Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year's Eve

My brain always like New Year's Eve better than some of the other holidays. Maybe because my brain's energy advantage is in the right front lobe, the cerebral division that embraces change,  loves variety, and looks ahead to anticipate what new and wonderful life adventure is just around the corner. Never one to write a list of New Year's resolutions, I preferred to set a personal goal that could be tweaked along the way as life changed along the way. Sort of like the quote attributed to Cyril Cusack: If you asked me for my New Year Resolution, it would be to find out who I am. I've been working on discovering that for most of my adult life (and it is a life-long process) . . . it's getting easier and more fun, actually. I'm learning to ask myself directly: "What do you want in life?"  And then answering the questions directly. Identifying that doesn't mean I will always get what I want in life but it does mean I know what that is--and you're more likely to get what you want when you know what that is. If you don't know where you're going any road will get you there. Happy New Year's Eve--the brink of another year. I, for one ,am happy to be alive to step over the brink into 2015.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Smart Girls, Part 2

Dr. Barbara A. Kerr in her book Smart Girls Gifted Women emphasizes the issue of conformity versus achievement that was the focus of the Kaufmann study of highly gifted girls. Kerr writes: "The study showed them [highly gifted girls] to be loners and nonjoiners, high achievers without much regard for recognition. . .The highly gifted are never quite as 'normal' socially as are the moderately gifted; they seem to be more concerned with self-actualization--being all they can be--than with adjustment." Unfortunately, Kerr goes on to say that likely society's emphasis on the impossibility of combining love and achievement forces many gifted girls to become preoccupied with their relationships rather than personal achievement. The word normal simply meaning commonly occurring rather than functional or desirable gave me pause when I read Kaufmann's study. If you are looking to do a random act of kindness in the New Year, maybe befriending a gifted girl with the goal of helping her realize that combining love and achievement IS possible (males do it all the time!); encouraging her to identify what her brain loves to do and to pursue personal achievement, as well. Talk about helping the next generation . . .

Monday, December 29, 2014

Smart Girls Gifted Women...

Now that Boxing Day is passed, I can turn my brain once more to the mess that is my office. And it is a mess from the 60 seconds of rolling earthquake of August, '14. More books are still on the floor than are on shelves. It's taking longer than might be expected to reshelf them for a couple reasons: I've had other fish to fry such as presenting the last seminars of 2014 and meeting the publishing deadline for the new book (Longevity Lifestyle Matters--Keeping Your Brain, Body, and Weight in the Game). Beyond that, I've not nosed into some of my old book friends for awhile. I'll pick one up off the floor and remember where I got it or the reason I wanted it or what I learned from it. It's the very devil to open the book because invariably my eye will catch something my brain finds interesting and when I next raise my head 35 minutes will have flown away. Ah, well. It's stimulating my brain! It was Dr. Barbara A. Kerr's book I stumbled across yesterday and a page corner was turned over (yes, I do that for important stuff . . .) reminding me of the Kaufmann study of highly gifted girls that Kerr reported in her 1985 book release. More tomorrow.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Boxing Day Brain

December 26 brings my brain and me to another Boxing Day. During childhood and growing up in a country aligned with the British Empire, our family always celebrated Boxing Day. I usually knew what I would contribute to wrap and take to a homeless shelter or to a less fortunate family (as my mother used to put it) well I advance. Back then I sometimes wondered what less fortunate actually meant—because there are so many way to be less fortunate. It depends on the yardstick you’re using since you can always find someone who has more tangible goods than you. I’ve since learned that some of those with heaps of tangible goods actually are less fortunate because they don’t seem to know that happiness comes from within, a choice to be grateful for what you have. Reminds me of what Oprah Winfrey is credited with saying: Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough. Hmm. As I set aside things to share this year, I’m grateful for what I have and I have enough. Happy Boxing Day!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

May Your Brain and Your Heart . . .

