Monday, December 31, 2012

Your Sleep Dialogue

Did you know that studies at UCLA have challenged theories of brain communication during sleep (e.g., the hippocampus talks to the neocortex)? Studies showed there are three players: the neocortex, the hippocampus, and the entorhinal cortex or EC (which connects the neocortex and the hippocampus). And the neocortex is driving the entorhinal cortex, which in turn behaves as if it is remembering something, which then drives the hippocampus. According to Mehta, “This suggests that whatever is happening during sleep is not happening the way we thought it was. There are more players involved so the dialogue is far more complex, and the direction of the communication is the opposite of what was thought.” This process may occur during sleep as a way to unclutter memories and delete information that was processed during the day but is irrelevant, which results in consolidation of important memories as they become more salient and readily accessible. Notably, Alzheimer’s disease starts in the entorhinal cortex and those individuals tend to have impaired sleep in addition to memory challenges.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sociopathic Brain

Did you ever wonder how the sociopathic brain differs from a normal brain? Studies have shown that sociopathy is more than just the absence of conscience. It involves an inability to process emotional experiences (including caring and love) except when such an experience can be calculated as a coldly intellectual task. Dr. Martha Stout has reported that the sociopathic brain responds to emotionally charged words no differently from neutral words (unlike the non-sociopathic population). In addition, research using single-photon emission-computed tomography showed increased blood flow to the temporal lobes when the sociopathic brain was given a decisional task that involved emotional words, a task that would be almost neurologically instantaneous for normal brains.  The sociopathic brains were functioning as if they had been asked to work out an algebra problem.  Conclusion: sociopathy involves an altered level of processing of emotional stimuli at the level of the cerebral cortex (as compared to non-sociopathic brains), although the reason for this is not yet clear. It may be the result of a heritable neurodevelopmental difference that can either be slightly compensated for, or made much worse, by cultural, environmental, or child-rearing factors. Startling!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

MitoFIsh and Neurodegenerative Diseases

A see-through Zebrafish? Looks like it! Researchers in Germany have some newly generated tools, including transgenic MitoFish, that can be used to study the in vivo “life cycle” of mitochondria. Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), and MS (multiple sclerosis) may have something in common: a disturbance in the transport of mitochondria. Mitochondria are known as the powerhouse of a cell, subcellular organelles¾a double-walled subunit within a cell that has a specific function. In this case, the specific function is producing energy for the cells. No surprise, mitochondria typically can be found in large numbers in cells that have high energy needs. In neurons, for example, that are extremely power-hungry cells. Researchers hope that the MitoFish will open a whole new window on brain diseases.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Brain Conversations

Did you know that the neocortex and hippocampus “talk” to each other during sleep and  even during anesthesia? Researchers at UCLA studied three connected brain regions in mice: the new brain (neocortex), the old brain (hippocampus), and the intermediate brain (entorhinal cortex or EC) that connects the new and the old brains, so called. They discovered that the activity of the entorhinal cortex (EC), a brain region known to be involved in learning, memory, and Alzheimer’s disease behaves as if it’s remembering something during sleep. The EC showed persistent activity even when the brain was under anesthesia. According to researcher Mehta, the results are entirely novel, surprising, and important—since humans spend one-third of their lives sleeping and a lack of sleep results in adverse effects on health, including learning and memory problems. Too bad you can't listen in to those conversations . . .

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Nasreddin and the Street Lamp

I find Nasreddin stories fascinating. Turkey claims him, but so do other countries, including China and India. One dark night, so one fable goes, a neighbor noticed Nasreddin out in front of his house, down on his elbows and knees beneath the light of the street lamp. Obviously, Nasreddin was looking for something, carefully and methodically.
“What are you searching for?” asked the neighbor.
“My keys,” Nasreddin responded.
Being a good neighbor, the other man got down on his knees and pitched in to help. They searched and searched without finding the keys.
Becoming tired, the good neighbor finally sat back on his heels and asked, “Are you absolutely certain that you lost your keys here?”
“Of course I didn’t lose them here,” replied Nasreddin, “I lost them in my cellar.”
“Then what on earth are you doing looking for them out here under the street lamp?” asked the neighbor.
“Because there is more light out here,” replied Nasreddin.
When faced with a problem, have you ever wasted time and energy looking for a solution in the wrong place?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy Boxing Day!

Did you grow up celebrating Boxing Day? I did. It was our second day of Christmas in Canada and a public holiday (as it traditionally was in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, at least). Some say Boxing Day began in the middle-ages when, by custom, servants would bring wooden boxes to work and their employers would (or at least had the opportunity to) fill those boxes with food and money in recognition of reliable and faithful service throughout the year. Some also say that Boxing Day is related to St. Stephen’s Day. Many sports events take place on Boxing Day¾often horse races and hunting events, as St. Stephen was thought of as a patron of horses. I’m told that two popular sports events take place in Australia: the Boxing Day Cricket Match and the Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race. In our home, we always selected at least one “something” to wrap and take to a homeless shelter or to a family who was deemed to be less fortunate than we believed ourselves to be. And it had to be something that we valued. I can remember agonizing over what that “something” would be. It would have been unthinkable to give away junk or something I didn’t like. Celebrating Boxing Day became a habit for me. If you’ve never celebrated it, try it. I bet you’ll like it!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Have a Wonderful Day!

Today is Christmas! Remember the American singer and film actor, Bing Crosby (1904-1977)? He has been quoted as saying: “Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won't make it 'white'." I always enjoyed hearing Bing sing White Christmas. Maybe because I spent the first 16 years of my life in Canada and we always (repeat ALWAYS) had a white Christmas—from Jack Frost’s etchings on our window panes to mountains of snow. And I mean mountains of snow. Sometimes it drifted against the front door so it was a struggle to open it; sometimes it mounded higher than my father was tall on both sides of our long driveway. Whatever your belief system and whether or not you celebrate Christmas per se, I wish you the best 24 hours of your life. Make today a time to share your blessings—the reason for the season. We all have blessings and memories of many others. And some of you will have a white Christmas . . . Ah, the childhood memories. Some good. Some bad. Some happy. Some sad.
Some cold. Some beyond cold, truth be told. But always, always—white!

Monday, December 24, 2012

You Are Powerful!

Do you know how powerful you are? You may recall learning that neurons put out electromagnetic (Em) energy. Turns out, according to Goleman in his book Primal Leadership, that the limbic system (second functional layer of the cerebrum) is an open-loop system. You can transmit signals that can alter hormone levels, cardiovascular function, sleep rhythms, and even immune function inside the body of another person. That's powerful! Of course, the most power is exerted on your own body. Next time you are tempted to harbor irritability and anger, especially toward another individual, you just might want to think again and change your thoughts. Positive thoughts result in positive Em energy--for you as well as for others. This holiday season, give everyone the gift of positive Em energy. Now that's powerful!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Read my What?

