Dating and Relationships,

    April Braswell

    Single Baby Boomer Dating Success Expert

  6. Fascinating stuff.
    I’m wondering…what % of people suffer from demyelinating diseases, and what standard/alternative treatments are available?

    • Fortuntely it seems to be very few people suffer from demyelinating diseases. But it is surprising to see how many MS patients pop up in their 20s/30s. It makes me wonder if the constant growth of youth masked the underlying problem. Only in decline that they start to notice funny effects.


  7. Cool Stuff… I always enjoy your blog… Thanks for the insight and great information. It’s cool learning about a new topic that I didn’t know much about.

  8. Great post and interesting information. It’s amazing how the body works and we have you to help make sense of it.

    Jennifer Battaglino

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