Friday, December 30, 2016

Personality Disorders and Brain Pain

The online Free Dictionary describes ‘empathy’ as the ability to identify with or understand the perspective, experiences, or motivations of another individual and to comprehend and share another's emotional state. No surprise, some mental conditions such as antisocial personality disorder tend to be characterized by callousness, little if any remorse, manipulation of others, and lack of empathy. Can this be seen in brain scans? fMRI studies at the University of Chicago Department of Psychology revealed that the brains of individuals with antisocial personality disorder may be wired differently. fMRI results showed that these brains can be very sensitive to the thought of their own pain but the physical or social pain of others did not register as it did in the brains of individuals without this mental disorder. In addition, researchers found that when imagining others in physical or social pain, the brains of those with an antisocial personality disorder tended to show an increased response in a brain region known to be involved in the perception of pleasure. This is yet another reason to learn to recognize brain pathology as quickly as possible and take steps to protect yourself and be safe.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Brain Physical vs Social Pain

The question becomes, “Do all brains register physical pain when they observe physical or social pain in others?” The outcome of a study printed in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (“Familiarity Promotes the Blurring of Self and Other in the Neural Representation of Threat") suggests that the answer is no. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), James Coan PhD, a psychology professor in University of Virginia's College of Arts & Sciences, found that the human brain tends to compartmentalize others, placing people who are in your social network and who you love and feel close to in one bucket and strangers in another. Dr. Coan says that those in the first bucket actually become linked with your sense of self at a neurobiological level. Whether your brain responds to the threat of pain to yourself or an empathic response to the threat of pain to someone you love, the posterior insular cortex tends to be activated. This region has been liked with the sensory processing of physical pain as well as emotion, self-awareness, and some aspects of cognitive function. (This response was less strong when study participants were observing the threat of pain to a stranger.) This may help to explain pathological behaviors observed in terrorism or in some types of mental illness. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Brain Pain Is Brain Pain

In a sense, as far as the brain is concerned, ‘pain is pain.’ You may have heard yourself or others describe experiences of social rejection as being painful. The question has been whether such descriptions are more metaphorical than physical. Researchers have been studying if there is something really ‘painful’ about social pain and the experience of rejection or exclusion. Accumulating evidence is showing that social pain—the painful emotional experience that tends to follow social rejection, exclusion, or loss—relies on some of the same neural circuitry that is involved in processing physical pain. Not only that, social pain activates portions of the same brain regions and circuits that are activated by physical pain. According to Tor Wagner PhD at the University of Colorado in Boulder and lead author of a study on physical pain versus social pain, “Of all the things I’ve observed in the brain, nothing is more similar to physical pain than social pain.” Discoveries in Italy by neuroscientists Dr. Giorgia Silani and colleagues have found that social pain activates the same brain regions as occurs with physical pain (a broken heart may register and hurt in the brain as much as a broken bone, and social pain can be felt again and again long after a physical pain has healed). Simply witnessing the social pain of another person activated a similar physical pain response of empathy in most study participants. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Brain and Social Pain

Holidays are a mixed bag; typically a combination of joy and pain. Some time ago brain researchers identified regions in the brain that appear to register physical pain. More recently, scientists have been studying social pain and its fingerprint in the brain. There are many different types of social pain, such as: being the recipient of bullying behaviors; illness or death of someone you care about deeply; a romantic break-up or a relational breach between you and someone you thought was a good friend; rejection due to gender, race, culture, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation; a sense of not fitting in for any number of reasons; separation due to serving in the armed forces, being excluded from social activities or connections you wanted to experience; and the distress of separation exhibited and experienced by the young (children as well as animals). No doubt you can think of other examples. Researchers have concluded from the study results that social pain activates similar brain circuits whether you are suffering the emotional pain personally or experiencing the pain as an empathetic response to another person's social pain. More tomorrow.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Boxing Day

It’s Boxing Day and all through my place, the boxes are gone, both crate and case. This year instead of celebrating boxing day on December 26th (it used to be a big deal during my childhood in Canada), I decided to vary that tradition by commemorating it in advance. I’ve never been particularly fixated on things, but since the 2014 earthquake I’m more aware than ever that things are just things. What I truly value most by far are my connections with the brains and hearts of others. On my death bed—I hope at the age of at least 122 years 165 days, since it would be fun to live a day longer than did Jeanne Louise Calment of Arles, France—I doubt I will be thinking about things I have owned, rather about the brains and hearts I have loved over a lifetime. You might want to make your own list of treasured individuals and take this opportunity to tell them how grateful you are that they are in your life and how much you love them. Do it on Boxing Day or choose a Gratitude Day at another time of year. Just do it. Life is uncertain and someday you may be very glad you did. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Sayings #1

A friend of mine sent me a collection of ‘sayings.’ My brain found many of them quite humorous so I’ll share some from time to time. Here are the first eight.