Trying to “read” whether a person’s intense emotion is positive or negative? Studies (Princeton U, NY U, Radboud U, Hebrew U) suggest you read the body language. Facial expressions among people undergoing fleeting peaks of intense pain, joy, grief, or anger look surprisingly similar. In fact, when you compare extreme pain to extreme pleasure, it’s difficult to tell them apart by facial expressions alone. Even expressions on the faces of winning athletes may not express a “positive” emotion, rather a sign of competitive dominance. The body never lies, however. More information and often more accurate information is revealed through body language. It may be more like “read my hips” than “read my lips.” When you’re trying to figure out whether a person is exhibiting intense positive versus negative emotion, get in the habit of looking at: (1) what's happening in the environment, (2) the person’s body language, (30) the face.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Stress and Risk of Colds

Would you like to reduce your risk of developing a cold, especially during the holiday season? Learn to manage the daily stressors of life more effectively. Sheldon Cohen, Carnegie Mellon University director of the Laboratory for the Study of Stress, Immunity and Disease, and his research team were the first to show how chronic stressors can lead directly to the common cold. They found that the immune cells of people suffering from chronic stress (e.g., conflicts with bosses, spouses, close relatives; prolonged unemployment) gradually became insensitive to the ability of cortisol (stress hormone) to reduce inflammation. Thus, when exposed to a cold virus, their bodies were unable effectively to prevent disease symptoms caused by the inflammatory response. Individuals with ongoing conflict with others had more than twice the risk of getting a cold than those without chronic stress issues; the unemployed or underemployed had five times the risk of getting a cold when exposed to the virus.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Memories Distort with Recall

Did you know that every time your brain remembers something it distorts it? Maybe you need to be less certain that you recall something exactly as it happened. Study findings at Northwestern University found that your memories are modified during recall. It’s a bit like the old “phone game” many played as children. By the time the message is transmitted around the circle, the content can be light years different from the message that was whispered into the ear of the first person. That’s because human memories human memories are always adapting. Donna Bridge, researcher and lead author of the paper on the study recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience put it this way, “If you remember something in the context of a new environment and time, or if you are even in a different mood, your memories might integrate the new information.”

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Forgiveness

Did you know that there are sequential steps to forgiveness that could be helpful in your brain’s process of deciding to forgive? Holidays seems to bring up old resentments that have not been forgiven and let go. Sometimes these old resentments are from several generations back. Guidelines are given by Robert D. Enright PhD in his book FORGIVENESS IS A CHOICE - A step-by-step process for resolving anger & restoring hope. According to the author, guidelines for forgiving consist of four phases: uncovering your anger; deciding to forgive; working on forgiveness; discovery and release from emotional prison. The time of healing may vary from person to person and from case to case, with more time required for greater hurt and injustice. It is a process. Avoid discouragement if anger and hurt resurface again. Work the process, preferably with the help of a support person who is experienced in forgiveness. Working the process could make all the difference in the world to your holiday experience.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Have you hard about mindfulness-based stress reduction or MBSR? Holiday periods, while often fun and exciting, can be stressful. Worry and anxiety can flood your brain with cortisol, which can negatively impact your memory. MBSR was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the U of Massachusetts Medical School.  The focus of MBST is for the individual to figure out the things that cause stress in their life (some of which may be exaggerated out of proportion to reality) and learn to respond to them in a more empowered manner, rather than becoming quickly overwhelmed by them. When you feel stessed, take a ten minute break. Sit quietly and become mindful of what is happening in your brain and body. Start at your toes and move slowly up to your brain. Become aware of any areas of discomfort, your breathing, what you see, hear, taste, smell, and feel. If you begin worrying about the past or future, acknowledge the thought but avoid dwelling on it. Gently return to being mindful of what is happening in your brain and body. After the break, resume your normal activity.  When you identify a stressor, ask yourself what difference it will make in 12 months? If none, let it go. If it will make a difference, calmly craft a strategy to deal with it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Exercise and Your Brain

If you could only do one thing to help your brain, do you know what that would be? Physical exercise! According to Art Kramer, PhD, U of Illinois professor psychology and neuroscience, higher exercise levels can reduce risk of dementia by 30-40 percent and substantially lower risk of Alzheimer's disease (compared with low activity levels). Physical exercise helps the hippocampus, your brain's search engine, which tends to shrink with age. This, in turn, can lead to memory loss. Physical activity can also trigger the growth of new nerve cells. Even a little bit of exercise can help. As little as 15 minutes of regular exercise three times a week has been shown in some studies to help maintain brain health. You can always do something. Even if you are chair-bound, you may be able to do arm exercises and get the blood circulating through your brain at an increased rate. So get moving!

Monday, December 17, 2012

New Brain Skills

Are you middle-aged or older with few internet skills? Get busy developing them! MRI scans by researchers at UCLA showed that middle-aged and older adults with few internet skills triggered brain centers that control decision-making and complex reasoning--after just one week of surfing the net! This can help maintain healthy brain functiong. Challening the brain can trigger the growth of new brain cells and inctrease the number of connections between those cells. According to Keith L. Black, MD, chair of neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, it is important to learn new things. It's not enough to just keep repeating skills you already know, like playing the same card games over and over.  Learn to play a new song on your favorite instrument, learn a new form of bridge, take up sudoku, solve brain benders, learn to knit, surf the internet . . .

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Loss, Grief, and Your Brain

As the President put it, "once again" the nation is experiencing fall-out from another tragedy. Because of instant communication options, the world has shrunk to the size of a global village. This means that what happens in Connecticut doesn't stay in Connecticut. What happens in Connecticut, in effect, happens everywhere. The ramifications are enormous. For whatever reason some brains are unhealthy and seriously dysfunctional. That is sad enough. But when their dysfunction leaks out in ways that drag death and destruction in its wake, that is beyond sad. In fact, there are no words. Events such as these can be enormously traumatic for children. Depending upon their age and a host of other factors, however, they may experience tremendous levels of fear and anxiety. Sometimes these are masked by behaviors that seem unconnected to fear and anxiety. For tips on how to help children cope with loss, as well as comments on how males and females tend to approach loss and sadness (often very differently), you can access my article entitled: Loss Recovery -- Grief Recovery Pyramid.  With a little forethought in figuring out what to say or what not to say (sometimes empathetic silence is the preferred option) and by managing your own behaviors appropriately and effectively, you may be able to provide a great deal of help to others in this time of tragedy. The good news is that the human brain is very resilient.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sleepy Foods #2

Did you know that generally complex carbohydrates such as quinoa, barley, wheat, and buckwheat, promote sleep? And speaking of carbs, bananas are also carbs. They also contain magnesium, a natural muscle relaxant, as well as potassium. That makes bananas a win-win because humans needs potassium for cardiovascular health and cognitive brain functioning. You might try a sweet potato snack, too. Sweet potatoes are a sleeper’s dream. They provide sleep-promoting complex carbohydrates plus potassium, a muscle-relaxant potassium. Lima beans and papaya also contain potassium. And then there’s turkey, which contains tryptophan, a chemical that can make you doze off after Thanksgiving dinner. According to Russell Rosenberg, PhD and CEO of the National Sleep Foundation, if you’re a die-hard insomniac, you’d have to eat a lot of turkey to have a major effect, but if you need a little shove in the right direction, it just might help.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Three Features of Human Intelligence

According to some, human intelligence has three distinct main features:

• It is amazingly diverse. Human intelligences come in a myriad of different styles and can be expressed in an endless number of ways.

