Monday, March 31, 2014

"I" or "You" Self-Talk and the Brain

Self-talk is powerful and can be positive and helpful or negative and unhelpful depending on how you use it. For years I have talked to myself beginning with:  “I, Arlene Taylor, am . . . .” New studies by a team led by Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan has shown that referring to oneself as “you” (or by your own name) works equally well. Among other things, researchers examined how these different forms of self-talk influence the way people appraise social-anxiety-provoking events. They discovered that use of your name or a non-first person pronoun (you) during internal self-talk helps to distance you from yourself, in a sense, and enables you to regulate your emotions more effectively. It can also help you to appraise future stressors in more challenging and less threatening terms. According to the researchers, these findings demonstrate that small shifts in the language people use to refer to the self during introspection consequentially influence one’s ability to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behavior under social stress, even for vulnerable individuals. I like options. Now I have another option for self-talk:  “You are  . . .” I like it!

Friday, March 28, 2014

What Your Brain "Sees" Part 2

It’s no surprise that your brain’s visual system constantly processes rapidly changing stimuli in everyday life. For rapidly changing environments it appears that the brain focuses complete images (e.g., rapid sequences showed an ongoing representation of current input). What is new is the verification from research done by Dr. Dirk Jancke of the Institute for Neural Computation at Ruhr University. His studies demonstrated that for slower image sequences “the visual cortex suppresses redundant information and saves energy by frequently forwarding image differences.” For slower image sequences, the brain apparently does no longer reports complete images of actual features but represents their relative difference in time, a process that is evidently similar to methods used for video data compression in communication technology.  Now I have a better understanding of the reason I “see” more in a given environment when I just take a few moments to chill and allow my brain to absorb the information. Fun! Kurzweil published an interesting commentary on this research.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

What Your Brain "Sees"

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that my sensory preference is auditory, meaning that what I hear and what I read register in my brain most quickly and intensely. The visual sensory system, on the other hand, has my lowest score on the Sensory Preference Assessment (free on my website under Taylor’s Assessments). Consequently, it usually takes me a while to really “see” things in a new environment. I’ve found that if I slowly walk around a new environment for a few minutes, my brain begins to consciously recognize things that I didn’t “see” initially. I’ve always wondered how giving my brain some “time” made a difference in what I noticed (compared, for example, to my mother who was highly visual and seemed to “see” everything quickly and almost simultaneously). An article published recently in Cerebral Cortex (open access) has helped me understand how this process happens in my brain. It reported on research done by Dr. Dirk Jancke of the Institute for Neural Computation at Ruhr University. More on those findings tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Trunk Brain or Cabinet Brain?

Some of you have watch the YouTube presentation by Mark Gungor related to differences between the male and female brains. His analysis of the "nothing box" is hysterical! Some of you wrote to ask whether his material has any basis in fact. My brain’s opinion is, “Yes, it does.” Of course Mark puts his own spin on the way he describes the differences (e.g., Male brains are filled with little boxes and the rule is that the boxes do not touch; female brains are a big ball of wire and everything is connected). Those of you who have attended my male-female differences seminars will recall I use a different metaphor (e.g., think of the female brain as a trunk; a male brain as a complex set of drawers, cupboards, and pigeonholes . . .)  Both metaphors work. The real question may be: “Once you understand the metaphor, how do you turn this information into personal knowledge and use it to positively alter your behaviors in cross-gender situations?” A fact is just a fact, however interesting, until you practically apply it in a way that increases your likelihood of achieving positive outcomes in cross-gender communication. Go for it and have fun in the process!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Autism Spectrum Disorder, Serotonin, and Vitamin D

Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) has released the results of a study related to social behaviors associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In an article published in the FASEB Journal (Federation of America Societies for Experimental Biology) researchers Rhonda Patrick, PhD and Bruce Ames, PhD believe they have discovered a link between Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and low levels of the hormone Vitamin D in the brain. Reportedly, the precipitous drop in adequate levels of Vitamin D in the US is concurrent with the rise in autism rates. The authors outlined the impact that Vitamin D may have on social behavior associated with ASD and suggest that dietary intervention with vitamin D, tryptophan, and omega 3 fatty acids would boost brain serotonin concentrations and help prevent and possibly ameliorate some of the symptoms associated with ASD (without side effects.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Autism Spectrum Disorder, Serotonin, and Vitamin D

