Thursday, January 31, 2013

When to Choose

There seems to be a difference in terms of brain energy expenditures between comtemplating options and actually makes choices. In one study by Yale University Professor Nathan Novemsky and his colleagues, participants who were asked to rate the attractiveness of different options were much less depleted of brain energy than were participants who were asked to actually make choices between the very same options.  It requires more brain executive resources to switch from a state of deliberating to a state of implementation. It takes more energy to transition from thinking about options to actually following through on a decision. Since making choices appears to deplete the brain's executive resources, subsequent decisions may be affected adversely if you are forced to choose with a fatigued brain. Try limiting choices to two at a time (your brain only has two cerebral hemispheres) and make your decision at a time when your brain is less likely to be fatigued. For example, if you decide first thing in the morning to stop by the gym and exercise right after work, you may be much more likely to follow through than if you try to make that decision at the end of a busy work day.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Brain Energy Does What?

It's a given that the brain uses more energy than any other human organ but what does it use that energy to do? A study at the University of Minnesota Medical School has identified where the bulk of that energy goes. Wei Chen, radiologist and co-author of an article entitled "Why Does the Brain need So Much Power?" used MRS (Magnetic resonance spectroscopy) to track the rate of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production in rat brains, which is the primarily source of cellular energy. The study found that two thirds of the brain's energy budget is used to help neurons "fire" or send signals. The remaining third is used for brain "housekeeping" activities or cell-health maintenance. The team also used MRS to study energy demands of a cat's brain. Next up? Humans, which Chen says they hope to study very soon..


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Brain "Muscle"

For years the brain has been compared to muscles (although it is not composed of muscle tissue). Muscles, when overexercised, become depleted. In that sense the brain is like a muscle. When depeleted, the brain becomes less effective. It can be important to understand this if you have a major decision to make. Try to make that major decision with a fresh brain. If you've just made a series of minor decisions, or needed to exercise self-control about something, your brain may be somewhat depleted and the choice you make about the major decision may be less than desirable.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Decisions Tire the Brain

An article by On Amir in Scientific American, explains how using the brain's executive functions draws upon a single resource of limited capacity in the brain. In other words, when this resource is exhausted by one activity, your mental capacity may be hindered in another activity. You flex your executive function every time you focus on a specific task for an extended period of time or make a decision about eating a salad instead of chocolate-chip cookies. And when, later in the day, you need to make an important decision, your brain may be out of energy and your decision-making ability may suffer. For example, in one study, participants who made more choices in a shopping mall were less likely to persist and do well in solving simple algebra problems. In another study, students who had to mark preferences about the courses they would take to satisfy degree requirements were much more likely to procratstinate on preparing for an important test. Instead, their "tired" minds engagee in distracting leisure activities.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cellular Memory and Cancer

And speaking of Cellular Memory (Epigenetics), another entry in Dr. Lipton's book addressed cancer cells and cellular memory. Ultimately cancer may be a severe form of cellular disharmony. Cancer cells have a “memory for their own tune” and have forgotten how to play with the rest of the group, so to speak. This has also been addessed by Jay Bradner, a physician and chemical biologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Dr.  Bradner believes that cancer may be defeated through control of epigenetics or cellular memory. “With all the things cancer is trying to do to kill our patient, how does it remember it is cancer?” Bradner says that the answer lies in epigenetics, the programs that manage the genome. Findings over the past ten years have strongly implicated dysregulation of epigenetic instructions in cancer, where growth-driving genes express like crazy, while genes that keep cell division in check are silenced. Bradner believes that it will be possible to create a drug that can rewrite those epigenetic instructions so that cancer cells forget what they are and cease their deadly proliferation.


 (Lipton, Bruce, PhD. The Biology of Belief. CA: Mountain of Love/Elite Books, 2005, p 102)



Saturday, January 26, 2013

Quail Cackles?