1.   I find it ironic that the colors red, white, and blue stand for freedom, until they're flashing behind you.
2.   Today a man knocked on my door and asked for a small donation towards the local community swimming pool, so I gave him a glass of water.
3.   If I had a dollar for every girl that found me unattractive, they'd eventually find me attractive.
4.   I changed my password to ‘incorrect’ so whenever I forget it the computer will say, "Your password is incorrect."
5.   Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity. Artificial intelligence is often fixable; stupidity is not.
6.   I'm great at multi-tasking; I can waste time, be unproductive, and procrastinate all at once.
7. You'd think in this day and age that Santa would be using an iPad, traveling by rocket, and unlocking a door with electronic gadgetry rather than risking a sooty chimney.
8.   If you can smile when things go wrong, you may have someone in mind to blame.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Unreliability and Creepiness

One of my top red flags for 'creepiness' is unreliability, and I pay attention. Genuine friendships tend to be reliable. That doesn’t mean that situations never crop up that require a change of plans. It does mean that those instances are rare and usually due to a good reason: your mother was just admitted to the hospital with a heart attack or your beloved pet just died or the plane is grounded somewhere in Canada due to a blizzard or your car has gone missing from a handicapped parking spot in broad daylight no less. By all means be open to developing new friendships but take your time and do so reflectively, deliberately, wisely, and judiciously. When in doubt, back off and observe for a while. Your brain is your greatest resource and interested ally—it really does want the best for both of you and tries to get your attention and give you information by triggering emotions. Meantime enjoy your connections with tried and true friends, who give your brain no red flags. By chance if you are the one exhibiting red-flag messages, take a long hard look at yourself and choose to develop healthier and more functional behaviors. The holiday season can be a great opportunity to practice and hone them.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Creepiness and Red-Flags

Providing you with red-flag cues that another person may be ‘creepy’ is a function of fear, one of the four core emotions. It is designed to alert you to the fact that you may be in danger, providing you with information to process as you consider whether or not you really want to get to know the individual better or choose to back away—perhaps sooner than later. Some behaviors seem to align with giving off an impression of ‘creepiness’ although your brain may try to alert you without your having directly witnessed overt negative behaviors. Poor hygiene can be a red flag; the person lacking good self-care or seeming uncaring about the impression they make on others. Then there is getting a dead-pan stare or not being looked at all. Inappropriate touching is another. Unpredictability can be another. One moment they are cheerful and pleasant and the next they are moody and silent. One minute they are all over you and the next you are completely ignored as if you have ceased to exist. One second you are chatting and the next they are phubbing you; checking out of the conversation in favor of checking in with their cell phone, just in case they might have a call. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Creepiness Signals

Being creeped out is something to pay attention to and analyze. It is likely the brain’s way of getting you to pay more attention to something that could turn out to be a threat. My work with women who had been dated-raped revealed that often they had some sense of dis-ease with the person or felts something was a bit ‘off’—and they ignored it or tried to rationalize it away. Never dismiss such reactions or responses out of hand. Pay attention even when you cannot specifically define the reason you are experiencing the sensation. Some even have described their reaction as “feeling momentarily cold, almost like having a chill.” The brain picks up millions of data points per second as it scans the background environment, as it were. You could not concentrate on anything if you were trying to decode and understand all those sensory stimuli. There can be many reasons for the brain perceiving that something is ‘off.’ When it does, however, the only way it can get your attention is by surfacing one of the core protective emotions in the hope that you ‘listen up.’ 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Creepiness and the Brain

The first empirical study on the common psychological experience of feeling creeped out (that I am aware of) was conducted by Francis T. McAndrew and Sara S. Koehnke of the Department of Psychology, Knox College, Galesburg, IL. The article On the Nature of Creepiness” was published in New Ideas in Psychology, March 2016. The researchers propose that creepy is a qualitatively different characteristic as compared with concepts such as being terrified or disgusted. In those situations the conclusions drawn about the person in question are much more clear-cut. Rather it may be related to the brain’s agency-detection mechanisms. Some study conclusions were:


  • Individuals perceived as creepy are more likely to be males
  • Some occupations and hobbies are more strongly linked with creepiness than others (with clowns leading the list)
  • Females are more likely to perceive sexual threat from an individual perceived as creepy
  • The trait of unpredictability is an important component of creepiness

Friday, December 16, 2016

Petrichor and the Brain

Can you tell by smell that rain is coming? Some brains can. If there is lightening, ozone may be present and may be carried down from the clouds. There are several scents associated with rainfall that many enjoy—if their brain can decode odors. As it falls, rain—being water—is odorless. But when it hits the earth, something happens. What people find pleasing about rain is due, at least in part, to something called petrichor. Actually, the word petrichor was coined by two Australian scientists in 1964 when they were studying the smells of wet weather. The word is a combination of the Greek word petra, meaning stone, and ichor, that comes from Greek mythology, the fluid that supposedly flowed in the veins of the gods. The odor known as petrichor tends to linger when rain comes after a long dry spell. The scientists found that an oil is released by some plants during dry periods and is absorbed by clay-based soils and rocks. When it rains, the oil is released into the air along with some other compounds. Interestingly, light rain tends to produce more aerosols.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Altering Odortype

What can alter your odortype? If you eat a great deal of garlic, it can impact your breath for 24-28 hours, and if you are sweating a lot, sometimes it can temporarily alter the odor of your sweat. Many people are familiar with stress-related odors. When you are stressed, you tend to secrete more apocrine from the apocrine sweat glands in your armpits. In combination with the bacteria on your skin, this milky fluid, most commonly secreted in the presence of emotional stress, can create a rather unpleasant odor. Drinking plenty of fluids, practicing good body hygiene, using appropriate deodorants, and taking appropriate steps to manage emotional stressors, can help reduce these stress-related odors. Some very rare conditions can impact one’s odortype, as well. For example, a genetic disorder known as trimethylaminuria (TMAU), which affects about 1 in 200,000 people. They don’t process trimethlamine efficiently and it tends to build up in the body, resulting in a fishy odor in urine, sweat, reproductive fluids, and breath.