Last year I blogged about a study published in the Lancet, British medical journal, The article reported that an international group of scientists had identified some genetic links between several conditions: ADHD, autism, depression, manic-depression (bi-polar), and schizophrenia. This could help explain the reason that some of these diagnoses seem to cluster in families. Recently, Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) released the results of a study related to Social behaviors associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The article was printed in the Autism, characterized by abnormal social behavior, has previously been linked to low levels of brain serotonin and to low levels of vitamin D (a hormone). However, no mechanism has linked Autism with low levels of serotonin and vitamin D—until now. Stay tuned. More tomorrow.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Eyes-On™ and the Brain

The other day I had my blood drawn for an annual physical. The technician exsanguinated me in nothing flat, commenting “You have good veins.” I surmised the patient in the next cubicle wasn’t so fortunate—based on the escalating number of “ouches” exclamations that were drifting my way. And it can be almost impossible to access a good vein, depending on the condition of the patient. Well, guess what? Enter smart glasses that may enable a medical professional to “see through” the patient’s skin to locate a vein. Imagine how happy that could l make your brain, if you’re the patient. Well, the healthcare professional’s brain, too, for that matter. This is how Business Wire put it: “Evena Medical, a leader in the development of high-quality, high-definition imaging for fast, accurate and precise venous access, today announced the launch of its Eyes-On™ Glasses System, a one-of-a-kind point-of-care wearable unit which enables nurses at the bedside to see “through” a patient’s skin to the vasculature beneath. With Evena’s Eyes-On Glasses, even hard-to-locate veins are easier to see and access.” Now that could revolutionize health care in relation to drawing blood. My brain is happy just thinking about it!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Eye of the Brain

Do you really know what your Facebook and Instagram photos might actually show? If you’re doing something you want to keep secret, you might want to think again, at least before you take photographs. And there are, naturally, some forensic implications. A fascinating research study by Dr. Rob Jenkins at the University of York, Department of Psychology, was recently published in PLOS ONE (and later summarized by Kurzweil). It showed how reflected hidden faces in photographs can be revealed in the pupil of one’s eye. “The pupil of the eye is like a black mirror,” said Jenkins. “To enhance the image, you have to zoom in and adjust the contrast. A face image that is recovered from a reflection in the subject’s eye is about 30,000 times smaller than the subject’s face.” (Technically, the image is reflected by the cornea.) Interesting. Hmmm.

 Rob Jenkins, Christie Kerr, Identifiable Images of Bystanders Extracted from Corneal Reflections, PLOS ONE, 2013, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083325 (open access)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Brain-Heart Connection

It’s been known for some time that the brain and the heart have a close relationship. Ongoing studies at the Institute of HeartMath have shown that there is a critical link between these two organs and that they are in constant two-way dialogue. In fact, the heart sends more information to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. The heart responds to your emotional and mental reactions. Specific emotions create stress in the brain, body, and heart. When you experience anger, for example, your heart-rhythm patterns become more erratic; erratic heart rhythms block your ability to think clearly. These erratic patterns are sent to the brain, which perceives them as negative stress. Consistently experiencing irritation, anger or frustration can put a strain on the heart, brain, and immune system, eventually leading to serious health problems. Of course the reverse is also true. More on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Eavesdropping on Neuron Conversations

Electrophysiology, although complicated, is one way to monitor activity of neurons. A team of researchers from MIT has developed an instrument dubbed the Autopatcher that has increased the success rate of this type of study. One of their goals is to obtain whole-cell recordings from multiple neurons at one time. Of course this opens up all manner of possibilities. As researcher Ed Boyden put it, “This opens up the possibility of observing networks of cells interacting at the level of individual neurons. We can eavesdrop on [cells] as they talk to each other, or send one thing to a cell and see how it affects the next cell.” I started thinking about what some of those conversations among neurons in my own brain might be like—and started laughing out loud. Pay attention to your own internal self-talk (neurons conversing with each other). What are they saying? If their conversation isn’t helping you accomplish what you want to accomplish, tell them what you want to have them talk about. Tell them how to say it. What fun!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Optical Illusions and Your Brain

