Friday, November 30, 2012

Heart Muscle-Cell Replacement

Did you ever wonder how often muscle cells in the heart are replaced? Ratan Bhardwaj and his colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, used radiocarbon dating (normally used to establish the age of archaeological remains) to figure out the age of heart cells compared to the chronological age of the person from which they were isolated. One of the findings showed that the turnover of heart muscle cells is relatively slow compared to other types of cells and decreases with age. Only 1 percent of heart muscle cells are typically exchanged per year in young adults, the rate dropping to only 0.4 per cent by age 75. Generally this means that a 55-year-old will have rebuilt 45 per cent of his/her heart since birth. Other heart cells (e.g., those that form connective tissue and blood vessels) appear to renew much faster, exchanging about 18 percent every year. There is probably no turnover at all with neurons—one reason it’s so important to take care of those in your heart and in your brain!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pickpockets and Saccades

Did you ever wonder how a pickpocket manages to pick a pocket, even in a magic show for example when you, the volunteer, knew you were going to be pickpocketed? Turns out a pickpocket is successful only when he moves his free hand in an arc instead of a straight line. It has to do with saccades, eye movements that are among the fastest movements made by the human body and that precede conscious decisions about where to focus one’s gaze. Generally, eyes are quicker than hands. When you see a hand moving in a straight line, your eyes automatically move toward the end point. See a hand moving in an arc, however, and your eyes cannot predict where the arc is going to end. The arc shape seems to interfere with your saccades. The consequences? You tend to fixate on the hand itself, which prevents you from noticing that the pickpocket’s other hand is reaching somewhere else, into your pocket, for instance.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Brain-GI Pain

Have you been keeping up with the studies about neurons throughout the body? Most people are familiar with the concept of neurons in the brain. Fewer seem aware of the fact that there are neurons in the heart, the solar plexus, the gastrointestinal track, and so on. Estimates are that there are upwards of a million neurons in your gastrointestinal track or GI system. It reportedly also contains 90% of all the serotonin in your brain and body along with 50% of all the dopamine. That puts a slightly different twist on the brain-GI connection. Have you ever heard someone comment, “You give me a pain in my stomach!” When your conscious thoughts are of an upsetting nature (e.g., you have a pain in your brain), the neurons in your gut pick them up and can trigger a GI upset, for real.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

ATP and Your Brain

Did you know that energy levels in the brain change depending on the type of sleep one is experiencing? Reports of rat studies, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, showed that in the initial stages of sleep, energy levels increase dramatically in brain regions that are found to be active during waking hours. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of cells, was found to surge during non-REM sleep. This surge of cellular energy is thought to replenish brain processes needed to function normally while awake. Sleep appears to be necessary for this energy surge to occur. How well you think while you are awake may be related to whether or not your brain received enough sleep to experience this energy surge of ATP.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Singing Sun

Have you ever "heard" the sun singing? According to Kenneth R. Lang, the sun sings. "The Sun is playing a secret melody, hidden inside itself, that produces a widespread throbbing motion of its surface. The sounds are coursing through the Sun's interior, causing the entire globe, or parts of it, to move in and out, slowly and rhythmically like the regular rise and fall of tides in a bay or of a beating heart."  Evidently, the sun's sound waves are normally at frequencies too low for the human ear to hear and the human brain to decode. To be able to hear the sun's sound waves, the scientists sped up the waves 42,000 times and compressed 40 days of vibrations into a few seconds. So, thanks to Stanford University, it is now possible to hear the sun singing. (

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Extraverted Brains

Did you ever wonder how Extraverted brains differ from Amb iverted and Introverted brains? Researcher Colin DeYoung and colleagues at the University of Minnesota completed brain-imaging studies on 116 volunteers. They found that the medial orbitofrontal cortex (a part of the brain involved with considering rewards located just above and behind the eyes) was significantly larger in the study’s volunteer subjects who exhibited a lot of Extraversion. The study also correlated larger brain regions for a number of other traits: conscientiousness, which is associated with planning; neuroticism, a tendency to experience negative emotions that is associated with sensitivity to threat and punishment; and agreeableness, which relates to parts of the brain that allow humans to understand each other's emotions, intentions, and mental states.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Einstein and You