[http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/trimethylaminuria/Pages/Introduction.aspx]

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Odortype-Perfume Link

Does your odortype impact how perfume and aftershave scents work on your body versus another’s body? The general consensus seems to be ‘yes,’ at some level, although with newer methods of preparation perhaps not as much as it used to be in the past. Nevertheless, a study by Andrew McDougall, a leading scientist, concluded that people pick their perfume not only for its fragrance but also for how it will interact with their underlying body odor. (http://www.cosmeticsdesign-europe.com/Formulation-Science/Body-odour-actually-complements-the-fragrance-you-wear). Many factors can impact how a specific fragrance smells in combination with your own chemical makeup, so selecting a fragrance by sniffing the bottle doesn’t tell you how that scent will smell on your skin. Factors may include the ambient temperature in the environment as well as your own body temperature, gender and race, medications you may be taking, what you eat, whether or not you are perspiring, if your skin is dry or normal or oily, and if you have used lotion prior to spraying on a fragrance or splashing on aftershave. And the scent tends to change over the course of time, too, meaning that the scent of the fragrance initially may be quite different from what you perceive a couple hours later. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Scents and Memories

An odor, scent, or fragrance involves one or more chemical compounds that become volatized, typically at a very low concentration, and that humans perceive by the sense of olfaction (or smell). Over time, different words have come to be associated with negative or positive scents. For example, in many parts of the world the word odor typically has a negative connotation, even indicating that something stinks or reeks. Scents or aromas typically refer to something pleasant. The term smell, when used as a noun, is used for both unpleasant as well as pleasant odors. Memories related to odors, scents, or fragrances can be very powerful. Olfactory receptors in the brain link directly with the limbic system or mammalian layer, the part of the brain where emotional impulses arise. Emotional memories that are connected with smells, therefore, can be very powerful—positively or negatively, depending on the situation and what you smelled at the time. A study led by C. Bushdid estimated that humans can discriminate among more than one trillion olfactory stimuli—nothing like the sensitivity exhibited by dogs such as bloodhounds and beagles, but pretty impressive nevertheless.

Your Unique Odortype

In the same way that your brain is unique—there has never been one just like it every before and there will never be another identical to it ever again—and you have unique fingerprints, you possess a unique odortype. According to researchers, your odortype, your genetically determined body odor, acts like an olfactory nametag. This helps to distinguish one person from another. It may even play a part you selecting a mate. Your odortype is determined in part by genes in a genomic region called the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), which plays a role in the immune system. The type of food you eat can influence your body odor; garlic for example, especially if you eat a lot of it. Can you completely mask or alter your odortype by what you eat? Apparently not. Studies have shown that chemical analyses could still detect an underlying odortype. According to study author Gary Beauchamp, a behavioral biologist, this suggests that electric sensors can be developed to detect individual odortypes as well as body odor differences linked with diseases. These sensors potentially could assist with early detection and rapid diagnosis of conditions such as skin and lung cancers and perhaps some specific viral diseases.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Brain and Smell

The olfactory nerve or CN1, the first of 12 cranial nerves located within the head, is responsible for decoding sensory stimuli that result in the brain interpreting the data as ‘smells.’ Like the optical nerve, the olfactory nerve does not connect with the brain stem—the only two cranial nerves for which this is true. Apparently, smell exists only inside your own brain. Your sense of smell gives rise to the perception of odors. Millions of olfactory receptor neurons are found in a small patch of tissue (olfactory epithelium) located in back of the nasal cavity. The neurons function as sensory signaling cells. Each neuron has cilia (tiny hair-like projections) that are in direct contact with air. Airborne particles that enter the nasal cavity interact with these neuron receptors. Common odors that you are accustomed to, such as your own body odor, are less noticeable to you than external or uncommon odors due to habituation. The sense of smell tires quickly after continuous exposure to an odor but recovers rapidly after the odor stimulus is removed. Environmental conditions can impact the process of ‘smelling.’ For example, when the air is cool and dry, odors usually are more easily distinguishable by the brain. Blunt trauma damage to the olfactory nerve can lead to a reduced or even absent sense of smell. Nasal pain typically will still register in the brain, however, because pain is transmitted by the trigeminal nerve. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Brain and Taste, 5