• It is tremendously dynamic. Amazing breakthroughs occur as human beings discovering new connections between things and ideas in the intensely interactive human brain.

• It is entirely distinctive. Each person’s intelligence is as unique as a fingerprint. Each brain uses and expresses the differing forms of intelligence in a unique way.

Knowing that human intelligence is diverse, dynamic, and distinctive may help you identify and view your own intelligence in a new way.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Auditory Learning Style

Researchers at the University of Western Ontario have provided some tips for those who have an auditory learning style or who need to absorb information in that sensory system (hearing or reading) in a specific situation. When listening, sit towards the front of the room so you can hear well and avoid being distracted by sounds others make; repeat information silently to yourself as you take notes. When reading, repeat information either silently or aloud; use rhymes or jingles to remember key points; for terminology, think about how parts of the words sound ; consider studying with a partner, taking turns reading to each other and discussing key concepts. Some auditory learners like to record themselves verbalizing key points and then play the recording back as a rehearsal strategy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Parkinson's and Light

Did you know the Michael J. Fox Foundation is funding research about the effects of light on Parkinson’s disease? According to Kurzweil News, researchers at Lund University plan to use optogenetics to stimulate neurons to release more dopamine in an effort to combat Parkinson’s disease. Optogenetics reportedly permits researchers to control specific cells in the brain using light, leaving other cells unaffected. To do this, the relevant cells are equipped with genes that express a special light-sensitive protein. The protein switches on cells when they are illuminated with light from a thin optic fiber implanted in the brain. The study itself will be conducted on laboratory rats with symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Reportedly, the transplanted cells will be obtained from the skin of an adult human and then “reprogrammed” to function as nerve cells.

Monday, December 10, 2012


How do you like those acronyms? Do you know what they stand for? Antidepressant therapies typically used to treat Major Depressive Disorder or MDD tend to be associated with sleep disturbances (sedating or activating). According to the National Institutes of Health, MDD affects approximately 14.8 million individuals, or about 6.7 percent of American adults in a given year and is the leading cause of disability in people ages 15 to 44. Enter TMS or transcranial magnetic stimulation. Researchers found that while powerful TMS of the frontal lobe of the brain can alleviate symptoms of depression, those receiving the treatment reported no effects on sleep or arousal commonly seen with antidepressant medication. “People’s sleep gets better as their depression improves, but the treatment doesn’t itself cause sedation or insomnia.” said Dr. Peter B. Rosenquist, Vice Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at the Medical College of Georgia at George Health Sciences University. This is good news.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Albert Einstein's Brain

Have you ever wondered what was different about Albert Einstein’s brain? a new study led by Florida State University evolutionary anthropologist Dean Falk, may have some answers. The study, The Cerebral Cortex of Albert Einstein: A Description and Preliminary Analysis of Unpublished Photographs, (published in the journal Brain), includes some interesting information. For example, photographs of Einstein’s brain, taken shortly after he died, were recently uncovered by the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland. They were part of a donation from the estate of Thomas Harvey, the pathologist who took the photos. According to Falk, "Although the overall size and asymmetrical shape of Einstein's brain were normal, the prefrontal, somatosensory, primary motor, parietal, temporal and occipital cortices were extraordinary.” Einstein’s extraordinary prefrontal cortex may have contributed to some of his remarkable cognitive abilities.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Breathing Meditation and Positive Moods

Do you want your moods to be more positive? Research by Jane Anderson has shown that you can teach your neurons to meditate, which can change your brain. Studies done at the University of Wisconsin have shown that brain activity can be changed in about five weeks with a total of seven hours of training and practice. EEG measurements of the brain’s electrical activity were made before and after the five weeks. Participants were told to close their eyes, relax, and focus on the flow of their breath at the tip of nose. When random thoughts arose, they were just to acknowledge the thoughts and then let them go by gently bringing their attention back to their breathing. Those who had done the meditation training showed a difference in brain activity: a greater proportion of activity in the left frontal region of the brain in response to subsequent meditation attempts, a pattern of brain activity that has been associated in other studies with positive moods.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Music and the Brain

Did you know that playing a musical instrument changes both the anatomy and functions of the brain? Some have wondered, however, whether or not these changes persist after music training stops. Researchers studied this question by measuring auditory brainstem responses in a cohort of healthy young human adults with varying amounts of past musical training. Study results showed that adults who received formal music instruction as children have more robust brainstem responses to sound than peers who never participated in music lessons and that the magnitude of the response correlates with how recently training ceased. This indicated that neural changes accompanying musical training during childhood are retained in adulthood. According to researchers Erika Skoe and Nina Krause, these findings advance the understanding of long-term neuroplasticity and have general implications for the development of effective auditory training programs.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Stress and Working Memory

Did you know that Psychologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have figured out how stress interferes with one’s ability to pay attention, focus, and create working memory? Working memory is both short-term (seconds) and flexible, allowing the brain to hold a large amount of information close at hand to perform complex tasks. Without it, you would have forgotten the first half of this sentence while reading the second half. They watched neurons functioning in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, part of the brain that is vital to working memory. The neurons communicated on a scale of every thousandth of a second. In addition, they knew what they did one second to one-and-a-half seconds ago. In the presence of a stressor, however, while the neurons became even more active, they were reacting to other things and failed to retain information about what they did a second or so ago. The conclusion was that stress-related impairment of this mechanism is believed to contribute to the cognition-impairing actions of stress.

