Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lessons From Mother #5

More tongue-in-cheek lessons from mother.

• My mother taught me to appreciate house cleaning: “If you two are going to keep on fighting, take it outside. I just finished vacuuming!”
• My mother taught me about time travel: “If you don’t straighten up this minute, you'll find yourself in the middle of next week!”

• My mother taught me about silence: “That does it! I don’t want to hear one more word out of you! Just sit there and eat your dinner!”

• My mother taught me about stamina: “Oh yes you will! You’ll sit there until every bit of food is off your plate!”

• My mother taught me about hypocrisy: “If I told you once, I’ve told you a million times. Don’t exaggerate!”

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chemosignals and Sexual Partner #2

The results of a study using PET and fMRI on three groups of individuals (homosexual males, heterosexual males and females) by Ivanka Savic and colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden was printed in the journal Neuroscience. The study found that common odors (e.g., cedar, lavender) were processed similarly in all three groups of subjects and engaged only the olfactory brain (amygdala, piriform, orbitofrontal, and insular cortex). But when confronted by AND, a testosterone compound, portions of the anterior hypothalamus, brain areas related to sexual activity, showed activity in straight women and in gay men, but not in straight men. These findings showed that the human brain reacts differently to putative pheromones compared with common odors, and suggest a link between sexual orientation and hypothalamic neuronal processes. Although it is premature to classify AND and EST (an estrogen compound) as pheromones, the data suggest that they may function as chemosignals.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Flow or In the Zone

What do you love that you are naturally good at doing? What can wipe all perception of time from your mind? What is intrinsically rewarding to your brain? This state has been referred to as flow by some and by others as being in the zone. You can experience this state personally when you are in the moment and doing something you love; you can sometimes observe it in others, see them suddenly loosen up as if they’ve entered a different phase of performance. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote about flow in the 1986 book he coauthored with Reed Larsen, Being Adolescent: Conflict And Growth In The Teenage Years, expanding on the concept in his 1993 book (Flow and the Evolving Self) and in his 2008 book (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience). When you are in this state you gain energy, even when you are tired. It has everything to do with your mental energy. These peak experiences have been associated with physiological changes in the body including release of endorphins and adrenalin, an increase in alpha wave activity, alteration in patterns of breathing and heart rates, even changes in metabolic rates. When do you experience flow?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The "Other" Senses

Ken Robinson PhD made it a point to "point out" in his book  "The Element" that most people stop with the five senses they learned in childhood:  smell, sight, sound, taste, and touch. They rarely think about the other senses, if they even know about them. Ken listed four more "senses." Here are numbers three and four:

3. Equilibrioception - a sense of balance and acceleration. The fluids and bones of the inner ear mediate a sense of balance. A damaged sense of balance can create all manner of havoc in one's life!

4. Proprioception - a sense of where our bodies and arms and legs are in space and in relationship to each other. No surprise, this sense is essential for human being to get up, get around, and get back again to where they started.

That makes at least nine sensory systems, according to Robinson. Who knows? It might not stop at nine, either!

Friday, July 26, 2013

More than Five Senses

I've mentioned in previous blogs that my interest in "the sensory systems" was piqued early in life by my brother's dramatic dislike of moth balls. More specifically, the smell of moth balls. Most of us have become accustomed to thinking of the senses in terms of sight, sound, odor, taste, and touch. Recently I was reading "The Element," written by Ken Robinson PhD. According to Ken, "Physiologists largely agree that in addition to the five (senses) we all know about, there are four more." Two of them are listed below. The other two will be in tomorrow's blog.

1.  Thermoception - a sense of temperature. Human beings do not need to touch anything to feel hot or cold. This is crucial given that we can survive only within a relatively narrow band of temperatures.

2. Nociception - a sense of pain. Scientists now generally agree that this is a different sensory system from either touch or temperature. In fact, this sensory system is able to differentiate between pain that originates from the inside or the outside of our bodies.

Part 2, tomorrow.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Website Migration

Migration. I found several definitions:

1.  The seasonal movement of a complete population of animals from one area to another.

2.  The movement of people across a specified boundary for the purpose of establishing a new or semi-permanent residence.

3.  The process of moving from the use of one operating environment to another operating environment that is thought to be a better one.