Someone asked me today if Cellular Memory (Epigenetics) was a really recent discovery. I suppose it depends on your definition of "recent." Most likely the process has been operational since the first humans produced biological offspring. An understanding of the process is much more recent. I was reading Dr. Lipton's book (The Biology of Belief, 2005) the other day and ran across his comments about chickens and quails. It seems that researchers transplanted some chicken nervous-tissue cells into quails and vice versa. This resulted in the transfer of cellular memories that constitute the habits of one species to another, meaning that the chickens started to sing and the quails began to cackle. And since the advent of organ transplants there has been an increasing awareness that recipients of major organs (e.g., heart, liver, kidneys, lungs) often begin to exhibit preferences and behaviors that were seen in the donor -- but that are new to the recipient. If you're interested in this topic, I've been collecting cellular memory tid-bits from a variety of sources and they can be found on my website under Brain References. [  http://www.arlenetaylor.org/brain-learning-a-memory/1108-cellular-memory ]  If you find other sources, feel free to send me the source including URLs and I'll add them, as well.  




Friday, January 25, 2013

Brain and Energy

An article by Pierre J. Magistretti et al entitled "Brain Energy Metabolism" begins with the following statement: Glucose is the obligatory energy substrate for brain and it is almost entirely oxidized into CO2 and H2O. This simple statement summarizes (with few exceptions) over four decades of careful studies of brain energy metabolism. Although your brain represents only 2% of your body weight on average, the brain:


1. Receives 15% of the cardiac output

2. Uses 20% of the total body oxygen consumption

3. Responsible for 25% of total body glucose utilization

4. Extracts about 50% of oxygen and 10% of glucose from the arterial blood

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Conflicting Mind Compartments


An article in “Scientific American” suggests that the mind is composed of compartments or modules that can conflict with one another. According to author Michael Shermer, “The module that leads us to crave sweet and fatty foods in the short term is in conflict with the module that monitors our body image and health in the long term.” The same is likely true for modules related to cooperation versus competition, or lying versus honesty, and play versus homework. Similarly, there may be compartments in the brain for beliefs. Researchers at Northwestern University found that when closely held beliefs of study participants were shaken, the subjects were even more enthusiastically persistent about those beliefs. That reminds one of stories about Galileo, who ran up against commonly held (and theological) beliefs. Reportedly, when he proposed that the earth moved around the sun, it got him house arrest for the remainder of his life. (There's also a common myth--one I was taught growing up--that Galileo was censured for saying the world was round.) Although the telescope had already been invented, Galileo apparently was responsible for some refinements or enhancements that assisted him in discovering several heavenly bodies and built his own telescope in 1608. It sure would be great if there was a historic library of DVDs so one could go back in time and "see" what really happened ...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Brain, Fertility, and stress


Did you know that the brain is the first body organ to recognize a stressor? Couple that with “everything starts and ends in the brain” and it’s no surprise that fertility is impacted by stress. This can sometimes be seen when couple, who have been unable to have a child, decide to adopt and within weeks to months the wife becomes pregnant. The Harvard Business Review recently reported in The Daily Stat that fertility rates in 15 of 22 European Union countries have declined since the financial crisis began in 2008. Estimates are that a 2.1 fertility rate is needed to keep a country’s population stable. Rates have fallen below that number in at least Greece, Spain, and Ireland. It makes one wonder what other types of health issues may be on the horizon as stressors proliferate around the globe. It certainly argues for the development and implementation of effective stress-management techniques on an individual basis.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Circadian Brain Clock


Have you ever experienced jet lag? Maybe you’ve worked the night shift for a period of time? If so, you may have found your internal clock became disrupted. Unfortunately, individuals who work shifts that alter the normal 24-hour cycle of waking and sleeping are at higher risk for a number of diseases, including metabolic disorders such as diabetes. An article in the Journal Nature reported on studies done to learn more about the body’s internal clock—or clocks. It appears that in mammals, circadian timing is done by a master clock in the brain. But there are additional clocks in some other body organs. The master clock in the brain, that determines sleep-wake cycles, appears to be set by light. Satchidananda Panda, co-author and associate professor in Salk’s Regulatory Biology Laboratory, reported the study showed how cellular metabolism is tied to daylight cyclesm which in term is determined by the movements of the sun and the earth. “Now we want to find ways of leveraging this mechanism to fix a person’s metabolic rhythms when they are disrupted by travel, shift work, or sleep disorders.”