Monday, December 3, 2012

White and Gray Matter

Have you ever wondered about the difference between gray matter and white matter in the human brain? Dr. Amen, using a computer analogy, put it this way: “White matter is the tissue through which messages pass between different areas of gray matter within the brain. The gray matter can be thought of as the actual computers themselves, whereas the white matter represents the network cables connecting the computers together.” Obviously, both are important to brain function. Using a highway metaphor, think of the brain’s white matter as a pathway that has been paved with myelin, the brain’s asphalt. Paving a road in the literal world makes it easier to navigate safely and typically allows for faster travel. A similar situation occurs in the brain. Estimates are that messages travel across brain pathways at speeds of 200 miles per hour, which breaks down to about 400 feet per second. Pretty amazing!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Duchenne Smiles and Stress

Did you know that genuine smiles not only utilize the muscles of the mouth but also those of the eyes? They are known as Duchenne smiles, in honor of research by a French neurologist: Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne (de Boulogne) who lived from 1806 to 1875. Tara L. Kraft and Sarah D. Pressman of the University of Kansas studied whether covertly manipulating positive facial expressions would influence cardiovascular and affective responses to stress. Study participants were asked to complete stressful tasks(e.g., tracing a star using their nondominant hands) while holding chopsticks in their mouths in a manner that produced a Duchenne smile, a standard smile, or a neutral expression. Findings revealed that all smiling participants, regardless of whether they were aware of smiling, had lower heart rates during stress recovery than the neutral group did, with a slight advantage for those with Duchenne smiles. It appears that there are physiological and psychological benefits to be gained from maintaining a positive facial expression during stress.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Holiday Stress

Do you tend to overreact to even simply daily stressors to say nothing of holiday stress? Holiday periods can constitute an increased challenge because individuals often lose sleep, eat less healthfully, drink too much, and associate with people who create stress in the environment. The overreaction to stressors, even minor ones, can lead to high blood pressure, infectious diseases, and the worsening of autoimmune diseases and HIV/AIDS cases. Stressful social interactions can increase the risk for metabolic syndrome (a precursor to type 2 diabetes). Plan your activities with care. Just because you’re in the habit of routinely following holiday tradition, you can often make a healthier choice for you. Choose to avoid some of the more “stressful” social events, or limit the time you spend there. Remember that the problem is not the stressor itself, but the person’s reaction to it. Learn to stop taking anything personally—it’s just another brain’s opinion and may have no relevance to your brain at all. Sometimes all you can do is refuse to take the situation too seriously and just laugh about it. After all, it’s your life and your health.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Heart Muscle-Cell Replacement

Did you ever wonder how often muscle cells in the heart are replaced? Ratan Bhardwaj and his colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, used radiocarbon dating (normally used to establish the age of archaeological remains) to figure out the age of heart cells compared to the chronological age of the person from which they were isolated. One of the findings showed that the turnover of heart muscle cells is relatively slow compared to other types of cells and decreases with age. Only 1 percent of heart muscle cells are typically exchanged per year in young adults, the rate dropping to only 0.4 per cent by age 75. Generally this means that a 55-year-old will have rebuilt 45 per cent of his/her heart since birth. Other heart cells (e.g., those that form connective tissue and blood vessels) appear to renew much faster, exchanging about 18 percent every year. There is probably no turnover at all with neurons—one reason it’s so important to take care of those in your heart and in your brain!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

ATP and Your Brain

Did you know that energy levels in the brain change depending on the type of sleep one is experiencing? Reports of rat studies, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, showed that in the initial stages of sleep, energy levels increase dramatically in brain regions that are found to be active during waking hours. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of cells, was found to surge during non-REM sleep. This surge of cellular energy is thought to replenish brain processes needed to function normally while awake. Sleep appears to be necessary for this energy surge to occur. How well you think while you are awake may be related to whether or not your brain received enough sleep to experience this energy surge of ATP.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Singing Sun

Have you ever "heard" the sun singing? According to Kenneth R. Lang, the sun sings. "The Sun is playing a secret melody, hidden inside itself, that produces a widespread throbbing motion of its surface. The sounds are coursing through the Sun's interior, causing the entire globe, or parts of it, to move in and out, slowly and rhythmically like the regular rise and fall of tides in a bay or of a beating heart."  Evidently, the sun's sound waves are normally at frequencies too low for the human ear to hear and the human brain to decode. To be able to hear the sun's sound waves, the scientists sped up the waves 42,000 times and compressed 40 days of vibrations into a few seconds. So, thanks to Stanford University, it is now possible to hear the sun singing. (

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Extraverted Brains

Did you ever wonder how Extraverted brains differ from Amb iverted and Introverted brains? Researcher Colin DeYoung and colleagues at the University of Minnesota completed brain-imaging studies on 116 volunteers. They found that the medial orbitofrontal cortex (a part of the brain involved with considering rewards located just above and behind the eyes) was significantly larger in the study’s volunteer subjects who exhibited a lot of Extraversion. The study also correlated larger brain regions for a number of other traits: conscientiousness, which is associated with planning; neuroticism, a tendency to experience negative emotions that is associated with sensitivity to threat and punishment; and agreeableness, which relates to parts of the brain that allow humans to understand each other's emotions, intentions, and mental states.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Einstein and You

Did you know that Einstein struggled with rote learning in school? In spite of that, he became one of the world’s most eminent scientists. His success in life, according to Walter Issacson, author of an Einstein biography, came from his imagination and creativity. Not only that, Einstein knew how to back into solving tough problems by using other types of intelligences. For example, when wrestling with a challenge in his work, Einstein would often grab his violin and play at any time of the day or night, improvising melodies while he allowed his subconscious mind to ponder solutions to complicated problems. Sometimes, in the middle of his playing, he would suddenly put down his violin and announce, “I’ve got it!” The answer to the problem would have become clear to Einstein’s brain, as if by inspiration, in the midst of playing music on his violin. Are you struggling with a problem? Think like Einstein. That means, take a break from consciously thinking about it. Do something else for a while; something you love. Your brain will keep working on the problem in the background and, often, it will hand you a solution that your conscious brain had not envisioned.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sensory Recruitment

Recently at one of his piano concerts, my musician friend JR (Ricky) Sharp commented that "music is meant to be seen as well as heard." His brain's opinion dovetails with studies that have shown "sensory recruitment" enhances perception. "Seeing" something as well as "hearing" it seems to make a greater impact on the brain. When I attend a piano or organ concert I want to see the piano keyboard or the organ console as well as hear the music!  I've also found there is a huge difference in listening to a CD of music before versus after I've seen the artist perform. Hearing a CD sometimes motivates me to attend a concert of the musician.  After I've seen an artist perform and then listen to a CD of his/her music, however, my brain has an entirely different musical experience. I not only hear the sounds but also visualize in my mind's eye how the artist looked while performing. This recruitment enhances the entire experience. It can enhance learning, as well. Part of the reason for YouTube success may involve sensory recruitment; two or more senses experiencing and processing the information, each in its own way. Experiment with sensory recruitment. Become aware of the way in which it works in your brain.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

More on Diet Sodas

Are diet sodas part of your regular beverage intake? You may want to think again. Turns out that a study of diet soda consumption by San Diego State University has shown diminishing activation in a specific region of the brain as consumption of diet sodas climbed. This region, the caudate head, is associated with the brain’s food motivation and reward system. Decreased activation of this brain region has been linked with an elevated risk of obesity. Normally, the brain uses a learned relationship between sweet taste and the delivery of calories to help it regulate food intake but it appears that saccharin and other sugar-free sweeteners seem to baffle the brain. Once fooled, the brain’s sweet sensors seem to lose some ability to provide a reliable evaluation of energy consumption and may paradoxically foster overeating.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pleasure of Taste

