Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sensory Integration

Sensory integration can be defined as the is the ability to take in sensory data, organize, and process the information from the senses for practical use. According to Dr. Jane Ayres, a pioneer in the identification of this brain function, a person exhibits adequate sensory integration when he or she demonstrates successful adaptive (or goal-directed) responses to the environment. This is an active process and indicates that the central nervous system has been able to successfully organize incoming sensory information. The person uses the sensory information that is received, in an automatic way, without thinking about it so it is not initially, at least, a cognitive process; it is a decoding process. Research by Diamond and others, has shown that an enriched sensory environment influences the brain positively, and that sensory deprivation, or an inability to process the input appropriately, may negatively impact the organization of the central nervous system and brain. The complexity of the sensory input can influence neurological changes and result in more dendrites being formed around neurons, a process known as neuroplasticity. This is what enables the nervous system to be changed or modified. Neuroscience research has demonstrated that when animals and humans are allowed to explore and interact with environments that are meaningful and interesting to them, there are significant increases in the formation of synaptic connections between the neurons that send messages within the brain. As with other brain functions, problems can arise. More on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Your Brain's Opinion, 2

Giving and accepting compliments reflects both self-worth and Emotional Intelligence. When you deflect or deny appreciative comments it actually is a form of put-down to the person who appreciated something you did. You may as well just say, "You sure don't have any taste. Imagine you liking something then taking time to tell me about it! Avoid doing that again because you certainly lack good evaluative skills." It often takes courage for someone to offer what they perceive to be a compliment. If you catch yourself in the trap of undervaluing and underappreciating the affirmation of others, spend some time thinking about what you heard in your family growing up. Did your parents affirm each other and you or were compliments few and far between? Were the compliments received graciously or rejected? Compliments represent another brain’s opinion. Your brain may have a different opinion. However, negating or diminishing their affirmations is like throwing away something valuable. It says far more about your sense of self-worth and your level of emotional intelligence that it does the person who went out of their way to offer you the compliment. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Your Brain's Opinion

Every brain is unique and only has its own opinion. The other day I heard a conversation that went something like this. Person A: “You did a great job. I really enjoyed your presentation!” Person A1: “Are you kidding? I hardly had any time to prepare. I don’t think it was very good.At that, Person A actually took a step backwards, exhibiting a facial expression that changed from one of joy and appreciation to one of confusion and embarrassment. At the time I did not step up and say anything because I was unsure whether my contribution would make the situation better or worse. Just yesterday I overheard another conversation between two different individuals. It went like this. Person B: “I like your outfit. It’s a great color for you.” Person B1: “What, this old thing? I’ve had it for ages—just grabbed it from the back of my closet.”  Person B shrugged and walked away. Likely that’s the last time this individual will take the time and energy to affirm Person B1. I understand that position, although it will be Person B1’s loss. In both instances, the recipient of the affirmation effectively shut down the individuals who were offering the compliment and affirmation. More tomorrow on what I think is really happening in situations such as these.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Calorie Here, Calorie There

More and more restaurants are posting the number of calories contained in their menu items. I like that, although am sometimes amazed at how many calories a specific item contains! I've often said that maintaining one's weight appropriately is less about food and more about mindset. However, calories do play a part. A calorie is just the name for a unit of energy. By definition it’s the amount of energy that’s required to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius. Calories provide energy to fuel your body. Your vehicle will not run with fuel. Neither will your brain and body. You need a specific number of calories to maintain life. And how many you need depends partly on your own body composition as well as your level of activity. Too few calories and you do not have the necessary energy to live a fulfilling and productive life. Too many calories and you will eventually gain weight. An excess of about 3500 calories beyond what your brain and body need will add a pound of fat to your weight. The really bad news is that once you've added fat to your weight it can be difficult to send it back. That's one reason prevention is better than cure and also one reason that diets rarely (maybe never) work in the long term. Crash off the pounds, but fail to develop a high-level-healthiness lifestyle, and you'll likely pile the pounds back on; plus a few more, in many cases.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Nonconcussion Head Injuries