Did you know that Einstein struggled with rote learning in school? In spite of that, he became one of the world’s most eminent scientists. His success in life, according to Walter Issacson, author of an Einstein biography, came from his imagination and creativity. Not only that, Einstein knew how to back into solving tough problems by using other types of intelligences. For example, when wrestling with a challenge in his work, Einstein would often grab his violin and play at any time of the day or night, improvising melodies while he allowed his subconscious mind to ponder solutions to complicated problems. Sometimes, in the middle of his playing, he would suddenly put down his violin and announce, “I’ve got it!” The answer to the problem would have become clear to Einstein’s brain, as if by inspiration, in the midst of playing music on his violin. Are you struggling with a problem? Think like Einstein. That means, take a break from consciously thinking about it. Do something else for a while; something you love. Your brain will keep working on the problem in the background and, often, it will hand you a solution that your conscious brain had not envisioned.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sensory Recruitment

Recently at one of his piano concerts, my musician friend JR (Ricky) Sharp commented that "music is meant to be seen as well as heard." His brain's opinion dovetails with studies that have shown "sensory recruitment" enhances perception. "Seeing" something as well as "hearing" it seems to make a greater impact on the brain. When I attend a piano or organ concert I want to see the piano keyboard or the organ console as well as hear the music!  I've also found there is a huge difference in listening to a CD of music before versus after I've seen the artist perform. Hearing a CD sometimes motivates me to attend a concert of the musician.  After I've seen an artist perform and then listen to a CD of his/her music, however, my brain has an entirely different musical experience. I not only hear the sounds but also visualize in my mind's eye how the artist looked while performing. This recruitment enhances the entire experience. It can enhance learning, as well. Part of the reason for YouTube success may involve sensory recruitment; two or more senses experiencing and processing the information, each in its own way. Experiment with sensory recruitment. Become aware of the way in which it works in your brain.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Educational Culture and Brain Lead

In his book The Element, Dr. Ken Robinson makes astute observations about current educational culture that aligns well with the concept of individual brain lead. 1. There is a preoccupation with specific types of academic ability such as critical analysis and reasoning, particularly with words and numbers. 2. There is a hierarchy of subjects: math, science, and language skills at the top; humanities in the middle; arts at the bottom. There is even a hierarchy of arts with music and visual arts typically holding higher status than theater and dance (if the arts are even included).  3. There is a growing reliance on a narrow range of standardized tests, with children under intense pressure to perform at higher and higher levels. The consequences of these three? Students are taught a very narrow view of intelligence, capacity, and creativity; learn to overvalue specific types of talents and abilities; and are socialized to disregard types of intelligences that are just as important. This one-size-fits-all approach marginalizes all individuals who do not take naturally to learning as presently provided in the educational system.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

More on Diet Sodas

Are diet sodas part of your regular beverage intake? You may want to think again. Turns out that a study of diet soda consumption by San Diego State University has shown diminishing activation in a specific region of the brain as consumption of diet sodas climbed. This region, the caudate head, is associated with the brain’s food motivation and reward system. Decreased activation of this brain region has been linked with an elevated risk of obesity. Normally, the brain uses a learned relationship between sweet taste and the delivery of calories to help it regulate food intake but it appears that saccharin and other sugar-free sweeteners seem to baffle the brain. Once fooled, the brain’s sweet sensors seem to lose some ability to provide a reliable evaluation of energy consumption and may paradoxically foster overeating.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pleasure of Taste

Is taste one of your favorite senses? You can taste because of taste buds (receptors) on your tongue and in other areas of your mouth and throat. They function in combination with the processing of odor molecules that can enter your nose through active sniffing or breathing or enter from the back of your throat during eating. You may have noticed that when your nose is stuffed up due to a cold, your sense of taste is often altered significantly. Unimpaired, your taste buds are able to differentiate between five general taste groupings: Salt, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. Salt (substances that contain sodium or potassium chloride). Sweet (substances such as glucose, fructose, sucrose, and aspartame). Bitter (substances such as caffeine and quinine). Sour (acidic substances such as citric acid). And Umami (substances such as monosodium glutamate or MSG). Some people prefer salty tastes, others lean toward sweet or even bitter tastes. It appears that the sensitivity of taste bud processing can alter with age. One way to help maintain the pleasure of processing of food flavors is to alternate bites of different foods.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Heart-Based Living