I've watched number one, been part of number two, and now am caught up in number three due to information technology. My webmaster informs me that my website is "migrating to a new "server." Hmmm. It seems this I. T. migration sometimes stumbles around a bit in the process. When I heard that phrase, my mind automatically pictured a blind-folded machine on wheels rolling around from room to room  . . . Please be patient if something you are looking for on my website is still trying to find its new server. If this persists for any length of time, please let me know so my webmaster can try to find the lost pieces and point them in the right direction. I love technology, don't get me wrong, but sometimes I wish it was a bit more predictable. Although when I mentioned that to a friend of mine earlier today, the response I received was: "Oh, it's very predictable. You can count on some sort of glitch in the process and you'll be lucky if it's only one or two!"

Encouraging, to say the least . . .

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Who Am I?

A simple question and one that has intrigued human beings for eons. It can be challenging to answer; often for women who’ve been socialized to nurture others and ignore themselves. Developing a thriving and empowering lifestyle is predicated on knowing who you are and being true to yourself. I began my discovery journey by purposing to take one small step every day toward identifying who I was innatelynot necessarily the person my parents, teachers, partner, children, religious advisors, work associates, or friends told me I was supposed to be. Figuring that out is a process, a bit like assembling a giant puzzle; challenging, exciting, and above all rewarding. I’m learning to accept each piece of information without judgment and simply add it to the collage. Another piece and another puzzle piece slips into view. As we identify and acknowledge who we are innately with honor and love, and move toward embracing and developing that giftedness, one step leads to anotherand we find our own path. The words of Collin McCarty speak to this:

"One of the best things we can do in our lives is this: begin again. Begin to see yourself as you were when you were the happiest and strongest you’ve ever been. Begin to remember what worked for you and what worked against you, and try to capture the magic again…sometimes all it takes is a wish in your heart to let yourself begin again."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Contented Mind

The brain and the body are one. That’s nothing new, you say. Actually it is a relatively new concept in some Western cultures. Studies have shown that there is a continual flow of biochemical information among all the cells in both the brain and the body. Research by Dr. Candace Pert (INH researcher and discoverer of opiate receptors in the human brain) has led her to assert that the body is the subconscious mind. Whatever goes on in the brain is acted out in the physical body. She coined the term bodymind to describe this unified communication and collaboration. In terms of health and high-level-wellness living, what is good for the brain is good for the body’s immune system, and vice versa. A contented bodymind may be key to thriving. Strategies to consider encompass affirmations, optimum nutrition, anti-aging exercises, visualization, relaxation techniques, meditation, grief recovery, personal growth…

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Happiness and Countries

You might find it interesting to read the section on “happiness” in a recent TIME (July 8-15, 2013). I found a couple of comments fascinating. One was about Canadians (my country of origin) and the other was about Icelanders (I recently returned from a delightful visit):

When it comes to work-life balance and life satisfaction, Canadians score significantly higher than Americans while making considerably less money.

They may have suffered through a near crippling economic downturn and regularly face long, hard winters, but people in Iceland have the strongest sense of community and the closest social networks in the world—big factors in leading a happy life.

Happiness likely involves a personal mindset, a choice made in the brain. It may be based less on what happens to you and more on the spin you choose to put on what happens to you…

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sweet Taste Preference and Heritability

An article published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition entitled “Sweet taste preferences are partly genetically determined: identification of a trait locus on chromosome 16” reported studies by Kaisu Keskitalo and colleagues in Finland. Their objective was to study a proportion of inherited sweet taste preference and they performed a genome-wide linkage analysis to locate the underlying genetic elements in the genome. These words appear at the end of the article: “In conclusion, individual differences in sweet taste preferences appear to be partly heritable. A locus on chromosome 16 was found to affect the use frequency of sweet foods. This result can be considered to be very significant, because a sweet taste preference has not been previously shown to be heritable in humans. This observation broadens our understanding of human food choice.” From my perspective, if an innate preference for sweet taste is partly heritable, other aspects of sensory preferences may be heritable, as well.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Sensory Systems