Is taste one of your favorite senses? You can taste because of taste buds (receptors) on your tongue and in other areas of your mouth and throat. They function in combination with the processing of odor molecules that can enter your nose through active sniffing or breathing or enter from the back of your throat during eating. You may have noticed that when your nose is stuffed up due to a cold, your sense of taste is often altered significantly. Unimpaired, your taste buds are able to differentiate between five general taste groupings: Salt, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. Salt (substances that contain sodium or potassium chloride). Sweet (substances such as glucose, fructose, sucrose, and aspartame). Bitter (substances such as caffeine and quinine). Sour (acidic substances such as citric acid). And Umami (substances such as monosodium glutamate or MSG). Some people prefer salty tastes, others lean toward sweet or even bitter tastes. It appears that the sensitivity of taste bud processing can alter with age. One way to help maintain the pleasure of processing of food flavors is to alternate bites of different foods.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Heart-Based Living

Do you have a heart-based living lifestyle? Doc Childre, author of  Heart-Based Living, has described this as a momentum to become more spiritual; an increase in heart awareness, heart connection, and a desire for practical spirituality (which is not confined to religion or any specific spiritual path). Your heart is filled with neurons that communicate regularly with the neurons in the your brain and in your gut. Honing your heart qualities can include any numbers of behaviors such as expressing gratitude, being more appreciative, expressing kindness to other, being non-judgemental, forgiving yourself and others, and giving back in some way to help the planet and the people/creatures living on it. According to Children, "One of the most important and empowering spects of heart-based living is the inner work required to discern our heart intuition and then follow your heart...Because of the increasing stress factors in the world today, more people are starting to realize that ambition to get ahead cannot justify shutting off the caring and compassionate heart."  (More information can be found at )

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Your Learning Style

Did you ever wonder the reason you learned better from some teachers than others? Your learning style or preference simply means the way your brain tends to learn best. Studies at the University of Western Ontario have shown that your learning style involves your preferred method of taking in, organizing, and making sense of information. This can be complicated by the fact that different situations and learning environments often require different learning strategies. And different teachers themselves have different learning (and therefore) different teaching styles. Three primary learning styles are: auditory (learning by hearing or reading), visual (learning by seeing), and kinesthetic (learning by doing). Researchers suggest that if you're looking to improve your effectiveness as a learner, identify the way your brain prefers to learn, and then develop a couple of additional strategies for learning in the other two learning styles.  choose the learning preference category that you feel best matches the way you like to learn (e.g. visually), and check to see if you follow the suggested strategies (e.g. enhancing visual learning). Then, look at the strategies for the other two learning styles, and try to implement some of these ideas into your repertoire as well. (Watch for more about each style.)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Living Longer

Would you like to live into your 90’s at least? Harvard University researchers studied 2,357 males in their 70's for 25 years. The results showed that just doing five things gave participants a 53% chance of living into their 90's. Those five things were:

1. Not smoking

2. Maintaining a normal weight

3. Exercising regularly

4. Having a low blood sugar

5. Having a low blood pressure

The first three things are doable for most people. And doing the first three things really impacts the last two things. How do these five things stack up in your life?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Music and Verbal Ability

Did you ever wonder about a correlation between studying music and verbal ability? Researchers developed two interactive computerized training programs for preschool children. One was for music and one was for visual art. They then analyzed the effects of the music and the visual art training programs on verbal ability. After twenty (20) days of training, only children in the music group exhibited enhanced performance on a measure of verbal intelligence, with 90% of the sample showing this improvement. These improvements in verbal intelligence were positively correlated with changes in functional brain plasticity during an executive-function task. Researchers believe that these findings demonstrate that transfer of a high-level cognitive skill is possible in early childhood.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Experiences Sculpt Brain

Did you know there is now a wealth of evidence that experiences sculpt both brain and behavior? Recent work in cognitive neuroscience has provided clear evidence that sustained experience changes neural structures. For example:

1. London taxi drivers who engage in sustained direction finding show larger gray matter of posterior hippocampi, with the magnitude of the effect increasing with experience, suggesting experience to be the causal mechanism

2. Canadian postal workers spend thousands of hours sorting postal codes by letters and numbers jointly, and this experience changes categorical representation of these two symbolic systems into a single more unitary system

3. Sustained practice in learning to juggle increases the volume of cortical tissue in the bilateral mid-temporal area and left posterior intraparietal sulcus and the effect generalizes to older adults

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Your Idling Brain

Do you know what your brain is doing when it seems like it isn’t doing anything at all? First of all, some circuits must remain active to keep your heart pumping and your lungs working. But much of the rest of the brain continues to chug away as the mind naturally wanders through grocery lists, rehashes conversations and just generally daydreams. This activity has been dubbed the resting state and it’s important, if the amount of energy devoted to it is any indication. Blood flow to the brain during rest is typically just 5–10% lower than during task-based experiments. Neuroscientists have seen evidence that the networks the brain engages during a resting state appear to look a lot like those that are active during tasks and they are designing studies to help identify the purpose for mind wandering, daydreaming, and so on. As one researcher put it, whatever resting activity is doing, its existence certainly proves one thing, the brain only rests when it’s dead.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Have you ever wondered the reason that some people seem to have little or no remorse even when their actions and behaviors have hurt others deeply? Dr. Martha Stout's book (The Sociopath Next Door) may help to explain that type of behavior. According to her, one in twenty-five ordinary Americans can do anything at all without feeling guilt or even genuine remorse. Stout refers to these individuals as ice people in that they appear to lack a balanced superego that encourages a person to preserve and remain embraced by family and society. They also may lack an intervening sense of obligation, sometimes referred to as conscience. Without this they lack capacity in aspects of emotional attachment (especially love, compassion, and tenderness). They exhibit a cold desire to win and are infamous for their "refusal to acknowledge responsibility for the decisions they make, or for the outcomes of their decisions." Knowing this may offer some help in understanding how one person can do something that seems extremely reprehensible to others.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lipreading in Adults

Did you know that researchers have studied the integration of auditory and visual information for speech perception in older as well as younger adults, including lipreading? The results shows that on average older adults are as successful as young adults at integrating auditory and visual information for speech perception at the syllable level. There were differences in the response alternatives chosen, however. When auditory and visual integration of speech information failed to occur, producing a nonfused response, participants selectws an alternative response from the modality with the least ambiguous signal. For example, young adults with normal peripheral sensitivity often chose an auditory alternative whereas, older adults and control participants leaned toward visual alternatives. In additions, older adults demonstrated poorer lipreading performance than their younger counterparts.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Beyond the Speed of Light