Do you have a heart-based living lifestyle? Doc Childre, author of  Heart-Based Living, has described this as a momentum to become more spiritual; an increase in heart awareness, heart connection, and a desire for practical spirituality (which is not confined to religion or any specific spiritual path). Your heart is filled with neurons that communicate regularly with the neurons in the your brain and in your gut. Honing your heart qualities can include any numbers of behaviors such as expressing gratitude, being more appreciative, expressing kindness to other, being non-judgemental, forgiving yourself and others, and giving back in some way to help the planet and the people/creatures living on it. According to Children, "One of the most important and empowering spects of heart-based living is the inner work required to discern our heart intuition and then follow your heart...Because of the increasing stress factors in the world today, more people are starting to realize that ambition to get ahead cannot justify shutting off the caring and compassionate heart."  (More information can be found at )

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Your Learning Style

Did you ever wonder the reason you learned better from some teachers than others? Your learning style or preference simply means the way your brain tends to learn best. Studies at the University of Western Ontario have shown that your learning style involves your preferred method of taking in, organizing, and making sense of information. This can be complicated by the fact that different situations and learning environments often require different learning strategies. And different teachers themselves have different learning (and therefore) different teaching styles. Three primary learning styles are: auditory (learning by hearing or reading), visual (learning by seeing), and kinesthetic (learning by doing). Researchers suggest that if you're looking to improve your effectiveness as a learner, identify the way your brain prefers to learn, and then develop a couple of additional strategies for learning in the other two learning styles.  choose the learning preference category that you feel best matches the way you like to learn (e.g. visually), and check to see if you follow the suggested strategies (e.g. enhancing visual learning). Then, look at the strategies for the other two learning styles, and try to implement some of these ideas into your repertoire as well. (Watch for more about each style.)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Living Longer

Would you like to live into your 90’s at least? Harvard University researchers studied 2,357 males in their 70's for 25 years. The results showed that just doing five things gave participants a 53% chance of living into their 90's. Those five things were:

1. Not smoking

2. Maintaining a normal weight

3. Exercising regularly

4. Having a low blood sugar

5. Having a low blood pressure

The first three things are doable for most people. And doing the first three things really impacts the last two things. How do these five things stack up in your life?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Music and Verbal Ability

Did you ever wonder about a correlation between studying music and verbal ability? Researchers developed two interactive computerized training programs for preschool children. One was for music and one was for visual art. They then analyzed the effects of the music and the visual art training programs on verbal ability. After twenty (20) days of training, only children in the music group exhibited enhanced performance on a measure of verbal intelligence, with 90% of the sample showing this improvement. These improvements in verbal intelligence were positively correlated with changes in functional brain plasticity during an executive-function task. Researchers believe that these findings demonstrate that transfer of a high-level cognitive skill is possible in early childhood.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Experiences Sculpt Brain

Did you know there is now a wealth of evidence that experiences sculpt both brain and behavior? Recent work in cognitive neuroscience has provided clear evidence that sustained experience changes neural structures. For example:

1. London taxi drivers who engage in sustained direction finding show larger gray matter of posterior hippocampi, with the magnitude of the effect increasing with experience, suggesting experience to be the causal mechanism

2. Canadian postal workers spend thousands of hours sorting postal codes by letters and numbers jointly, and this experience changes categorical representation of these two symbolic systems into a single more unitary system

3. Sustained practice in learning to juggle increases the volume of cortical tissue in the bilateral mid-temporal area and left posterior intraparietal sulcus and the effect generalizes to older adults

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How Are You Intelligent?

Notice that the question is not “How intelligent are you?” Rather, “How are you intelligent?” There are many ways to express intelligence and no one scale could ever measure individual intelligence appropriately or adequately. Dr. Ken Robinson mentioned several types of intelligence in his book The Element: analytic intelligence that provides the ability to  solve problems using academic skills and to complete conventional IQ tests; creative intelligence that involves the ability to deal with novel situations and to come up with original solutions; practical intelligence that helps one to deal with problems and challenges in everyday life; emotional intelligence that involves the ability to exhibit behaviors that result in positive outcomes; and social intelligence that (along with EQ) are essential to getting along with yourself and the world around you. There is an endless list of intelligences including musical, mathematical, verbal, entrepreneurial, and so on. How are you intelligent?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Your Idling Brain