I have been interested in the senses since early childhood (see article on my website entitled "Stinky, Stinky, Stinky"). As I grew older, some of those early childhood experiences motivated me to look for additional information related to the sensory systems, synesthesia, and sensory preference. As work related to Neurolinguistic Programming or NLP became available, it provided more food for thought. In the 1970's I began working on a Sensory Preference Assessment, which has been available since early 1980 and is free of charge on my website: Along the way there have been ongoing questions about the origin of sensory preference. Is it innate, learned, inherited, parts of all three or something quite different? Studies by Kaisu Keskitalo and colleagues in Finland have added some research data to this body of knowledge. Humans have an innate preference for sweet taste, but the degree of liking for sweet foods varies individually. Their research objective was to study a proportion of inherited sweet taste preference and to this end they performed a genome-wide linkage analysis to locate the underlying genetic elements in the genome. More on what they discovered—tomorrow.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Brain and Multi-Tasking

The brain typically functions best when it is focusing its attention on one thing at a time rather than trying to multitask. It can take up to seven seconds for the brain to switch its full attention completely from one task to another. This may be one reason that in this age of technology the reported number of pedestrian fatalities has risen by 4.2% and injuries by 19%. Crossing a street while texting, tweeting, or even talking on the phone may be dangerous to life and limb. There’s usually a downside to most things in life. Accidents, injuries, and deaths may be a key downside to technology--because of the impact of multitasking on the human brain. People often think: That won't happen to me. Be wise when using technology. Protect your brain and body from injury.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Happiness and the Brain

Did you catch the section on “happiness” in a recent TIME (July 8-15, 2013)? It started out with a catchy sentence: “If you’re an American and you’re not having fun, it just might be your own fault.” Here are few findings mentioned in the article:

  • “Marriage does contribute to bliss; it’s a better predictor of happiness than having money or children.

  • “About 80% of young people who say they have a good relationship with their parents are also happier with life in general.

  • “Homosexual men (2013 study) experience less depression than heterosexual men, as long as they had come out.”
    Happiness is a brain state . . .

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Distracted Walking

Have you been attempting to save time by trying to multitask while walking? You might want to think again. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “distracted-walking” injuries have increased by 400% over the past seven years. Hospital EDs have reported a surge in patients who were injured because they were texting, playing video games, or listening to music while walking. Estimates provided by the Consumer Product Safety Commission indicate that approximately 1,150 patients were treated at hospital EDs in the past year because of injuries people suffered due to "distracted walking." And this is likely underreported, as patients may not disclose that they were using portable devices at the time of their injuries.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Your Brain’s Biological Clock, 2

Researchers have discovered that your daily rhythms of sleep and metabolism are driven by a biological clock in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a structure in the brain made up of 20,000 neurons, all of which can keep daily (circadian) time individually. Eric Herzog’s lab has discovered a push-pull system in the SCN that allows the neurons to both synchronize precisely with one another and adjust their rhythms to those of the environment. “We think the neurotransmitter network is there to introduce enough jitter into the system to allow the neurons to resynchronize when environmental cues change, as they do with the seasons,” Herzog says. “But . . . it doesn’t introduce enough jitter to allow us to adjust quickly to the extreme time shifts of modern life, such as flying ‘backward’ (east) through several time zones.” Obviously, understanding the push-pull system in the SCN has enormous implications for public health, bearing, as it does, on daylight saving times, shift work, school starting times, medical intern schedules, truck driver hours, and many other issues where the clock in the brain is pitted against the clock in the hand.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Your Brain's BIological Clock, 1

Studies have shown that you can cause problems for yourself when you override your brain's biological clock. According to Erik Herzog PhD, Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, the World Health Organization now lists shift work as a potential carcinogen. How so? When people repeatedly force their internal biological clock to reset, they throw off more than sleep. The biological clock regulates metabolism and cell division as well as sleep-wake cycles. So shift work, for example, is associated both with metabolic disorders, such as diabetes, and with the unregulated cell division that characterizes cancer. Researchers have reported the discovery of a crucial part of the biological clock in the brain’s wiring that sets its accuracy to within a few minutes out of the 1440 minutes per day. This wiring uses the GABA (γ-amino-butyric acid) neurotransmitter to connect the individual cells of the biological clock in a network that changes strength with time of day.

Part 2 tomorrow

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Female Brains & Painkiller Overdoses, 4

Prescription painkiller overdose deaths are a growing problem among women. There are strategies that woman can use to reduce the risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control, women can and need to:

• Discuss all medications they are taking (including over-the-counter) with their health care provider.

• Use prescription drugs only as directed by a health care provider, and store them in a secure place.

• Dispose of medications properly, as soon as the course of treatment is done. Do not keep prescription medications around "just in case." (See

• Help prevent misuse and abuse by not selling or sharing prescription drugs. Never use another person's prescription drugs.