Recently I returned from Hawaii where this holiday season is sort of an oxymoron for someone who grew up in Canada. There the holiday season was always white: Jack Frost painting the windows, and more white than you might imagine piled higher and deeper along streets and driveways and hanging from wires and tree branches. And blue! The sky between storms and my fingers if I forgot gloves to say nothing of frozen breath on my scarf. (I loved listening to Bing Crosby croon “I’m dreaming of a white . . .”) No need to dream of white in Hawaii. There was plenty of white—snow white orchids. Plenty of red, too, and I’m not talking red-hot lava—gloriously red Poinsettias. Everywhere. Growing naturally. And blue, too. Not fingers or nose but the island sky, until it turned gold and pink and lavender with the setting sun; tree ornaments flung everywhere. It just goes to show that you can celebrate anywhere and enjoy the differences in each environment. My brain loved it in person and still loves it in memory. Get out some of your best memories today. Relive them and love them again. May your brain and your heart celebrate gratefully today!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Twas the Night Before...

December 24th is a day I like to keep calm and relaxed. Everything ready for the 25th and nothing for my brain to scurry around and finish upexcept this year. Not that my brain is scurrying around, you understand. But the contractors are. My brain is quite patiently waiting for the workers to leave my kitchen so I can stuff things back into drawers and cupboards and figure out where everything was or is or cannot be located for the love of Pete (whoever he is). Family-of-choice coming tomorrow for dinner. Fortunately, I know that they're here to see me regardless of the condition of the house (which likely will not get vacuumed and dusted tonight because given the choice between cleaning and sleeping my brain always selects “sleep” so it will be on top of the world tomorrow). So I opted to read a story while waiting (patiently!). The one by Carlo DeVito about a present Mark Twain was told he would receive on Dec 25th, 1908. A baby elephant to be delivered to his home Stormfield, in Redding, Connecticut. I love stories by or about that most unusual brain with the name Mark Twain and A Mark Twain Christmas is no exception. Have a lovely evening. Meantime I’ll relax with the rest of this story . . .

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

CMT and the Brain, 2

Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease tends to affect peripheral nerves. These nerves are outside the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system) and enervate the sensory organs and muscles in the arms and legs. CMT is caused by mutations in genes that produce proteins involved in the structure and function of either the peripheral nerve axon or the myelin sheath. In order to speed the transmission of messages and to prevent loss of electrical signals, Myelin surrounds the nerve axon like a jelly-roll cake. There are dozens of types of CMT. Some forms require only one copy of the mutated gene from one parent; some need a mutated gene from both parents; and some are linked to the X chromosome. Following are some resources for additional information.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Charcot-Marie-Tooth and the Brain

Recently I was asked about CMT (Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease) or HMSN (hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy) and whether it affects the brain. According to my sources, including NIH and the CMT foundation, this inherited neurological condition rarely affects the brain. It is a common disorder, however, affecting about 1 in 2,400 or 2,500 people in the USA. It is named for the three physician who first identified it in 1886: Jean-Martin Charcot and Pierre Marie in France, and Howard Henry Tooth in England. Fortunately, it is not considered a fatal disease and people usually have a normal life expectancy. If it runs in your family and you want to be tested, genetic counseling can usually reveal if individuals are likely to pass on their mutated gene(s) to their biological children. More tomorrow.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Tough Old Bird

Speaking of longevity, birds are right up there. Macaws reportedly have a lifespan that ranges from 30-50 years and over. Information from bird bands returned to ornithologists reveals that the two largest species of albatross (Royal and Wandering) may be around for 40 plus years. The albatross may enjoy such a long life because it nests on remote islands, far removed from most predators. Enter one such albatross: Wisdom. This tough old bird reportedly is the oldest known living albatross in the wild—63 years old. I saw a picture of Wisdom in the Hawaiian Airlines on-board flight magazine recently. The accompanying article by Noel Nicholas indicated that this remarkable bird has clocked over three million miles of flight time. Apparently she has hatched 30-35 chicks so far in her lifetime, the most recent in February of 2014. Nichols reported that the staff at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge (where Wisdom nests) named the chick Mana’olana: Hawaiian for ‘hope.’ Hmm.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Club 122 Longevity

I’m finishing up my latest book manuscript, coauthored with Sharlet M. Briggs, PhD, and Steve Horton, MPH, entitled:  Longevity Lifestyle Matters—Keeping Your Brain, Body, and Weight in the Game. Along with that, we are starting Club 122 Longevity. It was named in honor of Jeanne Calment, a French woman who was born 21 February 1875 and died 4 August 1997—a lifespan of 122 years, 164 days. Her life demonstrates the old adage, You’ll get farther if you aim higher. It is for people who are committed to aiming higher. Continually learning, they turn what they learn into knowledge and then daily apply that practical knowledge to creating and maintaining a Longevity Lifestyle. The website is under development (www.club122longevity). Some information is already available . . .