Monday, January 21, 2013

Intelligence


Have you ever wondered where “intelligence” lives in the brain? Many have, including scientists at the University of Illinois, who have been working to map the physical architecture of intelligence in the brain. They discovered that several regions in the brain, along with the connections between them, were most important for general intelligence. These regions included:

·         The left prefrontal cortex (behind the forehead)

·         The left temporal cortex (behind the ear)

·         The left parietal cortex (at the top rear of the head)

·         The “white matter association tracts” that connect these regions.

According to Aron Barbrey, Professor of Neuroscience, the study showed that intelligence depends not on one brain region or even the brain as a whole, but involves specific brain areas working together in a coordinated fashion.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Supercentenarians


Do you know any supercentenarians? Individuals whose age is greater than 110 years? There are some! Researchers identified the complete genomic sequences of a male and a female supercentenarian, both age 114. They found, for example, that the DNA sequences were largely comparable to existing non-supercentenarian genomes. But they also identified approximately 1% of the variants these individuals possess as being "novel," which may point to new genes involved in exceptional longevity. Researchers hope that continued analysis of the genomes of these and other rare individuals who have survived to extremely old ages should provide insight into the processes that contribute to the maintenance of health during extreme aging. Aging in humans is impacted by lifestyle and environmental factors as well as genes. Some estimate that genes typically explain up to 25% of the variability of human survival into the mid-eighties. However, genetic factors may have greater impact on exceptional longevity. Biological mechanisms for these supercentenarians may differ from those involved in typical human aging.

 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Biomarker for ASD


Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are classified as neurological developmental disorders. Several studies have been carried out to find a candidate biomarker linked to the development of these disorders but without success. Recently, researchers performed a detailed protein analysis of blood plasma from children with ASD and succeeded in identifying peptides consisting of fragments of the complement factor C3 protein, whose natural function is in the immune system. The hope now is that this new set of biomarkers ultimately will lead to a reliable blood-based diagnostic tool. [The immune system and the brain have their hands in each other’s pockets, so to speak, but something unusual must be happening here. This C3 protein, that contributes to innate immunity in the body, is reportedly encoded on chromosome 19 by a gene called C3, hence the short name for this complement factor C3 protein.]

Friday, January 18, 2013

Walk for Your Brain

Did you know that something as simple as walking may help you to be smarter? That's what an fMRI study at the University of Illinois fMRI showed. Walking for 40 minutes three times a week may actually help you to be smarter. Walking at one’s own pace for 40 minutes three times a week was shown to enhance the connectivity of important brain circuits, combat declines in brain function associated with aging, and increase performance on cognitive tasks. The study, originally published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, followed 65 adults (ages 59 to 80) for a year. So unless you're waiting for another hip replacement (as I am) , get moving and walk for your brain. The good news? You don't have to join a gym to walk. The better news? You might get smarter!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

3 D Grid Brain


According to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, the brain appears to be wired in a 3D grid structure, which is continuous and consistent at all scales and across humans and other primate species. The structure is remarkably similar to crossbar switching, which is used in some chips and circuits. The new Connectom diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner can visualize the networks of crisscrossing fibers, by which different parts of the brain communicate with each other, in 10-fold higher detail than conventional scanners. The Connectom scanner’s gradients are seven times stronger than those of conventional scanners. Scans that would have previously taken hours, and, thus would have been impractical with living human subjects, can now be performed in minutes. According to researcher Van J. Wedeen, the grid is the language of the brain and wiring and re-wiring work by modifying it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Imuplses and the Brain

