Friday, August 31, 2012

Read, Read, Read

How much do you read? Studies have shown that the more you read, the more you know, and the smarter you grow. Not only that, the more diplomas you earn the more likely you are to earn more money in a lifetime, and even your children’s grades tend to be higher in school. It appears that you get more out of what you read when you read aloud, too. Reading aloud also reinforces speaking abilities stored in your brain. Do you have children of your own, or nieces and nephews, or do you know children in your community? The single most important activity for building knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children. It has been found to be more important that worksheets, homework, assignments, book reports, and flashcards. If you already are a prolific reader, wonderful. If not, start now to build new habits. Read. Read to yourself. Read to others. Read silently. Read aloud. Read hard-copy books or via electronic readers. Read!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Power of "No"

How comfortable are you saying “no?” It's a very powerful word. Some people were not permitted to say “no” in childhood, even though the terrible twos (so called) is a time when the brain is supposed to be learning to differentiate itself from other human beings. If you didn’t learn to say “no” in childhood, you may be unable to say “no” in adulthood. To anything. The book entitled When the Body Says NO, may be landmark in exploring the connection between stress and disease. The author wrote: “When we have been prevented from learning how to say no, our bodies may end up saying it for us.” Most people remember wanting to stay home from school because it was perceived as a non-nurturing, stressful, and non-accepting environment. When the stress became bad enough, the body would allow you to catch a cold, or develop a migraine, or double over with a stomach ache. In adulthood, you may not perceive you have the option to stay home for work. Taking an R-and-R day once in a while, however, may be as helpful as missing a day of school was back during childhood. When people do not listen to the mindbody’s need for a break, the body may become even more vocal as it yells “no,” through a variety of physical symptoms.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Gender and Nouns

As you may know, some languages assign gender to nouns. Studies have shown that the gender assigned to a noun, in a language that assigns gender to nouns, can influence the way in which individuals perceive and describe the object. For example: “Key” is masculine in German but feminine in Spanish. When describing a key, German speakers typically used words such as hard, heavy, metal, serrated, and useful; Spanish speakers were more likely to use words like lovely, intricate, golden, tiny, and shiny. The word “bridge” is feminine in German but masculine in Spanish. German speakers were more likely to describe a bridge as beautiful, elegant, pretty, slender, etc., while Spanish speakers tended to use descriptors such as big, long, strong, towering, sturdy. This pattern held true even though all testing was done using English, a language in which nouns are typically gender-neutral.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

23 Plus 23 Equals What?

It equals who you are! People sometimes wonder the reason that siblings sometimes are so dramatically different from each other, not only in looks but also in attitudes and behaviors. Originally it was thought (as postulated by Gregor Mendel, sometimes known as the father of modern genetics), that each biological parent provided contributions to a person's genetic makeup in equal ways. Now it turns out that imprinted genes (they carry an extra molecule) from biological parents do not necessarily exert the same level of influence on the developing fetus. For example, it appears that a mother's genes may have more control over higher congnitive functions while a father's genes may have more of an impact on a desire to eat and to mate. Mother's genes tend to silence other specific genes; father's genes tend to silence different specific genes. Fortunately, most people get a fairly healthy brain out of this complex complexity. But sometimes the process doesn't work as well as would be desirable. There is some indication that imprinting errors might be implicated in a variety of conditions including schizophrenia and autism. Fascinating!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Child Abuse and Brain Changes

Can childhood abuse impact the brain? Apparently it not only can, but does, in a myriad of different ways. Studies by reserchers at McGill University in Montreal, Canada appear to correlate abuse during childhood with changes to the brain (e.g., genes that code for cortisol receptors were about forty percent less active in people who had been abused as children than in those who had not). Over the past decade or so, researchers at McGill U have shown correlations between affectionate mothering in animals and altered gene expression of genes that allowed them to dampen their physiological response to stress. These latest studies seem to show that a smiliar effect appears in human brains, as well.  Results of fMRI studies have shown that the brains of children raised in violent families resemble the brains of soldiers exposed to combat. As adults, children who were abused in childhood tend to exhibit high levels of aggression, anxiety, depression, and other behavioral problems. It’s as if they’re primed to perceive threat and anticipate pain, adaptations that may be helpful in abusive environments but which produce long-term problems with stress and anxiety.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Autism Studies and Talking

