Friday, January 30, 2015

DNA's 64-Letter Alphabet

As you probably already know, the English language consists of a 26-letter alphabet. According to Dr. John Stamatoyannopoulos, U Washington associate professor of genome sciences and of medicine, DNA has a 64-letter (or codon) alphabet that spells out the genetic code. These codon letters are organized into words and sentences called genes - a segment of DNA passed down from parents to child that confers a trait to the offspring. Humans have 25,000-30,000 genes, usually in pairs (one from each parent). A mutation is a change in the spelling of the codon letters in a DNA sequence. Every person’s DNA contains mutations that typically are quite harmless. Some mutations, however, may be responsible for triggering abnormal conditions and specific diseases. Sickle cell anemia, for example, reportedly can be caused by a change in one single gene.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Nature-Nurture Combination

Humans are a combination of nature and nurture. Nature refers to genetics; your chromosomes (and their genes) that contain 99% of all the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) in your brain and body. Nurture refers to epigenetics; your cellular memories, hormones, and how they influence your chromosomes and genes. (Epigenetics sometimes can turn chromosomes on or turn chromosomes off.) If everything goes according to plan, every time your cells replace themselves or divide and multiply, the genetic information is accurately replicated. Unfortunately, this is a complex process and not as fool-proof and straightforward as one might hope.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Your DNA and Chromosome Patterns

The most common patterns appear to be 46 chromosomes and an XX sex chromosome  (female) and 46 chromosomes plus an XY chromosome (male). A chromosome is a piece of coiled DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), two long, twisted strands that contain complementary genetic information, like a picture and its negative (double helix). Tiny, tiny, tiny—but immensely powerful. It appears that 99 % of all the DNA in the human body is found in the chromosomes. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Your Genome

Your genome is a label for who you are genetically; your complete set of genetic information encoded within 23 pairs of chromosomes in the cell nuclei. And what are chromosomes? A chromosome is a piece of coiled DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid); a biomolecule that holds the blueprint for how you, a living organism, was built. You may recall (if you have studied Biology) that chromosome pairs 1-22 are numbered by size and appearance. Normally, they are the same in males and females and come from the person’s two biological parents. The 23rd pair is known as the sex chromosomes. The typical pattern for females is XX and for males an XY combination. This means, of course, that it is the male (who has a Y chromosome) who primarily determines whether his biological child will have two XXs or an XY combination.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Satisfaction with Life Scale

Happiness can be related to one’s satisfaction with life. A Satisfaction with Life Scale, authored by Ed Diener, Robert A. Emmons, Randy J. Larsen and Sharon Griffin as noted in the 1985 article in the Journal of Personality Assessment, is a one-minute survey that can be helpful.

Below are five statements that you may agree or disagree with. Using the 1 - 7 scale below, indicate your agreement with each item by placing the appropriate number on the line preceding that item. Please be open and honest in your responding.

  • 7 - Strongly agree
  • 6 - Agree
  • 5 - Slightly agree
  • 4 - Neither agree nor disagree
  • 3 - Slightly disagree
  • 2 - Disagree
  • 1 - Strongly disagree
____ In most ways my life is close to my ideal.

____ The conditions of my life are excellent.

____ I am satisfied with my life.

____ So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.

____ If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.

Add up the numbers and find your total score in one of the ranges below. 

      • 31 - 35   Extremely satisfied
      • 26 - 30   Satisfied
      • 21 - 25   Slightly satisfied
      • 20 -        Neutral
      • 15 - 19   Slightly dissatisfied
      • 10 - 14   Dissatisfied
      •   5 - 9     Extremely dissatisfied 
My brain’s opinion? If your score shows you are anything but satisfied, take this as a clue that you may need to make some significant changes in your life. More information:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Brain and Flow

Do you know how you feel when you are genuinely happy? Many people do not. They equate happiness either with boisterous euphoria or over-the-top laughter, neither of which may represent genuine happiness. Some describe happiness as being in “flow.” Researcher and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has described the flow experience as one in which individuals perceive: 