Beyond the speed of light? Maybe so. As you may know, Einstein’s theory holds that it is not possible for anything to move faster than the speed of light. Well, mathematicians at Australia’s University of Adelaide have extended Einstein’s theory of special relativity to work beyond the speed of light. Professor Jim Hill and Dr. Barry Cox in the University’s School of Mathematical Sciences have developed new formulas that allow for travel beyond this limit. Their formulas extend special relativity to a situation where the relative velocity can be infinite, and can be used to describe motion at speeds faster than light. I’ll be watching to see where this goes!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Migraines and Phono- Photophobia

Do you experience migraines or know someone who does? Migraine sufferers often report increased sensitivity to sound and/or light during a bad headache. Anne Woodhouse and Peter D Drummond of Murdock University in Western Australia studied individuals with and without migraines to determine if phonophobia (sound) was a manifestation of loudness recruitment. The results showed that both auditory and visual discomfort thresholds decreased substantially during attacks of migraine (as compared to individuals who did not experience migraine). The findings did not support the view that phonophobia in migraine is a manifestation of loudness recruitment. Some type of disruption of central sensory processing mechanisms during migraine, however, appears able to increase sensitivity to quiet sounds and contribute to both phonophobia and photophobia.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Insomnia Foods #1

Did you know that some foods can contribute to insomnia? Some small studies suggest that some food items eaten before bedtime may be sleep “stealers” for some individuals, this according to Russell Rosenberg, PhD and CEO of the National Sleep Foundation. For example, a bacon cheeseburger may be one of the worst possible choices. The high fat content stimulates the production of stomach acid, which can trigger heartburn. Wine, or alcohol of any type metabolizes quickly in the body, increases snoring, and decreases amount and quality of sleep. For most people, drinking java too close to bedtime can interfere with sleep because a caffeine is a stimulant to the central nervous system. Watch for more examples.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

White Matter and Marijuana

Did you know that the age at which a brain is exposed regularly to marijuana may result in different effects to white matter? Typically, marijuana use begins during adolescence and early adulthood. This is a particularly dangerous age because the brain is still developing and cannabis receptors are still abundant in white-matter pathways. Researchers at Oxford University found impaired axonal pathways in the hippocampus and portions of the bridges (e.g., corpus callosum, commissure) that connect the two hemispheres in the brain of regular cannabis users. The amount of impairment to these brain areas was directly associated with the age at which the individual began regular use of marijuana. Study results suggest that long-term cannabis use is hazardous particularly to white matter in the developing brain of adolescents and young adults. Delaying the age at which regular use begins may minimize the severity of microstructural impairment. White matter alteration has been linked with several health concerns including cognitive impairment; vulnerability to psychosis, depression, and anxiety disorders; and clinical outcomes in schizophrenia.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Brain Stress and Hurricane Sandy

No surprise, millions of people are facing rather daunting tasks of rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Such catastrophic events not only destroy lives and property, but also can precipitate a natural wave of stress along with sadness, anger, and fear that must be addressed. In the belief that each person can access a state of ease at times of great stress and emotional turbulence, the Institute of Heart Math has prepared a free e-book that requires no login to download. Entitled The State of Ease™ e-Booklet, it contains tools to help you create less stressful perceptions and attitudes along with more coherent alignment between your heart, mind, and emotions. Here is the link to copy and paste in your browser.

Monday, November 5, 2012

All About Energy

How's your brain energy today? In life you always give something up to get something. Whittled down to the bottom line, you always give up energy. It's the basic medium of exchange. You pay¾not with money, or talent, or high-tech commodities¾with energy. How do you use your available energy? Are you expending it in energy intensive or energy efficient ways? PET Scan studies have shown that the brain expends differing amounts of energy depending on the type of activity you are engaged in and whether or not it matches what your brain does energy efficiently. Become more aware of how you are expending your energy. Learn to compare your relative energy levels at the end of different types of activities. Figure out which ones drain your energy versus those that do not. Aim for a 51% match of your life's activities with your brain’s innate energy advantage. Sandwich the energy-exhausting activities in between. If you get serious about this and as your awareness increases, you may discover that there are some energy-exhausting activities you can stop doing altogether.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Is Your EC Working?

Did you know that the entorhinal cortex (EC) is one of the first brain areas to be affected in Alzheimer’s Disease? This little organ functions as a hub in a widespread brain network for memory and navigation and is the main interface between the hippocampus and the neocortex. This EC-hippocampus system plays a key role in autobiographical/declarative/episodic memories and in particular spatial memories including memory formation, consolidation, and optimization in sleep. The EC also plays a role in spatial directional activity. Studies of humans playing video games found path cells in the EC, the activity of which indicated whether the person was taking a clockwise or counterclockwise path. Such EC direction-path cells show this directional activity regardless of the location in which people experience themselves. This differs from place cells in the hippocampus that are activated by specific locations.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Stress-related Distraction

David Devilbiss, a scientist and lead author on a study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, there are dangers of stress-related distraction. “The literature tells us that stress plays a role in more than half of all workplace accidents, and a lot of people have to work under what we would consider a great deal of stress,” Devilbiss said. “Air traffic controllers need to concentrate and focus with a lot riding on their actions. People in the military have to carry out these thought processes in conditions that would be very distracting, and now we know that this distraction is happening at the level of individual cells in the brain.” Recent studies have demonstrated that rather than suppressing activity, stress modifies the nature of neuron activity. “Treatments that keep neurons on their self-stimulating task while shutting out distractions may help protect working memory.”

Friday, November 2, 2012

Resentment Cost

Did you know that unresolved resentment is dangerous and can take a huge toll on your health? Internationally renowned cardiologist, Herbert Benson said, "There's something called the physiology of forgiveness. Being unable to forgive other people's faults is harmful to one's health." Multiple studies have linked the inability or unwillingness to forgive with health hazards such as increased blood pressure, cardio-vascular disease, and immune suppression. A Duke University Medical Center study showed a decrease in back pain and depression, and lower levels of chronic pain in people who learned to forgive.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Are you a proficient reader? Researchers at Stanford University have found that proficient reading requires efficient communication between brain areas that involve vision, hearing, and language. These areas are distributed throughout the brain so the development of reading ability relates to growth in the brain’s white-matter tracts, bundles of myelinated nerve fibers that connect these distant regions of the brain. The growth of these white-matter tracts is governed by pruning (the elimination of extraneous nerve fibers and neuronal connections); and myelination (the coating of nerve fibers with myelin, a fatty, insulating tissue that increases the speed of transmission). Both processes are influenced by experience: underused nerve fibers are pruned while others are myelinated--so they occur at different rates and times in different people. Bottom line? Read to children; listen to them read. Read aloud to yourself. Keep those nerve fibers stimulated!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sensory Recruitment