Did you know that recent studies indicate that more than three-fourths of children who have been diagnosed as autistic can learn to talk? If these children learn verbal skills by age five, in adulthood they tend to be happier and higher functioning that do their nonverbal peers. Initial studies were done by Connie Kasari and colleagues at UCLA. Follow-up studies showed long-term language improvement for kids with autism after an intensive, targeted behavioral therapy program. Findings were published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (May ’12). Some children do not seem to be able to learn useful language by age five, but studies suggest it is possible to acquire language later. The new studies show a method for teaching preschool-aged children basic skills that is aimed to help them develop language by five, and continue to make improvements years later.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Yawning and Brain Cooling

Did you know that yawning has been found to be contagious among humans, chimps, and dogs, and may be a behavior indicating a capacity for empathy? Not only that, researchers at Princeton University’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, think yawning may actually function as a ventilation system. The study’s authors hypothesize that the thin posterior wall of the maxillary sinus may flex during yawning, operating like a bellows pump, actively ventilating the sinus system and facilitating brain cooling. The influx of cool air that occurs when you yawn helps to cool and increase blood flow in the neck, face, sinuses and head; which together act like a radiator to cool the brain.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Your Unconscious Mind

Did you know the conscious mind has the power to control many so-called involuntary actions? Using biofeedback techniques laboratory subjects have learned how to consciously alter actions (e.g., lower blood pressure, control amount of acid secreted in the stomach, regulate body temperature, and increase frequency of alpha waves in their brains). They have even learned to regulate their dreams (even children can learn to do this). For another example, “wet dreams” have rarely been observed in a dream lab yet it's a natural and common occurrence for males (e.g., males ejaculate semen during a dream). The conclusion by some researchers is that some type of control is involved (e.g., the brain is "conscious" of being observed and actively prevents an otherwise involuntary action from taking place). (Padus, Emrika, Exec. Edit. The Complete Guide to Your Emotions and Your Health. P.318-320. PA:Rodale Press, Inc, 1992)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Five-Fold Synaesthesia

No doubt you have heard of Synaesthesia. You might even be a synaesthete yourself. Synaesthesia is a condition in which the stimulation of one sense prompts a reaction in another sense. Neuropsychologist A. Luria, a famous neuropsychologist, diagnosed an especially strong form of synaesthesia (five-fold synaesthesia) in a Russian mnemonist named Solomon Veniaminovich Shereshevsky. Reportedly, the stimulation of one sense resulted in a reaction in every other sense. For example, if Solomon heard a musical tone played he would immediately see a color, touch would trigger a taste sensation, and so on. (Luria, Aleksandr Romanovich. 1987. The mind of a mnemonist: a little book about a vast memory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. pp. 31)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Resentment and Health

Did you know that forgiveness is now taking its place as an important issue in healthcare? Forgiveness research is relatively new, but it has grown exponentially over the past decade. The studies have shown that there is not just a psychology underlying forgiveness but a physiology as well. Forgiveness is good for one’s health. A society that cannot forgive loses its heart; a civilization devoid of forgiveness may eventually cease to exist. Studies have found that when giving the gift of forgiveness, altruistic motives hold greater benefits than do self-interested motives. And on the other hand, the opposite of forgiveness, resentment, is not good for one’s health.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Synaesthesia and DNA

Did you know that synaesthesia appears to have roots in DNA? Synaesthesia is a fascinating phenomenon whereby, in some individuals, cross-wiring occurs between the senses. It can take many forms and seems to run in families, although it also appears to be affected by environmental factors. Studies of this phenomenon at the University of Oxford in England have uncovered regions of human DNA that wires some people to “see" sounds or “hear” colors in ways that do not occur in the brains of non-synaesthetes.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Heart Neurons

Did you know your heart maintains a sophisticated circuitry of neurons, neurotransmitters, proteins, and support cells that qualify it as an intelligent brain? The heart is constantly involved with processes throughout the body, whether it is pumping blood through your system, communicating with cells or sending out strong rhythmic signals to the cranial brain that dramatically affect thinking, perception and performance. Achieving an optimal state depends on the synchronicity/harmony of bodily systems including maintaining what is known as a coherent heart, one that is marked by smooth rhythms, helps a great deal. The coherent heart sends out coherent signals to the brain and the rest of the body, thus promoting system-wide harmony.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Romance You Say?