  • time is flying
  • things are clicking along almost effortlessly
  • the activity is rewarding and they’d like to repeat it
  • they have some control over the activity
  • complete absorption in the activity
  • they are in the zone or in the groove 
Can you identify a time or times when this was true for you? What were you doing?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Childhood Beliefs

Are you a happy person? Could you be happier? You might want to return in memory to your childhood and view it with adult eyes. Ask yourself: What was the atmosphere like in my family-of-origin? Since you subconsciously absorb beliefs and attitudes and learn a great deal during the first few years of life (especially birth to age 5), dig to discover what your brain absorbed. For example, did any of these beliefs find their way into your brain’s memory banks:

  •  Life is serious business - so stop fooling around
  • Life is hard - and then you die
  • Stop laughing - it's disrespectful 
  • Life is a downhill slide into old age – and maybe Alzheimer’
  • Quit being so silly - grow up will you
  • Pull yourself together and stop giggling – you’re embarrassing me
For a child’s developing brain, these types of attitudes can lead to fear, discouragement, sadness, apprehension, and even anger--all of which can be a "fur piece" (as some of the old timers used to put it) from happiness.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Brain and Happiness

Quite often I receive questions from individuals asking how they can be “happy.” Since happiness is a personal perception, no one can tell someone else how to be happy. It is an individual journey. However, there are some general principles to consider.  Remember, everything starts and ends in the brain. Yours. When replying to those questions I typically suggest that one place to begin is by finding out all your can about your family-of-origin. “But I was a foster child or adopted or homeless,” you may say, “and I don’t know my biological family.” Since you are a combination of nature and nurture, (nature representing biology and nurture standing for the environment), review what you do know about either one or both. Did you hear about any family history of happiness or unhappiness? At conception you received some cellular memories from your biological ancestors and from conception onward you began building cellular memories related to your environment. Remember, in adulthood many people either replicate what they know from childhood or go for 180 degrees different  (and I typically add that 180 degrees from dysfunctional is still dysfunctional). Do you gravitate toward joy and pleasantness or do you choose to be around people who are unhappy and unpleasant? 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Longevity Lifestyle Matters

Today begins the first-ever 12-week seminar based on the book I co-authored entitled: Longevity Lifestyle Matters—Keeping Your Brain, Body, and Weight in the Game. It is being presented by the Pacific Health Education Center in Bakersfield, California, with CEO Steve Horton, MPH, Sharlet M. Briggs, PhD, and yours truly. For at least the last decade, emerging research has strongly suggested that lifestyle matters more than you may think; in fact it matters at least as much as genetics in most cases. Half the factors that influence aging are within your partial of not complete control. In fact, it may matter significantly more than genetics. According to Drs Roisen and Oz, 70% percent of how long and how well you live is in your hands. The authors and a group os wellness coaches will be working with the very first class, a group of individuals who have decided to take into their own hands what they can impact--and are committed to doing so for as long as they live. They will also have the option of becoming charter members of Club 122 Longevity. Stay tuned for periodic updates.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Use it or Lose it

Common wisdom is that muscle tissue changes with use. People who have been on forced bed rest for several weeks are often amazed at how much muscle strength and tone has been lost and how much needs to be rebuilt. THis gave rise to the saying: use it or lose it. Turns out that although the brain is not muscle tissue, per se, it operates on a similar principle: use it or lose it. Use it in ways that studies have shown to be challenging and stimulating to the brain, and this brain activity will lead to various parts of the brain growing larger and stronger. In other words, you can change your brain’s anatomy as well as some of its chemical and electrical patterns and activity. This is so powerful that 30 minutes of challenging brain stimulation every day, 10 minutes of reading aloud, and 12 minutes of meditation/prayer may even slow the onset of symptoms of aging. What are you waiting for? If your schedule doesn't include these three brain gifts, it’s a good time of the year to get started . . .