How well you taste is also impacted by how well you smell. What you perceive as taste is a complex interaction of tongue-tasting and nose-smelling.  Chewing your food forces air up into your nose, which carries chemicals that trigger olfactory receptors. The olfactory receptors are distance chemoreceptors, meaning they do not have to make direct contact with the food itself. They pick up the chemical odors and translate them into electrical signals that travel to the brain via the nervous system. Together your taste buds and olfactory receptors notify the brain of what they are picking up and the sensation of ‘flavor’ is created. The gustatory cortex located near the back of the brain next to centers that control chewing and swallowing, decode taste. Estimates are that about 25% of the population are ‘supertasters.’ They have a heightened sense of taste, due in part to a higher density of taste buds and to subtle brain differences in how taste is decoded. As you enjoy your ability to smell and taste, thank the taste buds on your tongue, the olfactory receptors in your nose--and the decoding centers in your brain. Without them, your life would definitely be lacking in flavor.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Brain and Taste, 4

The tongue appears not to be divided into taste sections as originally believed. Put a bit of sugar or salt on different sections of your tongue and your taste buds can pick up their chemicals anywhere. What can impact your taste? Colds, flu, allergies, or anything that makes your nose stuffy, which reduces the flow of chemicals to your olfactory receptors. Smoking can reduce the number of taste buds you have on your tongue, which can reduce taste intensity. So can the aging process. As you grow older your taste buds may not get replaced properly. An older person may only have 5,000 working taste buds instead of 8,000-10,000, which can impact the intensity of flavors. Loss of smell is one of the initial symptoms in degenerative neurological diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Brain and Taste, 3

Taste buds are able to sense five distinct tastes: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami or savory. Each on is linked to specific chemicals in foods. Generally, most human beings find salty, sweet, and umami foods quite pleasant. Sour and bitter tastes may register as being rather unpleasant. Three cranial nerves are responsible for carrying the chemicals that your taste buds pick up from food to the brain. Taste is ultimately decoded as flavor in the brain (not in the taste buds):

·         The facial nerve carries signals from the front two-thirds of the tongue
·         The glossopharyngeal nerve transmits signals from the back portion of the tongue
·         The vagus nerve conveys signals from the soft palate and epiglottis


More tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Brain and Taste, 2

Each taste bud, formed from a group of 50–150 receptor cells, is embedded in the surface of the tongue and makes contact with what you eat and drink via a taste pore. Different tongues have differing numbers of taste buds, ranging from 8,000-10,000 on average. Some individuals may have only a few hundred taste buds per square centimeter on the tip of their tongue, while others may have a thousand. Taste sensations produced within an individual taste bud also vary, since each taste bud typically contains receptor cells that respond to distinct chemical stimuli. This means that differing tastes are diverse in a single taste bud. Taste buds have sensitive microscopic hairs called microvilli that are direct chemoreceptors. They must come into contact with food and then they translate chemical signals in food into electrical signals that travel to the brain via the nervous system. Taste buds replace themselves every 10-14 days so if you decide to start eating healthier foods you can get accustomed to them quite quickly. More tomorrow.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Brain and Taste

Recently I overheard a group of people complaining about the aging of their brains and bodies. Yes, everyone alive is aging. Your brain and body is absolutely amazing, however, although it can be easy to lose sight of everything it does for you on a daily basis. As one person put it, there are miracles going on in your brain and body every second of your life—and you might want to thank them for everything they make possible. As you look ahead to the holidays, anticipation of familiar foods may come to mind. Taste and smell are two senses that not only are quite complex but also have a major impact on behavior, perception, obesity, dementia, depression, overall health, memories, and some chronic illnesses. No surprise, they also influence your enjoyment of a great many things including the romantic impact of your partner along with the pleasure you receive from foods and beverages. Taste and smell work together hand-in-hand to create flavors in the brain. More tomorrow.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Zeigarnik Effect

Have you gotten stuck with a song replaying itself over and over in your head? A Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik (1900-1988) reportedly first described what is now known as the Zeigarnik Effect in her doctoral thesis in 2917, which may help to explain that. It is a tendency for the brain to remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than those that have been completed. In a similar way, you may have found yourself thinking again and again about some task that is only partly done and you know you need to finish it. Back to the song replaying endlessly inside your head. What can you do? If you know the song well enough, repeat or sing or hum the last verse or the last chorus and immediately choose to think about something else. This sends a signal to your brain that the song (the task) is finished and it is time to move on to something else. There have been times I had to repeat this action two or three times but it usually works—my brain moves on to something else.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Superman Stance and Cortisol

By now there have been enough studies to show that there is a link between your behaviors and how your feel. For example, just curving your lips into a smile alters your brain’s neurochemistry. In a similar way, some believe that the Superman Stance can positively impact the immune system. What does that look like? Stand with your feet flat on the floor about 12 inches apart. Place your hands on your hips, pull your shoulders back, and hold your head up high. Hold this pose for 1 minutes while brain breathing (inhale through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 12, breathe out through pursed lips for a count of 8). Reportedly this may drop your cortisol levels by 20-30%. Whenever I feel tense for some reason, using the Superman Stance accompanied by 10-15 brain breaths is immensely helpful—for me. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Brain and Ice Cream, 3