Do you know what your brain is doing when it seems like it isn’t doing anything at all? First of all, some circuits must remain active to keep your heart pumping and your lungs working. But much of the rest of the brain continues to chug away as the mind naturally wanders through grocery lists, rehashes conversations and just generally daydreams. This activity has been dubbed the resting state and it’s important, if the amount of energy devoted to it is any indication. Blood flow to the brain during rest is typically just 5–10% lower than during task-based experiments. Neuroscientists have seen evidence that the networks the brain engages during a resting state appear to look a lot like those that are active during tasks and they are designing studies to help identify the purpose for mind wandering, daydreaming, and so on. As one researcher put it, whatever resting activity is doing, its existence certainly proves one thing, the brain only rests when it’s dead.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Have you ever wondered the reason that some people seem to have little or no remorse even when their actions and behaviors have hurt others deeply? Dr. Martha Stout's book (The Sociopath Next Door) may help to explain that type of behavior. According to her, one in twenty-five ordinary Americans can do anything at all without feeling guilt or even genuine remorse. Stout refers to these individuals as ice people in that they appear to lack a balanced superego that encourages a person to preserve and remain embraced by family and society. They also may lack an intervening sense of obligation, sometimes referred to as conscience. Without this they lack capacity in aspects of emotional attachment (especially love, compassion, and tenderness). They exhibit a cold desire to win and are infamous for their "refusal to acknowledge responsibility for the decisions they make, or for the outcomes of their decisions." Knowing this may offer some help in understanding how one person can do something that seems extremely reprehensible to others.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lipreading in Adults

Did you know that researchers have studied the integration of auditory and visual information for speech perception in older as well as younger adults, including lipreading? The results shows that on average older adults are as successful as young adults at integrating auditory and visual information for speech perception at the syllable level. There were differences in the response alternatives chosen, however. When auditory and visual integration of speech information failed to occur, producing a nonfused response, participants selectws an alternative response from the modality with the least ambiguous signal. For example, young adults with normal peripheral sensitivity often chose an auditory alternative whereas, older adults and control participants leaned toward visual alternatives. In additions, older adults demonstrated poorer lipreading performance than their younger counterparts.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Beyond the Speed of Light

Beyond the speed of light? Maybe so. As you may know, Einstein’s theory holds that it is not possible for anything to move faster than the speed of light. Well, mathematicians at Australia’s University of Adelaide have extended Einstein’s theory of special relativity to work beyond the speed of light. Professor Jim Hill and Dr. Barry Cox in the University’s School of Mathematical Sciences have developed new formulas that allow for travel beyond this limit. Their formulas extend special relativity to a situation where the relative velocity can be infinite, and can be used to describe motion at speeds faster than light. I’ll be watching to see where this goes!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Migraines and Phono- Photophobia

Do you experience migraines or know someone who does? Migraine sufferers often report increased sensitivity to sound and/or light during a bad headache. Anne Woodhouse and Peter D Drummond of Murdock University in Western Australia studied individuals with and without migraines to determine if phonophobia (sound) was a manifestation of loudness recruitment. The results showed that both auditory and visual discomfort thresholds decreased substantially during attacks of migraine (as compared to individuals who did not experience migraine). The findings did not support the view that phonophobia in migraine is a manifestation of loudness recruitment. Some type of disruption of central sensory processing mechanisms during migraine, however, appears able to increase sensitivity to quiet sounds and contribute to both phonophobia and photophobia.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Insomnia Foods #1

Did you know that some foods can contribute to insomnia? Some small studies suggest that some food items eaten before bedtime may be sleep “stealers” for some individuals, this according to Russell Rosenberg, PhD and CEO of the National Sleep Foundation. For example, a bacon cheeseburger may be one of the worst possible choices. The high fat content stimulates the production of stomach acid, which can trigger heartburn. Wine, or alcohol of any type metabolizes quickly in the body, increases snoring, and decreases amount and quality of sleep. For most people, drinking java too close to bedtime can interfere with sleep because a caffeine is a stimulant to the central nervous system. Watch for more examples.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

White Matter and Marijuana

Did you know that the age at which a brain is exposed regularly to marijuana may result in different effects to white matter? Typically, marijuana use begins during adolescence and early adulthood. This is a particularly dangerous age because the brain is still developing and cannabis receptors are still abundant in white-matter pathways. Researchers at Oxford University found impaired axonal pathways in the hippocampus and portions of the bridges (e.g., corpus callosum, commissure) that connect the two hemispheres in the brain of regular cannabis users. The amount of impairment to these brain areas was directly associated with the age at which the individual began regular use of marijuana. Study results suggest that long-term cannabis use is hazardous particularly to white matter in the developing brain of adolescents and young adults. Delaying the age at which regular use begins may minimize the severity of microstructural impairment. White matter alteration has been linked with several health concerns including cognitive impairment; vulnerability to psychosis, depression, and anxiety disorders; and clinical outcomes in schizophrenia.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Brain Stress and Hurricane Sandy