Friday, January 16, 2015

Eavesdrop on Your Brain

One way to get a handle on your self-talk is through meditation (prayer is a form of meditation). It changes your brain. MRI scans have shown that people who meditate regularly show an increase in size in several parts of the brain. They have large frontal lobes (where the brain’s executive functions are located), they increase the amount of gray matter in the midbrain (that handles functions such as blood circulation and breathing) and in the prefrontal cortex (involved with active memory), and so on. And only 12 minutes day of contemplative prayer has been shown to strengthen the frontal lobes of the brain—an anti-aging strategy. Studies have even shown that people who meditate or pray regularly have less brain atrophy. Every brain is different so every brain’s meditative experience will be different. I like to take a few minutes to “eavesdrop,’ to “listen in” to my brain. After all, I won’t know if I don’t eavesdrop!). Then I bring my thoughts to focus toward something I have chosen to contemplate. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Your Self-Talk Patterns

You can choose to do something about your thoughts and self-talk patterns only when you know what they are. Some researchers suggest “listening in on your brain.” Sit quietly for just a few minutes, awake but with your eyes closed, and “listen” to the conversations going on in your brain. That’s step one. Next, you need to decide if what you “hear” is the message that you want to give to your brain. If not, you can choose to alter what you are thinking and saying. That’s one of the benefits touted by forms of meditation. Some also advocate that you develop a pattern of talking to your brain as “you.” They think this acknowledges that the mind and brain, although connected, may also be separate in function. Instead of, “I am exercising this morning for 15 minutes,” try, “You exercise this morning for 15 minutes and you feel great.”  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Your Brain's Conversations

What you think consciously impacts what happens subconsciously. What you think and say shapes and redirects your brain’s chemical and electrical activity, to say nothing of changing your brain’s anatomy. That is what is so critical about your self-talk. Whether you say it aloud or just think it quietly and internally, your brain hears what you say and think. That speaks to the old axiom: if you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. The brain can only do what it thinks it can do—and what it thinks it can do is impacted by your thoughts and self-talk. Many people are believed to limit themselves of what they could do or be or contribute because of their limiting self-talk, their belief in what they are not and cannot do. What can you do about your self-talk patterns? 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Brain's Rewiring

The brain spends energy in rebuilding, rewiring, and renewing itself. According to Dr. Edlund in The Power of Rest, this includes rebuilding the rest of the body. (Remember, everything starts and ends in the brain.) Except for some brief periods of sleep, cells and organs in the body continually communicate with the brain. Yes, this is below your level of consciousness, but it is happening nevertheless. Dr. Marcus Raichle coined the term “default mode,” a label to describe the electrical and blood flow patterns seen when the brain is passively resting. Although a tremendous amount seems to be going on in default mode, scientists don’t quite know what most of it is—at least not yet.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Brain's Dark Energy

Estimates are that the brain uses about 20-25 percent of the body’s total fuel consumption (even though the brain is about two percent of your total weight). What does it use this energy for, what does it do with it? According to Matthew Edlund, MD, in The Power of Rest, “most of the time and energy the brain uses is spent “talking to itself.” He references work by Neuroscientist Marcus Raichle, reported in an article in Science magazine (“The Brain’s Dark Energy”). He used the metaphor of dark energy because so much of what the brain does is unknown. In fact, Dr. Raichle estimates that between 60-80 percent of the brain’s total energy consumption is used communicating between individual neurons and their support cells. It would be fascinating to know exactly what they are saying to each other.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Mediterranean Cuisine and Telomeres, 3

There is continuing interest in the relationship between telomere length and aging and what can contributes to longer telomeres. U.S. researchers, led by Immaculata De Vivo, Associate Professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, studied whether following a Mediterranean style of eating was associated with longer telomere length. After adjusting for other potentially influential factors, the results show that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was significantly associated with longer telomeres. Interestingly, longer telomere length reflected the overall Mediterranean dietary pattern and not just one factor within that pattern. A Mediterranean style of eating is also being recommended for prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Marta Crous-Bou et al. Mediterranean diet and telomere length in Nurses’ Health Study: population based cohort study. BMJ 2014;349:g6674; DOI: 10.1136/bmj.g6674 (open access)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Mediterranean Cuisine and Tolomeres, 2