Are you familiar with the term recruitment as it applies to absorbing sensory data? Recruitment can be defined as the enhancing of a sensory experience through the use of two or more senses (as compared to only one) when absorbing sensory data. For example, regardless of your sensory preference, you probably benefit from seeing a person’s face while communicating with him/her, especially if the surrounding environment is noisy. Looking at beautifully presented food often enhances the perception of its taste. Watching a person present a musical concert as you listen to the music may provide a very different experience to your brain when you listen to a CD of the concert later on. Studies in France have shown that multisensory integration is mediated by flexible, highly adaptive physiological processes that can take place very early in the sensory processing chain and that operate in both sensory-specific and nonspecific cortical structures in the brain in differing ways. Bottom line? Sensory recruitment often enhances your sensory experience as your brain absorbs incoming data in a way that does not occur when you receive the data primarily through only one sensory system.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Erase Fear Memories

Did you know studies at Uppsala University have shown that it is possible to erase a fear memory. When you experience a fearful event, a long-lasting memory is created by the process of consolidation (based on the formation of proteins). According to Thomas Ă…gren, a doctoral candidate at the Department of Psychology and co-author of the study, when participants had the reconsolidation process interrupted, the fearful memory was rendered neutral and no longer incited fear. Using a fMRI scanner, the researchers were able to show that the traces of that memory also disappeared from the amygdala, a part of the brain that normally stores fearful memories.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pick Up on Your Cues

How aware are you of what is going on in your brain and body at any given moment? Animals and children usually are highly competent at picking up on real emotional cues--in themselves and in others. It seems that some of this ability to perceive emotional reality has been lost in adulthood. There’s really no magic to it. Just as a vision-challenged individual learns to pay more attention to sound than do those with so-called normal vision, you can learn to pay attention again to your gut feelings, those internal reactions that you may have been socialized to stuff. You can learn your own body’s signs of stress, how it tries to get your attention when your mind has missed some cues. Some physicians are now saying that all those seeking to heal, or to stay healthy, need to reclaim the lost capacity for reading your body’s own language, for facing the truth about their lives based on the emotional reality that their bodies know and are trying to convey.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Education Online

Reports are that online schooling is exploding in the USA.  According to NewScientist, a small but rapidly growing number of families are turning to the Internet as an alternative to chronically under-resourced brick and mortar institutions. And as Kurzweil put it: Proponents say online primary and secondary education, whether full-time or as part of a “blended” program of online and face-to-face education, could usher in a new era of personalizing education that will give each child the best chance of success. According to the Evergreen Education Group based in Durango, Colorado, during the 2010-2011 school year, approximately a quarter of a million students attended online-only schools. Knowmia ( a Silicon Valley-based start-up, reportedly is building a recommendation engine for the ever-expanding collection of free online educational videos.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Green Tea and EGCG

It has long been believed that drinking green tea is good for the memory. Now Chinese researchers, led by Professor Yun Bai from the Third Military Medical University, Chongqing, China, have discovered how the chemical properties green tea affect the generation of brain cells, providing benefits for memory and spatial learning. The study focused on the organic chemical EGCG (epigallocatechin-3 gallate), the major polyphenol in green tea. EGCG can easily pass through the blood-brain barrier and reach the functional parts of the brain. While EGCG is a known antioxidant, the team believes it could also have a beneficial effect against age-related degenerative diseases. And unlike coffee where you add new coffee and water to the second cup. the tea leaves are always there, so you only need to add hot water to make the effective components release. Incidentally, green tea is touted as China's favorite beverage . . .

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Doorways and Forgetting

Have you ever entered a room and forgot what you were going to get or do in that room? Professor Gabriel Radvansky, Psychology Professor at University of Notre Dame, reported new research on this problem. According to Radvansky, “Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away.” Using college students as subjects, three experiments in both real and virtual environments were conducted. Subjects performed memory tasks while crossing a room and while exiting a doorway. Results showed that subjects forgot more after walking through a doorway compared to moving the same distance across a room, suggesting that the doorway or “event boundary” impedes one’s ability to retrieve thoughts or decisions made in a different room. As you pass through a doorway, say aloud what you want to do or find in the next room. That might help your brain to keep the goal in short-term working memory.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Your Brain's Imagination

Did you know that imagination forms the foundation for every uniquely human achievement? Creativity, progress, innovation, inventions, and so on all require imagination. As Ken Robinson PhD put it, through imagination you not only bring to mind things you have experienced, but things you have never experienced. You can conjecture, hypothesize, speculate, and suppose. Through imagination you can visit the past, contemplate, and present, and anticipate the future. You can also do something else that is both profound and of immense significance: you can create. Of all the brain’s capacities, the ability to imagine may be the one that most people tend to take for granted. That’s unfortunate. And yet imagination is different from creativity. Think of creativity as applied imagination, putting your imagination to work. Make something new, come up with new solutions to problems, think of new questions. Apply your imagination to every day living. Allow it help you be more successful.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Language Lateralization

Looking for hemispheric lateralization or functional localization, researchers at MIT used fMRI to analyze a variety of different types of language tasks. Out of the nine regions they analyzed — four in the left frontal lobe, including the region known as Broca’s area, and five further back in the left hemisphere — eight uniquely supported language, showing no significant activation for any of the seven other tasks (including music, memory, arithmetic, and cognitive control).. These findings indicate a “striking degree of functional specificity for language,” the researchers said. Although the results don’t imply that every cognitive function has its own dedicated piece of cortex, the results give hope to researchers looking to draw some distinctions within the human cortex.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Functional Specificity

Functional specificity refers to the idea that discrete parts of the brain handle distinct tasks. Scientists have long known that functional specificity exists in certain domains: in the motor system, for example, there is one patch of neurons that controls the fingers of your left hand, and another that controls your tongue. And now researchers have discovered that portions of the brain appear dedicated to language only. That finding marked a major advance in the search for brain regions specialized for sophisticated mental functions. The researchers used an innovative method to analyze fMRI data, subject by subject, allowing them to discern individual patterns of brain activity. More about their findings tomorrow.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Imaginary Playmates

Did you ever had an imaginary playmate in childhood? Some children's brains do create one, although they may not talk about it to avoid being punished or shamed. The reality principle--even knowing the difference between imagining and pretending versus what is tangible and concrete--appears to kick in some time after the age of four. I had one and thought to call up his memory picture when I was just asked again about how to "make a child stop lying about a pretend friend."  Little John Deerfoot, my imaginary First Nation friend, was the recipient of a great deal of my childhood chatter about life. I was home schooled (alone) for K - Grade Five. He was my seat-mate in that one-student school.  Even today as I write this, he is as clear is my mind as if he was standing right in front of me, with his jet black hair, beaded headband, single feather stuck in the back, and buff deer-skin clothing. With lots of fringe!   I suggested the parent let it go, perhaps making a comment now and then about the difference between seeing and touching a person in real life and just visualizing the person  in the mind's eye. The power of imagination is a mental faculty built into the brain (likely in the right frontal lobe). If it has been developed, imagination can help you to plan, envision, create, innovate, invent, set and achieve goals, and so on. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Exercise - Wonder Drug

Did you know that physical exercise may be the closest thing to a wonder drug that self-control scientists have discovered? Fifteen minutes on a treadmill reduces cravings (e.g., seen when researchers try to tempt dieters with chocolate and smokers with cigarettes). According to Kelly McGonigal PhD, author of The Willpower Instinct, the long-terms effects of physical exercises are even more impressive: it relieves everyday stress; is as powerful an antidepressant as Prozac; enhances the biology of selfcontrol by increasing baseline heart rate variability and training the brain; and can increase both gray matter and white matter in the brain. There's no scientific consensus on the amounts needed, however. A 2010 analysis of ten different studies showed that the largest mood-boosting and stress-reducing effects came from five-minute doses of exercise (not hour-long sessions).