What is your definition of romance? It may need to be expanded! Romance is the part of you that keeps the wonder in your life, that sees your life in beautiful terms, that creates a transcendent moment in time, that (as with a prism) breaks trivialities into the brilliant colors of true meaning. Consciousness is the lifeblood of romanse. Develop the art of paying attention. You can do that by looking on things from the perspective of a child’s eye. Romance is much larger than the definition many live with.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Spirit is What?

Can you define sprit? It's a challenge. Some researches have suggested that (using the mind-body-spirit concept) the concept of spirit may be the non-physical element or field of the mind that apparently can communicate with the cosmos outside the constraints of space and time. The evidence for such communication comes from a variety of reported phenomena of extra-sensory perception (e.g., telepathy, precognition, and clairvoyance), psycho-kinesis, psychic healing, and religious experiences.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Primate Neuroprosthesis

Have you heard about the new neuroprosthesis that enabled primates to regain movement in a temporarily paralyzed hand? (A neuroprosthesis is a device that replaces lost or impaired nervous system function.) The research team at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago reported that use of their neuroprosthesis restored intentional precision grasping ability in each monkey's temporarily paralyzed hand. Researchers now plan to study how the primate’s brain changes as it continues to use this neuroprosthesis.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Neurons in Your "Gut"

Did you know that mouse research (published in The Journal of Neuroscience) has shown that the lower digestive tract in adults can produce new neurons to the intestinal system? Estimates are that the enteric nervous system contains a million neurons (that control the gastrointestinal or GI system), half of all the neurotransmitter dopamine in your brain and body, and perhaps ninety percent of all the neurotransmitter serotonin. No wonder what is going on in your brain can be acted out in GI symptoms! The research showed that drugs similar to serotonin increased the production of new neurons in the intestinal walls.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

False Memories

Have you ever wondered if it is possible to create false memories? Studies have shown that with repeated recollection, a person can come to believe that something specific really happened or that it happened in a specific way that may not be completely accurate. With repeated recollection and rehearsal, false memories may become more and more like true memories, with more information and greater levels of details.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Retina - Rod-photoreceptor Transplants

Did you know that loss of functional rod-photoreceptors in the retina is believed to be the cause of blindness in many human eye diseases including age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, and diabetes-related blindness? Studies at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology showed that transplanting light-sensitive photoreceptors into the eyes of visually impaired mice restored their vision. After four to six weeks, the transplanted cells used in this first-time procedure had formed the connections needed to transmit visual information to the brain and appeared to be functioning almost as well as normal rod-photoreceptor cells. After additional studies with cone photoreceptor transplantation, it is conceivable that human trials could begin.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Heart Intuition

Did you know that scientists have discovered that the heart is involved in the processing and decoding of intuitive information? Tests done on research subjects showed that the heart appeared to receive intuitive information even before the brain. This could be the basis of saying “Follow you heart and you will never go wrong”. In order to produce deep thought, which helps in improving personal well being, the cerebral brain needs to work with the gastrointestinal system and the heart. When these three work together harmoniously, the likelihood of having a healthy body and a powerful mind is increased.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Remember to Forget

Did you know that the brain forgets things on purpose? In other words, forgetting is an active process to remove memory. In a sense, the brain is designed to forget, to allow you focus on the types of things your brain finds interesting. Researchers and scientists have debated about the reasons people forget. One theory held that new memories are simply unstable and evaporate over time. Another that interference caused earlier short-term memories to be overridden as new information comes in. Now it appears that those competing notions are, at the molecular level at least, one and the same.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Vagus Nerve - Gut to Brain

Did you know that the vagus nerve is one of the longest in your body, running from top to bottom (brain to rectum)? Its central purpose is to relay information from internal organs (such as those in your gastrointestinal system and heart) to the brain. The autonomous nervous system in your gastrointestinal system allows it to work independently of your the brain. While the average brain has nearly 100 billion neurons, the digestive system of the body (gut) has close to 500 million nerve cells and 100 million neurons. The heart-brain interaction takes place both by electrical signals (via the vagus and the spinal chord nerves) and through chemicals (heart is an endocrine gland also). Not only does the gut communicate with the brain chemically (e.g., releasing chemicals that are transported to the brain by the blood) but also by sending electrical signals via the vagus nerve.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Heart Peptides and Your Mood