Illusions may occur with any of the senses. Smell, for example. Studies have shown that olfactory (smell) illusions have occurred when subjects were given positive or negative verbal labels prior to the olfactory stimulation. Probably the most well-known and understood, however, are visual illusions, often referred to as optical illusions. They may be the most well-known because vision tends to dominate the other senses. I have a good friend who is a ventriloquist. Intellectually I understand that the voice I hear is coming from her mouth. It’s very easy to get caught up in what the “dummy” (?) is saying and perceive that the sound is coming from its mouth. After all, my brain sees the dummy’s mouth moving! Have you seen the T-Rex optical illusion?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dental X-rays and Risk for Meningioma, 2

I am fortunate with my dentist, someone who keeps up with current American Dental Association (ADA) recommendations and who is willing to work with me (but then I chose him carefully). Other people have not been as fortunate. Take my friend Grace, for example. She went to her dentist and made a similar request to mine (see yesterday’s blog). Her dentist gave an entirely different response. Reportedly,  told her that annual dental X-rays were recommended by the ADA and unless she agreed to them she could find another dentist. (Seems the man might not have been keeping up with current ADA recommendations…) Grace, having already done her homework related to cumulative exposure to dental X-rays, agreed to be discharged on the spot and found a new dentist. Her story points to the importance of taking responsibility for your own health. Healthcare professionals are not omniscient, dentists included. I go to them to take advantage of their education and experience. However, I expect mine to stay current with recommendations and be willing to work with me about how we will care for MY brain and body—including my teeth. Smile. Meningioma? Maybe not . . .

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dental X-rays and Risk of Meningioma

In a seminar recently, I was speaking about strategies to help age-proof your brain and mentioned avoiding exposure to radiation when possible. A year or two ago I had read an article in Journal Cancer entitled “Dental x-rays and risk of meningioma.” It reported a study that suggested a link between cumulative dental X-ray exposures and meningiomas, the most frequently diagnosed brain tumors among adults in the United States. Fortunately, the majority of meningiomas are not malignant. Nevertheless, they can grow very large and can trigger a range of potentially serious symptoms (e.g., headaches, vision and hearing losses, memory problems, seizures...). No surprise, developing a meningioma has never been one of my goals. Therefore, I discussed this research with my dentist and negotiated a plan: I would stop taking annual dental X-rays unless he did an exam and saw some clear indication to do so. He agreed and noted our discussion in my chart. Apparently, things don’t always go so smoothly, something I discovered recently when visiting a friend of mine. Her story tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Older Brains--Cognitive Declines, 2

Cognitive decline. Is it really a complete down-hill slide during the inevitable aging process? An article in the journal Topics in Cognitive Science reported on studies by a team of linguistic researchers from the University of Tübingen in Germany. Researchers used advanced learning models to search enormous databases of words and phrases. Educated older individuals generally know more words than younger people (e.g., they’ve been around longer). This experiment simulated what the older brain must do to retrieve a word. According to lead author, Michael Ramscar, “…for the first half of the time we were doing this project, I totally bought into the idea of age-related cognitive decline in healthy adults. But the simulations fit so well to human data that it slowly forced me to entertain this idea that I didn’t need to invoke decline at all.” What does that mean to you and me? Well, when the way older brains retrieve words was incorporated into the model the so-called aging “deficits” largely disappeared. Hm-m-m. Keep stimulating your brain with challenging brain aerobic exercises!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Older Brains--Cognitive Declines

The other day a friend of mine emailed me the link to an article that began with the words: “People of a certain age (and we know who we are) . . .” I laughed out loud. What does that really mean, “People of a certain age?” Hopefully, everyone knows how old he or she is—even though he or she simply may not want to concentrate on a “number.” Personally, I’m concentrating on staying abreast of current research and doing everything within my power to retain optimum brain function. Some studies show that memory accuracy and speed start slipping about age 25 brain and just continue downhill from there. Well, maybe so. However, there are many studies that have shown reversal of memory deficits in some brains when their owner gets serious about obtaining challenging mental stimulation every day with brain aerobic exercises. So what did the article say? 

