Sunday, April 01, 2007

Physician: cut yourself?

Could your blood chemistry get you to cut yourself?
Or rather is it possible for the chemical imbalance caused by haemochromatosis to trigger a self harm response?

For the record, I'm NOT advising you find out!

Its something which a Steven D. Levitt could answer (you can tell I've just finished reading Freakonomics).

What started this is the New Scientist podcast and article about the survival of the sickest. The gist of the article is that haemochromatosis is a disease which causes too much iron to be stored by the body, but it has an odd side effect. If you have the condition, its harder for you to pick up certain diseases... like the black death. This may explain why the disease is especially common in people of "northern European extraction". In this way Haemochromatosis may be a benefit with a bad effect in the same way that Sickle-cell disease helps the carrier be resistant to malaria.

The treatment for haemochromatosis is to have a blood donation. There is an anecdotal story in the article about Sharon Moalem's (the author of the article and the papers) grandfather feeling better after a blood donation. It may also explain why the medicinal leech was used so much in Europe as a treatment. The patient felt better after their regular blood letting.

Which brings me to self harm, and cutting in particular. While the "relief" brought about by the cutting is from the actual cutting and very little blood is lost, is there a correlation between cutters (or former cutters) and haemochromatosis sufferers?

Dumb question, but that's why I'm the idiot.

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Blogger The Patient Connection said...


You might be interested in participating in our research blog on hemochromatosis

Please go to

It would be greeat if you can share your thoughts and experiences



10:25 a.m., April 03, 2007  
Blogger cork-host said...

Thank you for you kind offer Belinda, however as far as I know, I don't have the condition.

So I have no real insights.

However you could ask the question to the group. It would disprove my theory very easily.

Please let me know the results.

10:53 a.m., April 04, 2007  
Anonymous Butternut said...

You could have something there.

However, cutting is not the only form of self-injury. Some people burn themselves etc. This could not be attributed to the same cause.

Just a thought.

4:50 p.m., April 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

January 2007
A true life story

Pain was a major participant in my childhood – both psychological and physical. I experienced terror in my childhood. I was forced to witness pain and humiliation being inflicted on my peers as well as on myself at school - in the name of “discipline”. “Smackings” from my parents all contributed to my fear and isolation. This childhood treatment resulted in “pain play” that served as an escape from the psychological pain and isolation caused by corporal punishment.

As an adult, I came to realise that this behaviour has its roots set deep in childhood. The causes are very complex. Drawing from my own experiences, it is the result of psychological humiliation, caused by the common use of corporal punishment. The fear and anxiety generated by such treatment induced isolation that cannot be expressed in childhood. The outcome is the expression of pain and solace in childhood dysfunctional play. My story explains some of this phenomenon.

The psychological shame and fear surrounding such behaviour has been very devastating. For a very long time I never spoke about it. The associated isolation has also been unbearable. This caused me to become suicidal. Throughout my childhood and into adulthood it was a closely guarded secret. It was many years before I found the courage to speak to another human being about my pain play behaviour.

When I was around five or six years old, I would go into gorse bushes. I would use the prickles to jab myself. This produced a sexual arousal, which interacted with the pain – similar to the pain inflicted by corporal punishment. It is from here that the pain play behaviour developed. I began to use this to create secret self-induced “fun” and “comfort”. This became my way of dealing with the isolation I experienced as a child.

I used several methods to “create” pain in my childhood and teenage years. One was by dripping hot wax on to my arms or legs with a candle. I invented this in my early teens, or perhaps even earlier than that. Another method I used was by applying small electric shocks, again on my arms or legs. I had some knowledge of electricity and often played with batteries and old radio transformers. I discovered that by reversing the input of a radio power transformer, each time a connection was made with a torch battery, the other end would produce an electric shock. I used a radio volume control to increase the intensity of the shock. So I secretly made a “shocker device” and used this in my “pain play”. Later, the behaviour began to take on a new turn when I began self-mutilation by cutting and burning myself. But sewing needles and pins were my most favoured options in my childhood for playing.

The description “pain play” may not be exactly accurate either. Because it is rather, the repression of pain that is a major component of the play. I now understand that this behaviour is very addictive. I also understand that the addiction comes from the endorphin release in the body while pain is being induced under controlled conditions. The higher the “endorphin rush” the higher is the pain threshold. Under “normal” conditions, I have a very low pain threshold. During “pain play” I choose sites to pierce or cut that would usually be very painful indeed. Pushing needles through at normally painful sites induces a high excitement at levels that I could never experience at any other time. This certainly puts me out of touch with reality. No wonder it served such an important role in my childhood. In BME and BDSM circles this phenomenon is described as “subspace”.

In my late teens and into my twenties, this pain play behaviour remained a closely guarded secret. This secrecy was enforced by the fear and shame surrounding the behaviour. I was certain in my own mind that I was the “only one in the world” who did such things to myself. I have since discovered that this behaviour is common within our society.

A life-long struggle with my shame has finally ended. Instead, the shame is now appropriately placed at the feet of those who caused distress in my childhood. Those who advocate hitting children in the name of “discipline” like my parents and school teachers, now appropriately carry the burden of that shame. I take a pragmatic approach that I should have been able to do years before. My confidence has been a long time coming. This writing serves to completely remove my shame, secrecy and psychological pain. I now claim my dignity that was taken from me as a child. Today, I bear physical scars from my many years of self-harm and ‘pain play’.

I need to be able to safely and appropriately speak about my behaviour. So every time some ignorant fool condones child “smacking” I provide my true story with purpose.

Section 59 Survivor
New Zealand

10:46 p.m., April 09, 2007  
Blogger cork-host said...

thank you "Anonymous". I was thinking of a sub-set (as in all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares).

Or if condition A exists, should you do a blood test for condition B. The self-harm condition is a far more complicated thing, but is there a correlation from the other side.

10:57 p.m., April 10, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am not a medical expert so I cannot comment. My story simply reflects my own experiences and I posted it to raise awareness of the potential consequences of such childhood treatment and result of emotional and physical pain, used as 'discipline'. SI is very common in our society; as too, is unhealthy parenting and (as in my case) the two are interlinked. I saw a lot of this evident too when I participated in group psychotherapy treatment over many years.

11:23 p.m., April 10, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Cork-Host:

If a normal person (ie. does not have hemochromatosis) cuts him/herself, then he or she would experience immediate effects of anemia (lack of red blood cells/iron) and would therefore faint early in the process. Those who have hemochromatosis, I think, don't appear to have this problem until quite some time later.

I'm currently reading Survival of the Sickest (just finished the first chapter) and I also find it a fascinating perspective Dr. Moalem has to look at diseases to help answer our questions of evolution.


7:19 p.m., April 17, 2007  
Blogger The Patient Connection said...

Hemochromatosis and Phlebotomy – Updated Blog


Thanks for all your help so far with our Hemochromatosis blog.
To some degree we can answer some of your questions so please have a look

The discussion has changed in the last few days so we would like to take this opportunity to invite you again to a research blog on Hemochromatosis. We are very interested in you attitude toward Phlebotomy and have therefore added a few new questions.

To take part please click this link

The blog is anonymous and easy to use. Instructions are given on the blog so thanks in advance for your help it is much appreciated.

Best wishes

The Patient Connection

12:01 p.m., May 30, 2007  

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