You’re likely already familiar with news articles linking brain concussions with injury to cognitive abilities. Now, using a form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College found significant differences in brain white matter of varsity football and hockey players compared with a group of noncontact-sport athletes following one season of competition. White matter is composed primarily of axons, the long fibers that transmit signals between neurons. According to Thomas W. McAllister MD, chair of the IU Department of Psychiatry: This study raises the question of whether we should look not only at concussions but also the number of times athletes receive blows to the head and the magnitude of those blows, whether or not they are diagnosed with a concussion.” Some athletes may be more susceptible to repeated head impacts that do not involve concussions, although much more research would be necessary to determine how to identify those athletes. More work would also be necessary to determine whether the effects of the nonconcussion head impacts are long-lasting or permanent, and whether they are cumulative.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Manipulating Thoughts

As a human being, one of the few things you have some control over are your thoughts. Oh, you don't always choose every thought that come racing into conscious awareness, but as soon as you become aware of it you can make a choice. You can choose to wallow in whatever thought crossed your mind, hang onto it, ponder it, and make yourself almost sick (if it is a negative thought). That's definitely one option and many people select it, seeming to get some type of perverse pleasure in wallowing in loss and scarcity. There is another option, however. You can recognize the negative thought and say to yourself, "Oh, there's that old thought again. Let it go. Instead, you are thinking that although everyone experiences some loss in life, there are many other people who are still alive on this planet. There is still life out there. The best thing about the past is that it is in the past; the best thing about the future is that it is waiting right in front of you." Studies have shown that self-talk can be more effective when using the word "you" rather than "I." It's a way to depersonalize thoughts a bit and picture yourself collaborating with your brain to achieve a happy and productive life right now.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bandler's Suggestions

Bandler's view on how to recover successfully  from the death of a loved one has a lot to do with the pictures you place in working memory. Now that we know more about mirror neurons, that makes sense. For example, first, recall all the memories you can of the person who has died. Next sort through them and select all the good and happy memories. Put those in working memory and experience them as if they are happening right now in the present and in life-sized living color.  Choose to be happy in the midst of all those good memories, knowing that you carry them within you and will have them the rest of your life. You can access them any time you choose. Then, take a look at some of the sad pictures, but rather than viewing them in life-sized living color, see them with you present in the picture as if you were viewing them on a small black-and-white phone or iPad screen. As you look at the small B&W pictures, imagine that they are becoming even smaller; so small they are rather difficult to see. You can look at them any time you choose but how much more rewarding to look at the happy pictures in life-sized living color instead. Finally, see yourself honoring the memory of your loved one by living as fully and happily in the present as possible. Whenever you feel down with sad memories, repeat this process.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Grief Recovery

It can be difficult to recover from the death of a person you love, especially if it is a drawn-out death. And  many people can get :stuck: recalling the funeral or memorial service, putting those pictures in working memory as if it is happening again now.  I was speaking with a man whose wife had died five years ago and he was caught in this grieving cycle. During our conversation I recalled the name of  David Bandler. You may know his as the father and co-creator of Neuro-Linguistic Programming or NLP. While not minimizing the pain of losing a loved one and of trying to get through the pain of death, he pointed out to individuals that the way in which they view their memories has a great deal to do with successful recovery. Hard as it may be to swallow, he also pointed out that to continue to remain stuck -- instead of healing and enjoying the people who are still alive -- is less than honoring to the memory of their loved one. Doing something to make a difference on this planet, in the name of their loved one, is much more desirable. More tomorrow.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Exercise and Blood Sugar

Back to the China Study and the benefits of exercise and managing one's blood sugar. Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, said that lifestyle is the best medicine has been established by an impressively consistent array of research findings spanning populations and decades. Not only that, careful attention to eating well, being active, controlling weight, and avoiding tobacco has been shown to reduce the lifetime risk of all major chronic disease by 80 percent. "This study shows first, that an intervention focused particularly on diabetes prevention has generalized benefits," Katz said. "This is not very surprising, since the causal and protective factors for all of the prevalent chronic diseases are interrelated. The same diet and activity pattern that helps prevent diabetes does the same for cardiovascular disease," he added. "Second, and more surprising, this study suggests that a robust lifestyle intervention program of sufficient duration is a gift that keeps on giving, conferring benefit for years after it concludes," Katz said. "This offers important promise with regard to the cost-effectiveness of such interventions." So if you've been wondering whether developing a high-level-healthiness lifestyle is worth the work, my brain's opinion is "yes."  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure . . .
Guangwei Li, M.D., department of endocrinology, China-Japan Friendship Hospital, Beijing; David Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director, Yale University Prevention Research Center, New Haven, Conn.; April 3, 2014, The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, online.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Glycemic Load (GL)