Elizabeth Blackburn, working with Joseph Gall at Yale University is generally credited with discovering the unusual nature of telomeres that function like caps at the ends of chromosomes. Their work was published in 1978. Blackburn, Greider, and Szostak received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2009, for discovering how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and how Telomerase can help protect the telomeres—help keep them longer. (In some types of cancers, telomerase is hyperactive.) If you are interested in telomeres, you may want to listen to a 2008 YouTube presentation that was recorded by Blackburn talking about aging and telomeres. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mediterranean Cuisine and Telomeres

To understand the connection between a Mediterranean style of eating and telomeres, you need to know what telomeres are and do. It’s complicated but here’s what I understand. A chromosome is a strand of DNA along which are distributed genes (estimates are that your chromosomes contain 25,000 - 30,000 genes). Generally at the time of conception you received 46 chromosomes--23 from each parent--plus an XX or an XY. When cells in your body divide, the DNA (which encodes who you are as a human being) must divide and replicate, as well. Apparently DNA replication does not begin at either end of the DNA strand, but starts in the middle. The telomeres cap off each end of each DNA strand (like the little plastic pieces on each end of a shoelace). These telomere “caps” get a bit shorter with each replication unless they are balanced by the enzyme Telomerase, which can help prevent the shortening. More tomorrow. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Hug a Day Keeps the Doctor Away? Part 2

Research at Carnegie Mellon University studying the impact of conflict and social support—including hugging by trusted persons—found that:

  • Perceived social support reduced the risk of infection associated with experiencing conflicts
  • Hugs were responsible for one-third of the protective effect of social support
  • Among participants who became infected, greater perceived social support and more frequent hugs both resulted in less severe illness symptoms whether or not they experienced conflicts 

Sheldon Cohen, who led the study, said that the research” suggests that being hugged by a trusted person may act as an effective means of conveying support and that increasing the frequency of hugs might be an effective means of reducing the deleterious effects of stress. The apparent protective effect of hugs may be attributable to the physical contact itself or to hugging being a behavioral indicator of support and intimacy. Either way, those who receive more hugs are somewhat more protected from infection." Hmm. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Hug a Day Keeps the Doctor Away?

Are you a “hugger?” My brain has never pushed me in that direction, per se. Perhaps that came from being raised in a family where I don’t recall much hugging. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, I hugged my pets and sometimes close friends (but not always as hugging was never a measure of how much I cared about and valued a specific individual). It’s commonly understood that ongoing stressors such as conflict with others can reduce immune system function and increase the risk of infection. And the brain and immune system have their hands in each other's pockets, so to speak. Recently research by scientists at Carnegie Mellon University looked at conflict and social support—including hugging by trusted persons—and its association with risk of infection and with severity of illness symptoms. Lead researcher Sheldon Cohen and associates assessed 404 healthy individuals including the frequencies of interpersonal conflicts and receiving hugs. The 404 participants were then exposed to a cold virus and quarantined to assess for infection and symptoms of illness. What do you suppose they found? More tomorrow. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

TV and Longevity

It's the day after New Year's. On this second year of 2015 you might want to take a moment and figure out how much television you watch on a daily basis. One reported daily average in the United States is 4 hours a day; 3 hours a day in Australia. Recently I ran across the results of a six-year study of 8,800 Australian men and women (over age 25 with no history of heart disease) that was reported in the journal Circulation. Those who watched more than 4 hours of TV a day had an 80% increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease over the 6-year time period as compared with people who watched 2 hours or less each day. The bottom line conclusion of the study? Too much TV is bad for your health. You may want to check out an article by Mark Stibich,  PhD, on the topic.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year

New Year's Day. A fresh start to the next year and the first day of the rest of my life. It’s the best day because it is today and I am alive and well. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it: Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. Take a moment. Be grateful for another year lived a day at a time. What is your dream for this year? Start on it today. Dreams are what give birth to progress . . . I have some dreams for this year and I know I’ll make mistakes. In the words of Neil Gaiman: “Hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something.” Embrace mistakes—they’re a signal that you’re human. The only people who make no mistakes are those that have died! Avoid embarrassment about mistakes. Embarrassment is a choice, so stop choosing it. I know I’ll make mistakes this year, learn from them (hopefully) and get busy making more. Have a happy day and a wonderful year!