Stay tuned.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Anosognosia and Unawareness, 4

It can represent a tremendous challenge to family, friends, and caregivers when an individual has anosognosia and cannot seem to understand that he or she has a problem. According to the NAMI fact sheet, approximately half of people living with schizophrenia, and a smaller percentage who live with bipolar disorder, have this clinical feature, along with those who have Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. From the individual’s perspective, there’s no reason they should keep appointments, take medication, or follow through on therapy because there is nothing wrong with them. The individual’s lack of awareness raises the risks of treatment and nonadherence to recommendations. Some of you have dealt with this and are still dealing with it—and it’s not easy. Sometimes it can even be dangerous, especially if the individual becomes angry, defensive, and even defiant. Their response does not mean that you need to pretend the person is well. It does mean that you may need help in dealing with him or her. NAMI may be able to point you toward helpful resources. It you need help, check out their website and do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Anosognosia and Brain Injuries, 3

Anosognosia, a deficit of self-awareness, can be defined as a condition in which a person who suffers specific disabilities appears to be unaware of his or her disability. The word itself comes from two Greek words:  noso meaning disease and gnosis meaning knowledge. The prefix “a” indicates a lack of. Since its discovery in about 1914 by neurologist Joseph Babinski (and some of you will be familiar with his last name), there hasn’t been a great deal of additional information added to the body of knowledge. Those of you who wrote to say “it’s not just limited to brains dealing with dementia,” are correct. It is relatively common following many types of brain injuries. According to Wikipedia, “Anosognosia is relatively common following different etiologies of brain injury, such as stroke and traumatic brain injury (e.g. 10%–18% in the case of anosognosia for hemiparesis with onset of acute stroke), but can appear to occur in conjunction with virtually any neurological impairment.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Sugar and the Brain, 3

How much refined sugar do you ingest on a daily basis? Some would answer, “I don’t add sugar to anything.” Maybe not, but unfortunately sugar is included in almost all packaged foods (e.g., candy, yeast bread, many ready-to-eat breakfast foods, deserts, and sodas). Estimates are that one can of regular soda contains seven teaspoons (140 calories) of sugar. Data from 31,000 individuals, who participated in the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, were reviewed by researchers at CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Analysis by researchers revealed some startling results. Participants who consumed 17%-21% or more of their total daily caloric intake in sugar, had a 38% increased risk of dying from heart disease. Note: not an increased risk of developing heart disease but a 38% increased risk of dying from heart disease. And the risk increased as sugar consumption increased. Participants who consumed more than 21% of their daily caloric intake from sugar, doubled their risk of dying from heart disease compared to participants whose daily sugar consumption was 8% or lower than total daily calories. Back to my opening question: How much refined sugar do you ingest on a daily basis? 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Sugar and the Brain, 2

Consuming too much sugar has been found to be an independent risk factor for heart disease, the leading killer of individuals in the United States. Excessive consumption of fructose (sugar) can cause health problems similar to those caused by excessive consumption of ethanol (alcohol). See comparisons below (from Nature, 2012).

Chronic Ethanol Exposure
Chronis Fructose Exposure

Hematologic disorders
Electrolyte abnormalities
Cardiac dilatation
Obesity (insulin resistance)
Hepatic dysfunction (alcoholic steatohepatitis)
Fetal alcohol syndrome


Myocardial infarction
Obesity (insulin resistance)
Hepatic dysfunction (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis

Habituation, if not addiction

More tomorrow.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sugar and the Brain

According to a report by a team of UCSF researchers, the consumption of sugar is contributing to some serious world-wide health problems including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The last three account for about 35 million deaths a year worldwide.  This not good news for the brain, which responds to sugar as a toxin. You can be sure that anything negatively impacting the heart can also negatively impact the brain. According to Robert Lustig, MD, and colleagues, sugar represents more than just empty calories that help people pack on pounds. “There are good calories and bad calories, just as there are good fats and bad fats, good amino acids and bad amino acids, good carbohydrates and bad carbohydrates. But sugar is toxic beyond its calories.” This could help explain the reason that more than a third of individuals exhibiting metabolic syndrome (key metabolic changes that lead to diabetes, heart disease and cancer—cancer cells are sugar hogs) are not clinically obese. It’s a problem, obviously for individuals, but it’s becoming a problem for health care systems as well. Non-communicable diseases now pose a greater health burden worldwide than infectious diseases. In the United States, estimates are that 75 percent of health care dollars are spent treating these diseases and their associated disabilities. It’s worth listening up. More tomorrow.