In America, as in some other countries, the serving size provided in many restaurants is enormous. Yes, you pay for the increased size and you pay for it not just in money. You pay in calories. The Glycemic Load (GL) of a food is an estimate of how much of that specific food raises blood glucose based on serving size.  The charts I've noticed use either one cup or a single average-sized fruit or present the GI or GL in terms of half a cup or a single small-sized fruit. Dried fruits are something else, however. Dried fruit listings are more likely to be ¼ cup because of density. Remember, think about your meal as a whole. Some foods in that meal will have a higher GI and/or a higher Glycemic Load. What is the average for the meal? It is low, medium, or high? If you google Glycemic Index or Glycemic Load, you can often find a great deal of helpful information on the internet. Be sure to note serving size so you can compare using some type of standardization. Did the chart use one cup or half a cup as the standardized comparison. Avoid agonizing over a specific food. For example, I love medjool dates. Yes, they contain glucose but they’re also reputed to have five times more protein than most other fruit. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one pitted date contains about 1.6 grams of fiber, which is 6% of the recommended daily intake. Because they are high in protein and fiber, dates can actually help curb hunger pangs.  Harvard Health Publications give dried dates, which are higher in sugar than fresh dates, a relatively low GI value of 42. When at home, I enjoy one or two medjools most days and usually have a couple of almonds at the same time to balance them out. And because my brain doesn’t feel deprived of something it loves, there is no push to overeat. Some of these tools can help you make healthy mindset decisions about what you put into your body. And Calories? More about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Glycemic Index GI)

Do you  use information from the Glycemic Index (GI) to help you select the foods you eat on a regular basis. The GI rates foods to show how much they raise blood sugar levels. The higher the blood sugar rise, the higher the position of the food on the Glycemic Index. Pure glucose, which I think of as pure refined sugar, has a GI of 100. No surprise, candy, sugar, cake, cookies, donuts and so on have a high GI, while many vegetables, fruits, and whole-grains have a lower GI. Different foods have differing effects on blood sugar levels and the effects can vary considerably. Some foods even have a range of GI numbers, depending on several factors. For example, sometimes how long a food is cooked can influence the GI. Pasta cooked ‘al dente’ has a lower GI than when it is cooked longer to softness. The riper the banana the higher the GI, because glucose content increases with ripeness. Sweet potatoes are lower on the GI than white potatoes. However, the way in which both types of potatoes are prepared can impact their position. I do not carry a GI with me when I grocery shop because I have a general sense of the position on the GI of common foods. For example, a plain baked version of either will have a much lower GI than those that are deep fried or slathered in butter or sour cream. The serving size can make a differences, as well. I've learned to pay attention to serving size. That's sometimes referred to as Glycemic Load (GL).  More on that tomorrow. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Diabetes Prevention and Stroke #2

Guangwei Li, M.D. and David Katz, M.D., M.P.H. followed 438 Chinese people with high blood sugar for 29 years (and compared them with a control group). The 438 individuals followed a nutrition and exercise program for six years and then were followed by researchers for an additional twenty-three years. What did they find? The incidence of death from cardiovascular disease in the control group who did not change their lifestyles was nearly 20% compared with only 12% in the study group. Death from any cause was about 38% in the control group and only 28% in the study group. (Note: previous research has shown that for people with type 2 diabetes, the risk of dying from heart conditions and stroke is more than twice that of people without diabetes.) According to Dr. Li, "These [new] findings provide yet further justification to implement lifestyle interventions in people with high blood sugar, as clinical and public health measures to control the long-term consequences of diabetes."
Guangwei Li, M.D., department of endocrinology, China-Japan Friendship Hospital, Beijing; David Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director, Yale University Prevention Research Center, New Haven, Conn.; April 3, 2014, The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, online.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Diabetes Prevention and Stroke #1