It’s important to be clear about what any study is ‘studying’ and what the results actually mean. While ice cream may be better than nothing for the brain, you may want to look at the big picture before choosing ice cream for breakfast. One source of nutritional data on ice cream described a typical scoop this way: one 3.5-ounce serving of vanilla ice cream contains 125 calories, 7 grams of fat, and 14 grams of sugar. Fourteen grams of sugar is likely to trigger a blood-sugar high in the brain followed by a corresponding blood-sugar low that pushes the brain to want to reverse the blood-sugar low. And it will often do this by grabbing a donut, sweet roll, sugary drink or candy bar. A roller-coaster of blood sugar levels are unhelpful for overall and long-term brain function. This study reaffirms, in my brain’s opinion, that the brain does better when it gets breakfast after waking from a night’s sleep—and will likely do better yet with foods that contain healthier proteins and carbs. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Brain and Ice Cream, 2

Some perceived the study results as implying that ice cream improves brain function, period, and wrote to say they were going to allow their kids to have ice cream for breakfast after all. What may be happening here? A couple of things. First, the brain is ‘fasting’ while you sleep (unless you’re hooked up to some type of nutritional source). It needs some nutrition first thing in the morning to help it ‘boot up’ and function well. After all, that’s the definition of breakfast: giving the brain some food to break the fast. According to Katie Barfoot, a Nutritional Psychology Doctoral Researcher at Reading University, a possible explanation for the increased alertness observed in the study may simply eating breakfast versus not eating breakfast. Secondly, the brain needs water to function and it works better when the ambient temperature is cooler rather than hotter. Drinking cold water may help to cool the brain but it doesn’t trigger the same level of increased alertness, since water doesn’t provide nutrition in the form of calories. More tomorrow.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Brain and Ice Cream

You may have heard about the study by a professor at Kyorin University in Tokyo who decided to study the impact of ice cream—first thing in the morning—and the brain. According to the Abstract, researchers gave participants three spoonful’s (don’t know how big the spoons were) of ice cream first thing in the morning. The study participants were then asked to do a series of exercises on a computer. Turns out that those who ate the ice cream were better able to process the information and had a faster reaction time as compared with those who had not eaten anything in the morning. The researchers repeated the study asking participants to drink ice-cold water. Although the ‘alertness’ results were similar, the effect was smaller compared to when patients ate ice cream. What may be happening in the brain? More tomorrow.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Lexophilia and Lexophiles, 9

1.   I thought I saw an eye-doctor on an Alaskan island, but it 
    turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
2.   She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.
3.   No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.
4.   Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
5.   A dog gave birth to puppies beside the road and was cited for littering.
6.   A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.
7.   Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
8.   I used to be a banker, but then I lost interest.

9.   Two hats were hanging on a rack. One hat said to the other, "You stay here; I'll go on ahead."

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Brain, Gratitude, and Quality Time

It is Thanksgiving Day in the USA—a time to celebrate the quality of being grateful. And to practice it! Neurobiologically, gratitude is right up there with awe and wonder and the benefits are myriad. Doctors have pointed out that when you pause to appreciate and show caring and compassion, the more order and coherence you experience internally. When your heart is in an ‘internal coherence state,’ studies suggest that you enjoy the capacity to be peaceful and calm yet retain the ability to respond appropriately to stressful circumstances. I choose to practice gratitude on a daily basis. So what makes Thanksgiving Day more unique than any other day? On this day I pause to be specifically grateful for those individuals who love me enough to give me quality time throughout the year by phone, text, email, snailmail—and sometimes in person (how deliciously rewarding). I refer to them as my ‘family-of-choice’ because a gift of time is a personal choice. It is the only thing your brain can give another brain that no one else can. So for their quality time I am truly grateful. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, my wish for you today is that you both give and receive the gift of ‘quality time.’

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hugs and Health, 3

Hugs. “But,” you may say: “I don’t like to hug other people!” So hug a pet; hug a body pillow at night (some say that the pressure against your skin (assuming you sleep without being swathed in cloth) gives your brain the sense of a hug. Now that studies are showing the benefits of hugging, you have a choice: develop the skills of hugging valued family and friends or of hugging a pet or pillow. Remember, Sheldon Cohen PhD studied the impact of ‘hugs’ in helping to protect stressed people from getting sick and found that hugs were responsible for one-third of the protective effect the research revealed. I did not grow up being hugged—in fact, my wonderful little French Grandmother was not a hugger (she hugged by preparing wonderful meals whenever she visited us). Dr. Cohen reportedly said that 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. Whatever, in adulthood, I now hug selected individuals—around the world—and have learned to enjoy the reward immensely. I believe it positively contributes to my brain-body health.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hugs and Health, 2

Neurologist Shekar Raman MD reportedly said, ‘A hug, pat on the back, and even a friendly handshake are processed by the reward center in the central nervous system, which is why they can have a powerful impact on the human psyche, making us feel happiness and joy… And it doesn't matter if you're the toucher or touchee. The more you connect with otherson even the smallest physical levelthe happier you'll be.’ Psychotherapist Virginia Satir posited that you need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs a day for maintenance, and twelve hugs a day for growth. Some have suggested that this may represent some type of ‘hug threshold’ that triggers your brain and body to produce ample amounts of oxytocin, the naturally occurring substance released in response to physical touch. How much do you hug? Did your family members routinely share hugs with each other and close friends? Fortunately, hugging is a learned skill that you can develop any time you choose to do so. Hug for your brain-body health.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Hugs and Health