No surprise, millions of people are facing rather daunting tasks of rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Such catastrophic events not only destroy lives and property, but also can precipitate a natural wave of stress along with sadness, anger, and fear that must be addressed. In the belief that each person can access a state of ease at times of great stress and emotional turbulence, the Institute of Heart Math has prepared a free e-book that requires no login to download. Entitled The State of Ease™ e-Booklet, it contains tools to help you create less stressful perceptions and attitudes along with more coherent alignment between your heart, mind, and emotions. Here is the link to copy and paste in your browser.

Monday, November 5, 2012

All About Energy

How's your brain energy today? In life you always give something up to get something. Whittled down to the bottom line, you always give up energy. It's the basic medium of exchange. You pay¾not with money, or talent, or high-tech commodities¾with energy. How do you use your available energy? Are you expending it in energy intensive or energy efficient ways? PET Scan studies have shown that the brain expends differing amounts of energy depending on the type of activity you are engaged in and whether or not it matches what your brain does energy efficiently. Become more aware of how you are expending your energy. Learn to compare your relative energy levels at the end of different types of activities. Figure out which ones drain your energy versus those that do not. Aim for a 51% match of your life's activities with your brain’s innate energy advantage. Sandwich the energy-exhausting activities in between. If you get serious about this and as your awareness increases, you may discover that there are some energy-exhausting activities you can stop doing altogether.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Is Your EC Working?

Did you know that the entorhinal cortex (EC) is one of the first brain areas to be affected in Alzheimer’s Disease? This little organ functions as a hub in a widespread brain network for memory and navigation and is the main interface between the hippocampus and the neocortex. This EC-hippocampus system plays a key role in autobiographical/declarative/episodic memories and in particular spatial memories including memory formation, consolidation, and optimization in sleep. The EC also plays a role in spatial directional activity. Studies of humans playing video games found path cells in the EC, the activity of which indicated whether the person was taking a clockwise or counterclockwise path. Such EC direction-path cells show this directional activity regardless of the location in which people experience themselves. This differs from place cells in the hippocampus that are activated by specific locations.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Stress-related Distraction

David Devilbiss, a scientist and lead author on a study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, there are dangers of stress-related distraction. “The literature tells us that stress plays a role in more than half of all workplace accidents, and a lot of people have to work under what we would consider a great deal of stress,” Devilbiss said. “Air traffic controllers need to concentrate and focus with a lot riding on their actions. People in the military have to carry out these thought processes in conditions that would be very distracting, and now we know that this distraction is happening at the level of individual cells in the brain.” Recent studies have demonstrated that rather than suppressing activity, stress modifies the nature of neuron activity. “Treatments that keep neurons on their self-stimulating task while shutting out distractions may help protect working memory.”

Friday, November 2, 2012

Resentment Cost

Did you know that unresolved resentment is dangerous and can take a huge toll on your health? Internationally renowned cardiologist, Herbert Benson said, "There's something called the physiology of forgiveness. Being unable to forgive other people's faults is harmful to one's health." Multiple studies have linked the inability or unwillingness to forgive with health hazards such as increased blood pressure, cardio-vascular disease, and immune suppression. A Duke University Medical Center study showed a decrease in back pain and depression, and lower levels of chronic pain in people who learned to forgive.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Are you a proficient reader? Researchers at Stanford University have found that proficient reading requires efficient communication between brain areas that involve vision, hearing, and language. These areas are distributed throughout the brain so the development of reading ability relates to growth in the brain’s white-matter tracts, bundles of myelinated nerve fibers that connect these distant regions of the brain. The growth of these white-matter tracts is governed by pruning (the elimination of extraneous nerve fibers and neuronal connections); and myelination (the coating of nerve fibers with myelin, a fatty, insulating tissue that increases the speed of transmission). Both processes are influenced by experience: underused nerve fibers are pruned while others are myelinated--so they occur at different rates and times in different people. Bottom line? Read to children; listen to them read. Read aloud to yourself. Keep those nerve fibers stimulated!