Do you have high blood sugar, are at risk for type 2 diabetes, over-weight, or low on exercise time? Do you know someone who is? Have you ever wondered if exercising, losing weight, and living a high-level-healthiness lifestyle really provides any benefits such as reducing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes or dying from heart disease or stroke? Recently released research by a collaboration between China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing and Yale University suggest there are definite benefits. Guangwei Li, M.D. and David Katz, M.D., M.P.H. just reported on a 29 year study. For the study, Li's group randomly assigned 438 patients to the exercise and better-eating program, and another 138 patients to maintain their regular lifestyle. The program was designed to produce weight loss in obese or overweight participants, to reduce carbs and alcohol intake in people of normal weight, and to increase physical activity participants did during their leisure time. (High levels of blood sugar are unhelpful to brain function and can contribute to a higher risk of developing type II diabetes.) More on the research results tomorrow.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Color and the Female Brain

Sensors in  human retina can detect red, green, and blue. What about yellow, orange, brown, purple, and so on? The brain helps you perceive those additional colors and others by mixing different amounts of red, green, and blue. Plus, each human brain "sees" in a slightly different way because each brain is unique. Estimates are that upwards of 15% of human females have an extra or fourth type of color photoreceptor due to a genetic mutation. These individuals can identify color differences that appear identical to most people who have only the three types of color photoreceptors. And the average male  brain, with its higher numbers of "M" cells (for motion) and smaller numbers of "P" cells (for perception) as compared with female brains, may "see" quite differently. It's just another good reason to avoid arguing about colors or about much of anything, for that matter. A three-type color photoreceptor retina will never perceive what a four-type color photoreceptor retina does . . .  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Right or Left Brain

Most people in this country likely know by now that the brain has two hemispheres, each about the size of your fist. Regardless of handedness, speech centers appear to be located in the left hemisphere only. And since the right hemisphere cannot speak, research can pose an interesting challenge. Studies by Dr. Gazzaniga reportedly used an experiment in which the right hemisphere could "talk" by using Scrabble letters. Michio Kaku included some interesting comments in his book The Future of the Mind. When a patient's left brain was asked about plans following graduation, it gave one answer while the right brain spelled out a completely different response.  Neurologist V. S. Ramanchandran reported similar results from a split-brain patient whose left hemisphere said he was an athiest while his right brain spelled out that he was a believer. Hmmm. Perhaps a given human brain is less unified in beliefs and opinions than commonly thought. Might part of your brain be Democratic and part Republican? The implications are mind-boggling!  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Stress and the Female Brain

So it's not "all in her head," or maybe it is! A team of researchers led by NIMH grantee Rita Valentino PhD, and Debra Bangasser, PhD., reported on their study—the first to uncover sex differences in response to stressors at the level of receptor molecules—in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. In females, certain brain cells are more sensitive to Corticotropin Releasing Factor or CRF, both a hormone and a neurotransmitter than is released during stress. In addition, the female brain cells were less able to adapt to too much CRF. The greater coupling of CRF receptors to relay proteins and their inability to internalize could translate into a lower threshold for stress-induced activation of the alarm system. This could increase risk for chronic activation and impair the brain's ability to cope with high levels of CRF, as occurs in depression and PTSD. Males, with their less stress-reactive brain, could conceivably help females perceive stressors in a different way. Saying "It's no big deal; just let it go" is likely to be unhelpful and could even create additional stress to the female brain.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Reports indicate that some 300,000 sports-related traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) occur annually in the United States. Athletes involved in sports such as football, hockey and boxing are at significant risk of TBI due to the high level of contact inherent in these sports. Head injuries are also extremely common in sports such as cycling, baseball, basketball, and skateboarding. Unfortunately, many sports head injuries lead to permanent brain damage or worse. TBI, is the leading cause of death in sports-related accidents. Any failure to identify and treat TBIs is especially harmful to younger individuals, as brain tissue is not fully developed in the brains of adolescents. Head injuries sustained among high school athletes often lead to detrimental damage. Injuries experienced at this stage of development can cause longer-lived symptoms and create vulnerability to further damage if another injury occurs. Other symptoms can include significant decline in school performance, worsening of ADHD symptoms, mood disorders, and impulsive and violent behaviors.