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Phonagnosia is rare

Phonagnosia. Interesting word. Turns out it describes an interesting condition, too. Researchers at the University College London, have identified and reported this rare condition. When your cell phone rings and you answer, given that you know the indivdiual who is calling, you will recognize that person by the sound of their voice without having to check caller ID. Most people were born with this ability. They learn quite quickly to recognize people by the sound of their voices. But apparently not all. Dr Brad Duchaine, co-author of a case study reported in the online issue of the journal Neuropsychologia, says: "Occasionally, people have experienced problems recognizing voices following a stroke or brain damage, but this is the first documented case of someone growing up with this condition." In all likelihood, there are others on this plant with this condition. As someone with an auditory sensory preference, I wonder what that would be like?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Vitamin B12 and Brain Atrophy

Did you know that there seems to be a connection between Vitamin B 12 and a risk of brain shrinkage? A study published in the journal Neurology analyzed low levels of vitamin B12 that still fell within the normal range. Results showed that older individuals with low levels of vitamin B12 seemed to be at increased risk for brain atrophy, which is associated with Alzheimer's disease and impaired cognitive function. Although all participants had B12 levels within the normal range, there was a difference between the higher levels and the lower levels in terms of brain shrinkage. Ongoing research seeks to evaluate whether B vitamins can be recommended as a treatment.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sexual Objectification of Women

Did you know that when focusing your eyes upon an object, the brain either perceives it in its entirety or as a collection of its parts? A new study suggests that these two distinct cognitive processes also are involved with one’s basic physical perceptions of men and women. The research, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, found that the brain tends to see men as people and women as body parts. When viewing images of men, perceivers tended to rely more on "global" cognitive processing; images of women were more often the subject of "local" cognitive processing. According to lead author Sarah Gervais, U of Nebrasks-Lincoln, this is the first study to link cognitive processes to objectification theory. The perceiver pool was evenly divided between men and women. The gender of participants doing the observing had no effect on the outcome. Regardless of their gender, perceivers saw men more "globally" and women more "locally."

Saturday, October 13, 2012

ASD and Schizophrenia

Did you know that Autism Spectrum Disorders, Schizophrenia, (and perhaps Bipolar Disorder, as well), may share some common roots? Studies showed the risk of an autism spectrum disorder may be higher among people whose parents or siblings have been diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Findings came from a case-control study using population registers in Sweden and Israel. According to Patrick F. Sullivan, professor in the department of genetics and director of psychiatric genomics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, “The results were very consistent in large samples from several different countries and lead us to believe that autism and schizophrenia are more similar than we had thought.”

Friday, October 12, 2012

Your Brain on Fructose

How much fructose is in your diet? A new UCLA rat study, reported in the Journal of Physiology, may be the first to show how a diet steadily high in fructose slows the brain and hampers memory and learning. Two groups of rats were first taught to run a maze that had many holes but only one exit. Both groups were then fed a typical rat diet with the addition of fructose solution as drinking water. The second group was also given omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseed oil and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is essential for synaptic function. Six weeks later cells in the brains of rats who had not received omega-3 fatty acids brain cells had trouble signaling each other, disrupting the rats' ability to think clearly and recall the route they'd learned six weeks earlier. The rats had difficulty negotiating the maze and showed signs of insulin resistance. Typical Western diets include significant amounts of cane sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, an inexpensive liquid sweetener. (Fructose in fruits appears to be less impactful because fruits also contain important antioxidants).  You may want to reduce your fructose intake and be sure to include omega-3s in your diet when you do want a high-fructose item.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Brain-Heart Consciousness

Did you grow up believing that conscious awareness is not only a function of the brain but originates in the brain itself? Think again. Studies suggest that consciousness emerges from the brain and body acting together. A growing body of evidence suggests that the heart plays a particularly significant role in this process. Far more than a simple pump, the heart is now viewed as a highly complex, self-organizing information processing center. It has its own functional heart-brain that communicates with, and influences, the cranial brain via the nervous system, hormonal system, and other pathways.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Anti-Aging Brain Fitness Programs

Are you failing to engage regularly in brain aerobic exercises because you aren’t convinced that it will help to age-proof your brain? Think again. Kurzweil News reported on a study by UCLA researchers. They studied 59 participants who were recruited from local retirement communities in Southern California. The average age was 84. The study found that that older adults who regularly used a brain fitness program played on a computer demonstrated significantly improved memory and language skills. The volunteers were split into two groups:  the first group used a brain fitness program for an average of 73 twenty-minute sessions over a six-month period; the second group played it less than 45 times during the same period. Researchers found that the first group demonstrated significantly higher improvement in memory and language skills, compared to the second group. Age-related memory decline affects approximately forty percent of older adults and is characterized by self-perception of memory loss and decline in memory performance. Get busy age-proofing your brain!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Obesity and Cancer

Studies have shown a connection between obesity in women and an increased risk for symptoms of mental deterioration. Now studies have connected being overweight with an increased risk of cancer reoccurrence, especially in relation to hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. The trials were led by the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (now part of the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group). They involved 6,885 women treated with standard chemotherapy for breast cancer and followed for eight years. Results, published in the American Cancer Society Journal. showed a 30 percent higher risk of recurrence and a 50 percent higher risk of death when compared with death rates for women of normal weight who had breast cancer. Doing whatever it takes to maintain your weight within normal limits for your body type may pay big dividends in more ways than originally believed.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sleepy Foods #1

Did you know that some foods may help to promote better sleep? According to Russell Rosenberg, PhD and CEO of the National Sleep Foundation, some small studies suggest that some food items eaten before bedtime may be “sleep promoters” for some individuals. Cherries, for example, are one of the few foods that naturally contain melatonin. So eating a few cherries or sipping a little bit of tart cherry juice before retiring may be helpful in promoting sleep. Jasmine rice ranks high on the glycemic index, meaning the body digests it slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the bloodstream. A 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that eating jasmine rice (high on the Glycemic Index scale) four hours before bedtime cut the amount of time it took to fall asleep by half compared with eating a high-glycemic-index meal at the same time interval. Watch for more examples.