• Discuss pregnancy plans with their health care provider before taking prescription painkillers.

• Get help for substance abuse problems (1-800- 662-HELP); call Poison Help (1-800-222-1222) for questions about medicines.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Female Brains & Painkiller Overdoses, 3

The Centers for Disease Control reports that female brains can be at high risk for prescription painkiller overdoses. The following factors may contribute to that:

• Women are more likely to have chronic pain, be prescribed prescription painkillers, be given higher doses, and use them for longer time periods than men.

• Women may become dependent on prescription painkillers more quickly than men.

• Women may be more likely than men to engage in “doctor shopping” (obtaining prescriptions from multiple prescribers).

• Abuse of prescription painkillers by pregnant women can put an infant at risk. Cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS)—which is a group of problems that can occur in newborns exposed to prescription painkillers or other drugs while in the womb—grew by almost 300% in the US between 2000 and 2009.

Part 4 (last section) tomorrow

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Female Brains & Painkiller Overdoses, 2

Prescription painkiller overdoses are a serious and growing problem among women according to the CDC. Recently released statistics showed that:

• More than 5 times as many women died from prescription painkiller overdoses in 2010 as in 1999.

• Women between the ages of 25 and 54 are more likely than other age groups to go to the emergency department from prescription painkiller misuse or abuse. Women ages 45 to 54 have the highest risk of dying from a prescription painkiller overdose.

• Non-Hispanic white and American Indian or Alaska Native women have the highest risk of dying from a prescription painkiller overdose.

• Prescription painkillers are involved in one in ten suicides among women.

Part 3 tomorrow

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Female Brains & Painkiller Overdoses

According to statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control, overdose deaths from prescription painkiller is a growing epidemic, especially among women. Here are a few sobering statistics:

• About 18 women die every day of a prescription painkiller overdose in the US, more than 6,600 deaths in 2010.

• Nearly 48,000 women died of prescription painkiller overdoses between 1999 and 2010.

Although men are still more likely to die of prescription painkiller overdoses (more than 10,000 deaths in 2010), the gap between men and women is closing. Deaths from prescription painkiller overdoses among women have increased more than 400% since 1999, compared to 265% increase among men. For every woman who dies of a prescription painkiller overdose, 30 women go to the emergency department for painkiller misuse or abuse.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Smartphone and Brain Assertiveness

Studies related to the brain and technology are proliferating. I believe that's a good thing because it provides us with information to help us manage the downside of technology. For example, according to the Harvard Business review, research fellow Maarten Box and Amy Cuddy recently did a study comparing assertiveness and the use of desktop computers versus smartphones. Individuals who had been using smartphone-sized iPod Touch devices were 47% less likely than desktop users to get up and try to determine the reason a researcher (who had left the room to obtain paperwork so participants could be paid) had not returned. And of those who did get up and look for the researcher, the iPod Touch users took 44% longer to initiate that action than desktop users. The results suggest that maintaining a hunched posture as you use a smartphone-size device, even for just a few minutes, makes you less likely to engage in assertive power-related behaviors compared to people who have been using desktop computers. What's the take-away? Information is power. For one thing, avoid a hunched posture. Period. A hunched posture tends to contribute to shallow breathing and that's the last thing your brain needs!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Depression Can Be Catching, Cont'd

Neurons in the brain, sometimes called mirror neurons (although whether or not they are a new and distinct class of neurons is still under debate) tend to fire when they observe the actions of others. When you observe someone else’s behaviors, these mirror neurons fire as if you were actually doing what you are watching. It’s as if whatever actions are being observed by the mirror neurons is happening to their host brain. Mirror neurons make no judgments regarding good-bad behaviors, they simply are quick to mimic what you observe. Within three years you will likely pick up the behaviors of those with whom you hang out. Choose with care who you hang out with during your discretionary time. Close contact between people spreads habits, especially smoking cessation, obesity, and happiness. Now it turns out that cognitive vulnerability, which can lead to symptoms of depression, may be catching as well. Choose friends who choose to be happy and who have or are developing a positive thinking style.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Depression Can Be Catching