Monday, April 7, 2014

PTSD and Combat Veteran Brains

PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder, is a severe anxiety disorder following a traumatic event. Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, emotional instability and uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Xiaodan Yan, a research fellow at NYU School of Medicine, used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to measure blood-oxygen levels in the brain of 104 combat veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The study evaluated “spontaneous” or “resting” activity in their brains. Yan and colleagues reported that there was spontaneous brain activity in the amygdala, deep in the temporal lobes, involved with emotional responsiveness—the activity was significantly higher in the 52 combat veterans with PTSD as compared with brain activity in the 52 combat veterans without PTSD. The fMRI studies also showed decreased spontaneous activity in the thalamus and dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex. This showed that spontaneous brain activity arises in the brains of those with combat related PTSD even when their brains are at rest.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Epigenetics - Suicide Risk #5

A study has shown that childhood abuse (defined in this study as "sexual contact, severe physical abuse and/or severe neglect") leads to epigenetic modifications of glucocorticoid receptor expression, which play a role in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity. Maternal care influences hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) function in the rat through epigenetic programming of glucocorticoid receptor expression. These findings translate previous results from rat to humans and suggest a common effect of parental care on the epigenetic regulation of hippocampal glucocorticoid receptor expression.  In humans, childhood abuse alters HPA stress responses and increases the risk of suicide. T

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Epigenetics - Pesticides #3

A team of reproductive biologists at the University of Austin ran a study on sexual behavior in animals. They exposed the animals to a common fungicide commonly used by grape growers. One group continued to receive a normal diet without the chemical. They exposed the other group to the pesticide, separated the females from the males with a wire mesh barrier, and then observed them to see if they continued to mate normally. The females were less sexually interested in males who’d been exposed. And what was even more interesting was that for three generations the females tended to ignore the exposed animals and their offspring. The females’ response to the healthy males was unchanged. The females could tell something was wrong with the exposed males, even though they couldn’t see it. The researchers speculated that the pesticide may have turned off or damaged the gene that helps males win females over. They speculated that the same problem may be showing up in humans.
Crews D, Gore A, Hsu T, Dangleben N, Spinetta M, Schallert T, Anway M, Skinner M. "Transgenerational epigenetic imprints on mate preference." Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2007;104(14):5942-6. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Epigenetics - Psychopathology #2

Prenatal stress can have a lasting detrimental impact on psychological health. In a recent study investigating correlations among maternal in pregnancy and methylation in teenagers and their mothers, it has been found that children of women who were abused during pregnancy were significantly more likely than others to have methylated glucocorticoid-receptor genes, which in turn change the response to stress, leading to a higher susceptibility to anxiety. As these sustained epigenetic modifications are established in utero, the researchers consider this to be a plausible mechanism by which prenatal stress may program adult psychosocial function. Prenatal stress is known to alter the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA)-axis regulatory function later in life. Specifically gestational marital discord is associated with psychopathology of the offspring.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Epigenetics - #1

Lately I've had multiple requests for more information on epigenetics or cellular memory as it is often referred to. Accordingly, I will provide some of the research data of which I am aware during this week's blog. I will also include URLs for those who want to read the article themselves. Enjoy. Some of it is pretty mind boggling! The term Epigenetics means outside conventional genetics. It was coined by the developmental biologist Conrad H. Waddington (1905 – 1975). Waddington treated Drosophilia pupa with heat and observed altered wing-vein patterns. This altered phenotype persisted in the population long after the stimulus (heat) was removed, suggesting that exposure to an environmental factor during a critical developmental window could produce a phentotype-change that could last for a lifetime and that could be manifested in subsequent generations. He referred to this phenomenon as “Genetic Assimilation” or “Epigenetics” in modern terminology. It provides a framework to explain the source of variations in individual organisms and also explains what makes cells, tissue, and organs different albeit the identical nature of the genetic information in every cell in the body. (Page 174)