Do hugs have any link with health? Studies indicate that there are many positives, perhaps more so that you might believe. Research on the benefits to the brain from giving and receiving hugs has identified many positives. Of course, positivity relates to genuine hugs where trust is present, and when this occurs, they trigger your body to release oxytocin, a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. This substance is designed to enhance ability to handle life's stressors and to decrease the level of stress hormones such as cortisol, lowering blood pressure in response to anxiety-producing events. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak, also known as ‘Dr. Love’, has said that you need at least eight hugs a day to be happier and enjoy better relationships. Some days you may get more than that, some days less, and eight may be a desirable average. According to Dr. Mercola, even a 10-second hug a day can lead to biochemical and physiological reactions in your body that can significantly improve your health. More tomorrow. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Brain and Happiness, 5

In his TED talk, Dr. Robert Waldinger, the fourth director of the Harvard study of happiness and satisfaction, presented some research results from this 75-year study.

2. The quality of your close social relationships matters. Living in conflict may be more detrimental than a divorce. Individuals who were the most satisfied with their relationships at age 50 were predictably healthier at age 80.

3. Good relationships help protect the brain as well as the body. Study participants who had relationships that they felt they could count on, were more likely to maintain their memory functions. Those who were happiest in retirement were those who replaced their ‘work mates’ with ‘play mates’—family, friends, and community

Do you need to give up conflict with friends and family or actual feuds? They are lethal. Do you need to replace screen time with quality people time? Have you developed close reciprocal and rewarding social relationships, perhaps including family-of-choice friendships? Your level of genuine happiness, health, and longevity may be at stake.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Brain and Happiness, 4

    Researchers working with the Harvard 75-year study of adult development that was begun in 1928, have drawn some significant conclusions. Dr. Robert Waldinger, the fourth director of this study of happiness and satisfaction, presented some research results in a TED talk: 'Can a 75-Year-Old Study Deliver Wisdom for All of Us? What makes a good life? Lessons from the oldest study on Happiness.'
    
    Waldinger discussed three specific findings under the general heading of: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.

   1.  Individuals with good social connections are happier, healthier, and live longer. Loneliness is toxic. Those who describe themselves as lonely tend to experience more brain-function decline and tend to live shorter lives.


The human brain is relational. Do you have social relationships and do you regularly connect and interact with those individuals? More tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Brain and Happiness, 3

Are you familiar with the Harvard 75-year study of adult development? Begun in 1938 and the longest of its type in history, it began with 724 males in two groups:

·         Males who were sophomores at Harvard College
·         Male from disadvantaged families in Boston’s poorer areas

About 10 years ago, wives were invited to be part of the study. Sixty of those original 724 males (most of whom are in their 90’s) are still alive. Researchers are now also studying the children of these 724 males.


Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger MD is the fourth director of the Harvard study of happiness and satisfaction. What are some of the important findings from this study? More tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Brain and Happiness, 2

Martin Seligman PhD is director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center, Zellerbach family Professor of Psychology in the Penn Department of Psychology, and Director of the Penn master of Applied Positive Psychology Program or MAPP. Commonly known as the founder of Positive Psychology, Seligman is a leading authority in the fields of resilience, learned helplessness, depression, optimism, and pessimism; and a recognized authority on interventions that prevent depression, and build strengths and well-being. He has said that happiness is not solely derived from external and momentary pleasures. He coined the acronym PERMA to outline correlational findings related to happiness. Human beings appear to be happiest when they have:

1.   Pleasure (shelter, safety, good food, warm baths, etc.)
2.   Engagement or flow (the absorption in and of an enjoyable yet challenging activity)
3.   Relationships (social ties that are reciprocal, rewarding, and can be counted on)
4.   Meaning (a perceived personal quest or belonging to something bigger than oneself)
5.   Accomplishments (having realized tangible goals)


As outlined by PERMA, how happy are you?

Monday, November 14, 2016

Brain and Happiness

Are you happy? Would you like to be happy or happier? If you think, ‘I’d need to know your definition of happiness before I can really answer those questions,’ you’d likely be correct. According to some, happiness is an elusive and ethereal quality that it rarely obtainable and definitely unsustainable. Living that definition tends to involve expectations that some place (the environment) or some thing (what you have) or some one (who you know) creates and gives you happiness. Nothing could be farther from the truth in my brain’s opinion. Coming up with a universal definition is likely elusive. For purposes of this blog, here’s mine:

Happiness is a mindset that is evidenced by positivity, life satisfaction, and realistic optimism that can range from calm contentment to moments of intense joy. This state of mind involves a decision about how to respond to both desirable and undesirable events in life—a choice that impacts yourself as well as others along with your health and likely your longevity.