An article entitled Cognitive Vulnerability to Depression Can Be Catching was recently published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science. According to the abstract, cognitive vulnerability is a potent risk factor for depression. Individual differences in cognitive vulnerability solidify in early adolescence and remain stable throughout the life span. However, stability does not mean immutability. Studies of 103 pairs of randomly assigned college freshmen roommates showed that cognitive vulnerability could change by means of a contagion effect. Participants who were randomly assigned to a roommate with high levels of cognitive vulnerability were likely to “catch” their roommate’s cognitive style and develop higher levels of cognitive vulnerability. Moreover, those who experienced an increase in cognitive vulnerability exhibited significantly greater levels of symptoms of depression over the study period than those who did not. What does this mean? In the words of a Dr. Amen blog, “College Students Beware - You Can Catch Depression from Your Roommate.” Part 2 tomorrow.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Sleep Deprivation #1

It's a very simple concept, sleep, and yet the CDC estimates that 30% of US workers are sleep deprived. A new study published in the journal Sleep has provided some eye-operning information about the relationship between adequate and proper sleep and a whole host of health problems. One that caught my attention was the relationship of sleep to weight gain in healthy adults. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania monitored the eating habits of 225 non-obese, healthy individuals (ages 22 to 50) over a five-day stretch. Participants were placed in either a control group (slept from 10pm to 8am) or in a sleep deprived group (slept from 4am to 8am). Study results showed that the sleep deprived group gained more weight over five days than the control group. They tended to consume more than 550 calories during the late-night hours, and the food was fattier than calories consumed throughout the day. According to Christopher Winter, medical director of the Martha Jefferson Sleep Medicine Center, sleep-deprived individuals experience an increase in their levels of ghrelin (which stimulates hunger cravings) and a decrease in leptin (which controls satiation). Bottom line? Healthy adults who tend to stay up late and not get enough sleep are more susceptible to weight gain. Early to bed may help keep off the pounds. This is the first study I've seen linking late bedtimes to weight gain in healthy adults.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

July 4th and My Brain

My brain is even happier than usual today; I have the day off. Not that I dislike work, you understand, but my brain enjoys variety and a day off during the week is both variety and a treat! Independence Day or the Fourth of July as it is commonly known is a USA federal holiday that commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence from the Kingdom of Great Brittain. The actual legal separation of the thirteen colonies from Great Britain actually occurred on July 2, 1776 when the Second Continental Congress votged to approve a resolution of independence. Such a resolution had been proposed in June pf that year by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. After voting for independence, the Second Continental Congress turned its attention to a statement explaining this decision. The statement, now know as the Declaration of Independence, had been prepared by a committee of five men, Thomas Jefferson being its principal author. No surprise, Congress spent a couple more days debating and revising the wording, which was finally approved on July 4, 1776. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. So far, USA citizens are still relatively "free." Reaffirming a large measure of continuing personal freedom is another reason my brain is even happier than usual. NOTE: According to statistics recently released by  the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an average of 135 US residents die in car accidents each year on the Fourth of July, making it the deadliest day of the year to drive on US roads. You might decide to enjoy a nice relaxing day at home!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Gas Pedal vs Brake Neurons

Studies by researchers at Gladstone Institutes and Salk Institute have identified and created brain-wide maps of neurons that connect with the basal ganglia. This region of the brain is involved in movement and in making decisions. Two types of neurons, direct-pathway medium spiny neurons (dMSNs) and indirect-pathway medium spiny neurons (iMSNs), appear to act as opposing forces. That is, dMSNs initiate movement, like the gas pedal in a vehicle, while iMSNs inhibit movement, much like the brake. A dysfunction of dMSNs or iMSNs is associated with addictive or depressive behaviors, respectively. Researchers believe these findings are important because they provided a link between the physical neuronal degeneration seen in movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s, and some of the disease’s behavioral aspects (e.g., decision-making). These findings provide a framework for guiding future studies of basal ganglia circuit function.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Paula Deen and Forgtiveness

No doubt you've heard about the hoopla regarding something Paula Deen said and the fact that her program and endorsements have been canceled. I found it interesting that President Jimmy Carter recommended that people forgive her since it was evidently related to something Paula said thirty years ago and that she was honest about it and apologized. That got me thinking about what people say over a lifetime. Quite frankly, there probably isn't an adult brain on the planet that hasn't said something in his/her past that the person wouldn't say now. The research on forgiveness strongly suggests that the person(s) who won't forgive suffer the most while those who forgive benefit the most. I recently wrote a mini-monograph on "forgiveness," including some of the benefits. You might want to check it out, especially in light of this news.