Have you been frustrated by impulse eating or impulse buying or impulse something else? According to Kelly McGonigal PhD, author of The Willpower Instinct,  many choices are made on autopilot. People make choices without even realizing they are making a choice and/or without serious reflection on the consequences of that choice. It boils down, at least in part, to self-awareness: the ability to realize in real time what you are doing and develop some understanding of the reason you are doing it. Self-awareness can lead to increased levels of self-control (just another way of making choices that are likely to result in positive outcomes). Studies have shown that when people are distracted they are more likely to make impulse choices (e.g., distracted students are 50% more likely to select cake over fruit for a snack; distracted shoppers are more likely to purchase items that were not on their list). McGonigal writes: "When your mind is preoccupied, your impulses¾not your long-term goals¾will guide your choices."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Martin Luther King Jr

Did you remember that today (January 15) marks another anniversary of the birth of famous civil-rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr?  Even if you didn't, most likely your brain can recall the opening lines of his famous 1963 speech in Washington, D. C.:  "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed..."

I have a dream. Some of you know what that is. I have a dream that one day brain-function information will be readily available to everyone in easy-to-understand language; and that the information, practically applied, will enable individuals to "use their brain by design" to be healthier, happier, functional, and more successful.

I think every brain has a dream. Do you know what yours is? Have you identified it?  Are you acting on it?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Brain, Babies, and Salaries


 

Did you that an employee’s salary may be linked to the gender of a Male CEO’s children? This topic reportedly was discussed at the American Economic Association’s annual meeting in San Diego in January. Researchers from Aalborg University economics professor Michael Dahl, University of Maryland Smith School of Business professor Cristian Dezso, and Columbia Business School professor David Gaddis Ross studied almost 1,600 births to more than 18,000 male CEOs at 10,655 private companies in Denmark between 1996 and 2006. The findings are interesting. When a male CEO’s wife births a son, the CEO's employees’ salaries shrink by about 02% and by 0.4%. On the other hand, if the CEO’s first child is a female, employee’s wages actually go up by 0.6% for male employees and 1.1% for female employees. Overall, the female employees tended to benefit more when the CEO had children, regardless of gender or birth order. Here is the URL:  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324391104578225710891707312.html/Wagner%20et%20al.%20Lost%20sleep%20and%20cyberloafing.pdf

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Brain Perspectives

Aren't you fascinated about  the way in which two brains can perceive something so differently? It's a continual source of awe, amazement, and amusement to me. Standing in line at Trader Joe's the other day, I overheard a conversation that went like this.

Person A: "I just read an article that said when you take 100 mg of Vitamin C your body absorbs 90% of it. But when you take 500 mg your body only absorbs 50% of it. So I'm going to take 100 mg a day so I can get 90% absorption." 

Person B: "Interesting. That means I need to take 1,000 mg a day." 

Person A: "But you'll only get 50% absorption. Better to take 100 mg and get 90% absorption." 

Person B: "I want 500 mg a day, not 90 mg." 

Person A: "But 90% absorption is better than 50% absorption . . ."

By then I was through the check-out line and chuckling all the way to my car.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

What's Your Aptitude?

Have you discovered your own innate aptitude? No one is good at everything and yet most are gifted at something. Without the right opportunities, however, you may not have discovered it yet. What do you love to do? Those who have discovered what they love to do and have found a way to earn a living doing it, often describe themselves as lucky, while those who have not yet discovered their own natural abilities often say they’ve been unlucky. According to Dr. Ken Robinson, however, although accident and randomness play some part in everybody’s lives, there’s far more to luck than pure chance. High achievers often share similar attitudes: perseverance, self-belief, optimism, ambition, and frustration. How you perceive your circumstances, how you create opportunities and whether or not you embrace depends largely on what you expect of yourself. Sometimes others can help you recognize your real talents; sometimes you can help others to discover theirs. What do you love to do?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Kinesthetic Learning Style

Researchers at the University of Western Ontario have provided some tips for those who have a kinesthetic learning style or who need to absorb information in that sensory system (hands on) in a specific situation. In a class: take a small object (e.g., stress brain or ball) to class to squeeze with in one hand while the other takes notes; participate through questions and discussions whenever possible; stand up and stretch at every break or negotiate with the teacher to allow you to stand quietly at the side or back of room as needed; select classes with 1-hour segments (rather than 3-hour sections) whenever possible; connect relevance and applicability of the topic to life in general or to your life in particular in a practical way. (http://www.sdc.uwo.ca/learning/index.html?styles)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Neuron Food and Misregulation