Did you know that in addition to electrical signaling, the heart releases peptides that can impact your mood? Think of the heart as an endocrine gland. The peptides it releases help in blood pressure modulation and improving the functioning of kidneys. These peptides also stimulate the pituitary gland thereby helping it to release hormones like oxytocin commonly referred to as “love” or bonding hormone. Oxytocin also helps in increasing a sense of wellbeing. This could be a basis for saying that happy feelings emanate from the heart. (Peptides are molecules consisting of two or more amino acids but that are smaller than proteins--which are also chains of amino acids--that appear to believed to influence a person’s mood.)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Body Language

Did you know that babies initially use a communication system (body language) that all social animals use? Gradually babies learn to lean more heavily on the spoken word, while dogs, cats, and horses will continue to rely on body language. Although capable of learning verbal commands (a foreign language for them) dogs normally communicate through body language and facial expression and are attuned to reading these in their owners. Hungarian studies showed that dogs are receptive to human communication in a manner that was previously attributed only to 6-month-old human infants.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Brain-Body Communication

Did you know that brain imaging studies have allowed researcher to see how the immune system and brain cooperate to help you stay healthy? According to Hunter, professor and chair of Department of Pathobiology at Penn Vet, researchers have imaged in real time the body’s immune system response to a parasitic brain infection. It appears that in the brain, specialized structures, induced by inflammation, guide the migration of T cells in this immune-privileged environment and allow them to perform a search-and-destroy type of mission required to find abnormal cells or microbes with the brain. This is just more validation that the brain and immune system do cooperate in keeping you well.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Your Own Pharmacy

You carry your own Pharmacy in your brain and body. And you don't require a physician's order to obtain the benefits of its medication, either. For example, experiencing positive emotions and feelings such as happiness, gratitude, compassion, and love can reduce the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. As cortisol levels fall, the anti-aging hormone DHEA increases. According to "The Heartmath Solution," this is because the same hormone is used in the body to manufacture the anti-aging hormone(DHEA) and the stress hormone (cortisol). DHEA is believed to have a regenerative effect on many of the body systems and may help to counteract some of the negative consequences of aging. Such a deal!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Stress hardiness and the Brain

Did you know that stress hardiness has a lot to do with what goes on inside your brain? Dr. Suzanne Kobasa and colleagues studied business exectives and lawyers. They found that those with a great deal of life stress could be protected from physical illness by a combination of three attitudes:

1. Commitment - an attitude of curiosity and involvement in whatever is happening

2. Control - the belief that they can influence events, coupled with a willing to act on that belief rather than be a victim of circumstances (the opposite of helplessness)

3. Challenge - the belief that life's changes stimulate personal growth instead of threatening the status quo


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Vit D Deficiency

Did you know that Vitamin D deficiency has been linked both to autism and to schizophrenia? Swedish researchers reviewed the blood work of 117 out-patient psychiatric subjects in Sweden. The researchers found that having a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder or schizophrenia predicted low levels of serum vitamin D. Researchers suspect that vitamin D deficiency may not only be a predisposing developmental factor but also may relate to the adult patients’ psychiatric state. This was further supported when some patients with vitamin D deficiency underwent vitamin D treatment and experienced an improved psychiatric state.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Energy and Forgiveness

Need more energy? Forgiveness is now taking its place as an important issue in healthcare. Forgiveness research is relatively new, but it has grown exponentially over the past decade. Studies have shown that there is not just a psychology underlying forgiveness but a physiology as well. Forgiveness is good for one’s health! A society that cannot forgive loses its heart; a civilization devoid of forgiveness may eventually cease to exist. Studies have found that when giving the gift of forgiveness, altruistic motives hold greater benefits than do self-interested motives. Forgiveness may even impact your energy levels. According to the authors of Executive EQ, through forgiveness, you can convert suffering into new energy to move forward. It partly depends on choice and partly on compassion but the process can release trapped energy for use elsewhere.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Brain Plasticity and Vision

Did you know that patients who had gone partially blind as a result of suffering a stroke were able to regain some vision through exercise? The patients did about 300 exercise-tests at a time, sitting in front of a computer for 15 to 30 minutes once or twice a day, every day, for nine to 18 months. The work was exhausting but it did help them to regain some vision, showing that the brain may have even more plasticity than was originally believed.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Your Autobiographical Memory

How is your autobiographical memory? Autobiographical memory is a type of memory system that enables humans to recall events from his or her personal life. It is formed by a combination of personal experiences involving specific objects, people, and events that were experienced at a specific time and place (episodic memory) along with general facts and knowledge about the world (semantic memory). Most people have some autobiographical memory. A few individuals have been identified as having hyperthymesia or HSAM, Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (e.g., Merilu Henner).