What is your definition? More tomorrow.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Lexophilia and Lexophiles, 8

1.   I dropped out of communism class because of lousy Marx.
2.   A cartoonist was found dead in his home. Details are sketchy.
3.   Haunted French pancakes give me the crêpes.
4.   When chemists die, they barium.
5.   All the toilets in New York's police stations have been stolen. The police have nothing to go on.
6.   A rubber-band pistol was confiscated from an algebra class. It was a weapon of math disruption.
7.   I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.
8.   Police were called to a day care, where a three-year-old was resisting a rest. A hole has been found in the nudist-camp wall. Police are looking into it.
9. Did you hear about the buy whose whole left side was cut off? He's all right now.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Brain: Where to from here? 2

I was not born in The United States of America. As an immigrant to this country, I made a decision to become a citizen and live here the rest of my life. It remains my country of choice. Perfect? Are you kidding? Hardly! But no surprise, because it is a collection of human beings who are hardly perfect. The citizens of America are simply a coalition of ‘families,’ many of whom resemble President-elect Trump’s rather unusual and blended family. In such groupings, not everyone likes or gets along easily with all the other members of the nuclear and extended family. Those with higher levels of Emotional Intelligence usually learn how to get along at some level, even with those they do not particularly like, and they know how to set appropriate personal boundaries when confronted with negative and dysfunctional behaviors—skills that require intelligent choice, seeing the big picture, personal exhibition of healthier behaviors, and lots of practice. It requires positive rhetoric about what we are working to achieve rather than a negative excoriation of those who differ from us—and every brain is different. Knowing that the brain and heart are the same color in all bodies—no matter the skin tone—makes this a relatively easy decision for me. I know my options: invest my energy in sustaining an ongoing backlash of disappointment and divisiveness OR put my shoulder to the metaphorical wheel and promote health, happiness, longevity, cooperation, collaboration, and unity—with the goal of doing what I can do to help individuals, families, and the nation become stronger and healthier. My brain chooses to be part of the solution rather than perpetuate the problems. Your brain has similar choices. Choose health.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Brain: Where to from here?

Those who did not stay up most of the night, awakened to learn of perhaps the biggest upset since a Hollywood actor became president-elect. Each is now confronted with a series of choices, and the outcome of those personal decisions will impact not only the individual’s own future, personally and collectively, but also what happens to upcoming generations and the nation itself. None of us knows how this will play out. I know that it is what it is and my response will influence my brain-body health. In the words of Epictetus, 2nd century Greek philosopher: It’s not so much what happens that matters as what you think about what happens. I would add ‘and how you choose to respond to what is, because everything starts in the brain.’ Mine is distressed when humans act out their anger and frustration by hurting others and destroying property because in the end they damage themselves and their future. Anyone can complain and act out negatively. Society doesn’t like that behavior in children—how much less in adults—an unfortunate role-model for the young in how to approach disappointment and perceived failure. (Interestingly, the word about town is that this father might never have thrown his hat into the political ring or continued to pursue his goal if his daughter had not continually encouraged him to do so, which may represent female power behind a president.) Individuals will choose either to follow and replicate the dysfunction that was exhibited (inside and outside of both camps) or take a higher road. Either choice will impact brain-body health in differing ways. My brain chooses a response to this unexpected situation by exhibiting behaviors that reflect high levels of Emotional Intelligence—because that will impact my own brain-body health positively. More tomorrow. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Hugs and the Brain

The human brain is a relational organ. That’s the good news and the bad news. Bad news if its relationships are dysfunctional and less than affirming; great news if they contain positive components that contribute to health and wellbeing. Take ‘hugs,’ for example. Research led by Sheldon Cohen PhD studied the impact of ‘hugs’ in helping to protect stressed people from getting sick. They exposed study participants to a common cold virus, sequestered them, and monitored infection and symptoms of illness. The results, published in Psychological Science, revealed that perceived social support reduced the risk of infection associated with experiencing conflicts—with hugs being responsible for one-third of the protective effect. Among participants who did become infected, greater perceived social support and more frequent hugs both resulted in less severe illness symptoms, whether or not the individual was experiencing conflicts in life. According to Dr. Cohen, 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. More tomorrow.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Walking – a Wonder Drug

Periodically some news item flashes information about a new 'wonder drug.' Well, according to Thomas Frieden MD MPH, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, walking may be the closest thing we have to a wonder drug. A 15- minute walk can reduce cravings and the intake of a variety of sugary snacks. And breakfast. Eat a good breakfast that includes some healthier complex carbohydrates. They provide fuel to power the brain and nervous system. Eating breakfast is an excellent way to jump-start your brain for everyone but especially for schoolchildren and adolescents. According to Andrew Weil MD, it is more important to eat some carbohydrates at breakfast because the brain needs fuel right away, and healthier carbs are the best source. Follow the old adage to eat like a king or queen for breakfast, like a prince or princess for lunch, and like a pauper in the evening. Happy and healthy carbing!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Carbohydrate Intolerance Disorder

Some individuals have an inability to digest specific types of carbohydrates due to a lack of one or more intestinal enzymes. This carb intolerance is a type of malabsorption syndrome sometimes referred to as Carbohydrate Intolerance Disorder (CID). It can be congenital (fairly rare), acquired, or secondary to conditions that damage the small-intestine (e.g., celiac disease, tropical sprue, acute intestinal infections a child, symptoms may include diarrhea and failure to gain weight appropriately. In an adult, symptoms may include watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps and bloating, excessive flatus or gas, and nausea, borborygmi or stomach rumbling. No surprise, this malabsorption is often readily controlled by avoiding dietary sugars that cannot be absorbed; for example, by following a lactose-free diet in cases of lactase deficiency.