No doubt you’ve heard the term “neurotrophic growth factor,” referring to substances that provide food for your neurons. Researchers at Mayo Clinic in Florida recently discovered that a lack of one specific protein (TDP-43) can result in defective protein of another type (SORT). And, it appears, SORT regulates yet another protein (progranulin)—involved with one of these neuotrophic growth factors. When the neurons do not have enough of progranulin’s protective effects, this state appears to open the way for the development of dementia: Alzheimers Disease as well as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which afflicts physicist Stephen Hawking. Now the question is, what can contribute to a lack of one specific protein that may begin this cascade toward dementia? The complexity and interaction of neurons and substances in the brain continues to both amaze and mystify!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Heart, Gut, and Brain Intelligences


Did you think that intelligence happens only in your brain? Think again. Intelligence is actually somewhat diffuse. According to Robert Cooper, author of The Other 90%, there is intelligence in the “heart” brain and also in the “gut” brain. When you have a direct experience with something, it goes first to the neurological networks of your intestinal tract and your heart. Then it filters up to the brain. In fact, Cooper has described the “gut brain” (enteric nervous system) as a second brain inside your intestines, which is independent of but also interconnected with the brain in your cranium. This may be the reason you often experience your first reaction to a specific situation as a “gut reaction,” which often shapes and impacts everything you do. Pull the intelligence perceptions of your heart, gut, and brain together. This can help increase your emotional intelligence, too.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Insomnia Foods #2

Do you know which foods and beverages to avoid in order to promote better sleep? Avoid chocolate just before bedtime, for one thing. It contains caffeine and theobromine (stimulants that can increase heart rate and sleeplessness. And you may want to ditch Red Bull. According to Keri Gans, a registered dietician in New York City and author of The Small Change Diet, an eight-ounce Red Bull energy drink contains about 80 milligrams of caffeine, while a Five-Hour Energy drink packs 200 milligrams of caffeine into just two ounces (the equivalent of drinking 16 ounces of regular coffee). In fact, you may want to avoid sodas altogether. Mountain Dew MDX along with jolt Cola and Vault contain 71 milligrams of caffeine per 12-ounce serving (the upper limit of what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows). In addition, typical soda drinks often contain citrus as well as sodium benzoate and other chemicals that can promote acid reflux, often a recipe for interfering with sleep.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Visual Learning Style

Researchers at the University of Western Ontario have provided some tips for those who have a visual learning style or who need to absorb information in that sensory system (seeing) in a specific situation. In a lecture setting: sit where you can see the instructor and all visual aids; sit near the front to avoid potential distractions; watch for key words in PowerPoint slides or white boards to help organize notes; use symbols or colors in your notes to help draw attention to key concepts; review topic on a website, if available. If learning by text: minimize visual distractions; look for diagrams or charts or outline key topics in diagram format; consider rehearsing with flash cards; highlight information in color (using similar colors for topic or related information); connect important terminology to portions of a word you may already know.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Brain Foods? Maybe Not so Much!

Stanley Harris MD just sent me an e-mail with the note:  "To be healthier in 2013, enjoy eating natural, unprocessed, unrefined food!" He knows that one of my life goals is to eat for my brain and that definitely includes moving toward unprocessed and unrefined foods. Dr. Harris included a link to a site that lists the 10 worst food ingredients (nine of which were already on my to-avoid list). Thank you, Stan.