www.merckmanuals.com/home/digestive-disorders/malabsorption/lactose-intolerance

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Carbs & Weight Loss

Exercise has a huge upside for health but that doesn’t seem to necessarily apply to weight loss. While exercise is beneficial for numerous reasons, it's not the best way to lose weight. When it comes to reaching a healthy weight, what you don’t eat is much more important than an excessive emphasis on exercise (e.g., 30 minutes of running or swimming laps might burn off 350 calories or you could achieve the same calorie reduction by eliminating two 16-ounce sodas each day). Evidence is beginning to accumulate that dietary intake may be more important than energy expenditure level. Decreased physical activity may not be the primary driver of the obesity epidemic. Weight loss is not likely to happen without dietary restraint. When you exercise can be a factor in weight loss, as well. Years ago Candace B. Pert PhD reported that 20-25 minutes of aerobic exercise before breakfast could turn on fat-burning peptides that would burn for several hours. A study from Northumbria University, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, reported that participants lost 20 percent more fat when they exercised before eating breakfast

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Carb Smart

Have you been trying to avoid all carbs? Think again! Healthier carbs are the preferred source of fuel for much of the work done by the brain and body. They provide energy for working muscles and fuel for the brain and central nervous system, without which weakness, dizziness, and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can occur. They also provide needed dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble. Providing sufficient carbs in your daily cuisine can help prevent the body from trying to use proteins or fats for energy. Some weight-loss diets advocate severely restricting all carbohydrates, claiming this is more effective in preventing cardiovascular disease as compared with balanced weight-loss strategies. Naude and colleagues compared the effects of low-carb versus balanced weight-loss programs in overweight and obese adults. They reported that in the minimum follow-up period of three months, the low carb approach showed no weight-loss advantage. Be carb smart. Both your brain and body will thank you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Healthier Carbs

Watch out for ‘carb myths’ and course correct as needed. Researchers studied groups of individuals and analyzed their intake of carbohydrates. Those who consumed forty-five to sixty-four percent of their total calories from healthier carbs showed the lowest risk of being overweight or obese. They found that adults with higher intakes of healthier carbs actually weighed less than those with lower intakes. Studies suggest that eating healthier carbs—ancient grains such steel-cut oats, amaranth, basmati brown rice, rye and millet, along with seeds like chia, teff, sunflower, flax, hemp, and quinoa—may help keep you younger for longer. Rich sources of fiber, these types of healthier carbs not only fill you up and support a healthy gastrointestinal system but also contribute antioxidants to protect your cells from the effects of damaging chemicals, toxins, and free radicals, all of which contribute to chronic illness and disease. The goal, of course, is to slow down your rate of biological aging and retard the onset of symptoms of aging—in so far as it is possible to do so. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Carb-Brain Link

Your body is a complex and world-class organization. Its primary source of energy is carbohydrates that it breaks down into glucose, which forms the fuel your brain, central nervous system, red-blood cells, and muscles require, to name just a few. Eating fewer healthier carbs may not be the ticket. Eating moderate amounts of healthier carbs likely is. They help supply your brain and body with the neurotransmitter serotonin, which impacts appetite, mood, and sleep, among other things. It’s a cascade effect: eat healthier carbs, blood-sugar levels rise appropriately, and insulin is released to help the amino acid tryptophan move into the brain where it ultimately creates serotonin. Too few carbs and too little serotonin can contribute to fatigue, irritability—and may even lead to depression. Too few healthy carbs may be one of the reasons that habitual dieters may have low serotonin levels in both their brain and gastrointestinal tract—a situation that can lead to bingeing.

Limiting carbs too severely or for too long a period of time is unwise and may force the body to steal from muscles or other body organs or try to use proteins and fats in an attempt to find fuel to power its many functions. There is even concern about the potential long-term impact on brain function that may result from a failure to give it sufficient amounts of high quality healthier carbs on a regular basis.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Lexophilia and Lexophiles, 7

1.   Acupuncture: a jab well done.
2.   A lot of money is tainted: ‘Taint yours, and ‘taint mine.
3.   You can tune a piano, but you can't tuna fish
4.   When Ma saw her first strands of gray hair she thought she’d dye.
5.   Velcro—what a rip off!
6.   Class trip to the Coca-Cola factory—I hope there’s no pop quiz.
7.   The dyslexic walked into a bra.
8.   The turtle won a race with a rabbit by a hair.
9.   PMS jokes aren’t funny, period.

10.        My doctor said I need glasses but I don't see why.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

All or Nothing

An all-or-nothing approach to carbohydrates is like avoiding all dogs simply because some are downright ugly and some love to bite. Yes, some dogs are vicious and yes, some carbs are unhealthy. How did carbs get such a bad rap? It likely started when big industry began ‘refining’ them, removing many healthy ingredients, and turning them into processed food on a grand scale. Metaphorically, a similar thing happened when Yellowstone National Park ‘refined’ its environment and kicked out the coyotes. Fortunately, the pendulum is swinging back toward the middle in much the same way that Yellowstone is being revitalized—now that the coyotes are back. Dropping unwanted pounds and then maintaining your weight within a more optimum range typically requires you to reduce your intake of poor quality refined and processed carbs and increase your intake of healthier unrefined carbs. Your brain, nervous system, and muscles need them.