In the opinion of the underground health reporter, the 10 worst food ingredients are:

1.   Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
2.   Aspertame
3.   High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
4.   Agave Nectar
5.   Artificial Food Coloring
6.   BHA and BHT
7.   Sodium Nitrite and Sodim Nitrate
8.   Potassium Bromate
9.   Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH)
10. Refined vegetable oil


I have included the link in case you want to do some further exploration. Food for thought, anyway (and I use the term food very loosely):
http://undergroundhealthreporter.com/the-10-worst-food-ingredients#ixzz2GOQByadQ

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Common Sensory Decoding Areas

Did you know that there may be some common sensory decoding areas in the brain for perceiving multisensory data? Studies by David A. Bulkin and Jennifer M. Groh of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Department of Neurobiology, Duke University, have been published in the journal Neurobiology. Results of their studies showed that objects and events can often be detected by more than one sensory system. No surprise, interactions between sensory systems can offer numerous benefits for the accuracy and completeness of sensory perception. Visual–auditory interactions have highlighted the perceptual advantages of combining information from these two modalities and have suggested that predominantly unimodal brain regions play a role in multisensory processing. Whenever you have the option, tap into the phenomenon of recruitment and combine input from  visual and auditory sensory systems.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Brain Energy


Have people told you that your brain has strengths and weaknesses? There is another way to look at this. I avoid using those terms, especially since many people grew up being told to: "Work hard to improve your weaknesses." Every normally-functioning brain can do pretty much everything it needs to do in life--at some level. Based on its innate energy advantage, however, there will be activities that require significantly more energy to accomplish. Part of successful living involves figuring out your brain's relative energy expenditures for a variety of different activities. When you know this, you can make more informed choices about the amounts of time you devote to specific activities. It's not rocket science here. Endeavor to minimize activities that drain your brain and strive to match 51% of your overall life's activities with what your brain does energy efficiently. This can impact your success, wellness, and perhaps even your longevity.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Teflon or Velcro Brain

Did you know that the way you handle minor hassles of life every day can affect your health? You can permit stressors (e.g., road rage, argument with a colleague or friend, unpaid bills, upcoming deadlines) either to stick to your brain like Velcro or slide off like butter on a hot Teflon pan. According to a ten-year study by Penn State Researchers, a person’s reaction to daily stressors is predictive of future chronic health conditions. The study of 435 participants included saliva tests to measure levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). Results showed that emotional reactivity to daily stressors was associated with an increased risk that the study participant would report a chronic physical health condition ten (10) years later. It was also associated with adverse same-day health (e.g., sore throat, fatigue, backache, headache, fatigue). A key finding: It’s not the daily hassles as much as the distress they can trigger and the person’s reaction to them.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Two New Resolutions!

Today someone commented, "I always make a bunch of New Year's Resolutions and then rarely follow through on all but one or two of them. It's a worthless exercise." My response was, "Done that way, it probably is." Turns out that most people's brains have two cerebral hemispheres (a tiny percentage of brains appear not to have two--only one). When you are trying to make a decision, it's typically thought to be more effective to weigh only two variables at a time. Two hemispheres, two options. My brain's opinion is that the same thing may apply to New Year's Resolutions. If you give your brain a bunch of resolutions, it may drop off all but two of them (as it tends to do with multiple variables in decision-making). Therefore, you may be light-years ahead to select one or two specific and key resolutions. Period. Then utilize your brain willpower to follow through on achieving those one or two goals. Not only are you more likely to realize those goals, but also think about how many long-term improvements you can make as the years go by. What is my number one resolution? I choose to continue daily blogs for 2013 . . . even though they take a great deal of time and energy. Smile.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year to Your Brain


Today marks the start of another calendar year with its typical hype toward making resolutions. In many cases it's an exercise in futility. Partly because people often make unrealistic resolutions or make too many of them at one time or make them knowing they're going to let them slide (usually sooner than later). Try a new style this year. Maybe something as simple as, "Every morning I identify one thing for which I am grateful." That's not only doable but also it’s good for your brain and immune system. Studies have shown that it is physiologically impossible to be fearful and anxious when you are grateful for something. Fear and gratitude are mutually exclusive states. This doesn’t mean you deny that bad things happen to good people. It does mean you can train your brain to look for the silver lining rather than fixating on the dark clouds. Pick one resolution that is realistic, doable, and will be helpful to your brain. And choose to have a happy year, beginning with a Happy New Year's day!