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Brain Ponderisms, 2

A ponderism can be defined as something that someone’s mind has thought about, considered, asked, or weighed. More ponderisms:

  • My folks ate a lot of natural foods until they learned that most people die of natural causes.
  • Are the Alphabet song and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star really the same tune?
  • Life is sexually transmitted, except in a test tube (unless it’s a very large test tube).
  • Is a hearse carrying a corpse allowed to drive in the carpool lane?
  • The major difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.
  • Feeling blue? Start breathing again and let it change your color.
  • Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which you can die.
  • Go figure: how is it that the neighbor’s dog looks away if you blow in its face, but on a car ride it can’t wait to stick its head out the window?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Brain Ponderisms

The last few blogs have been dealing with rather heavy topics so it's time for something a bit lighter. Ponderisms, for example. What is a ponderism? Good question. The word ponder means to think about, consider, or weigh in one’s mind. So perhaps a ponderism is something that someone’s mind has thought about, considered, asked, or weighed. Following are some ponderisms:

  • Can you cry under water?
  • There are two types of pedestrians: the quick and the dead.
  • Do individuals who are illiterate really get the full impact of Alphabet Soup?
  • Stop taking every little thing in life so seriously—no one gets out alive anyway.
  • If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, then what is baby oil made from?
  • Take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.
  • How can one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?
Send me your favorites. We'll do a few more tomorrow.

Monday, December 15, 2014

#5 MH Problem Facing College Students

The #5 mental health problem? Addictive behaviors. Partying and engaging in alcohol and drug use has become commonplace on many college campuses. But what often starts as a social behavior can escalate into addiction. Think of an additive behavior as a dependency on and repeated abuse of something. People tend to think of addiction primarily in terms of drugs and alcohol but it can include food, gambling, sex, and almost anything that gives the brain a reward (even over-exercising). In terms of alcohol, The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that:

  • About 80% of college students drink
  • About 50% of those are binge drinkers
  • 1,825 students, ages 18 to 24, die from alcohol-related injuries annually
  • Students are more likely to be assaulted, sexually abused or injured by someone who’s been drinking
  • About 25% of students who drink regularly report academic problems
Ask yourself:

  • Do you feel uncomfortable when drugs or alcohol are not available?
  • Do you drink heavily when you are disappointed, distressed or get in a fight?
  • Have you ever been unable to remember part of the previous evening, even though your friends say you did not pass out?
  • Has a friend or family member expressed concern about your alcohol or drug use?
  • Have any of your blood relatives had an addiction to drugs or alcohol?
  • Do you sometimes want to continue your drug and alcohol use when you’re by yourself?
 If you answered 'yes' to any of these questions or think you might have an addictive behavior related to something else, contact your student health care center today and find out what your options for treatment are on campus. Following are additional resources:

Friday, December 12, 2014

#4 MH Problem Facing College Students

The #4 mental health problem? Eating disorders. Millions of college students develop eating disorders during their college years, and males are nearly as likely to develop a disorder as women. Eating disorders involve extreme behaviors that revolve around food and weight issues. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) has provided statistics related to eating disorders; the numbers of which do not accurately reflect males with eating disorders as they often fail to seek treatment (bulimia and anorexia being seen as women’s issues):

  • People ages 12-25 represent 95% of those with eating disorders
  • Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness in adolescents
  • 91% of college women attempt to control their weight through dieting
  • 25% of college women binge and purge to manage their weight
 Ask yourself:

  • Do you refuse to eat food or skip meals?
  • Do you fear eating in public with others?
  • Do you count calories out of a need for control?
  • Do you have strict eating habits that you feel guilty and ashamed for breaking?
  • Do you have a history of perfectionism?
  • Are you obsessed or dissatisfied with your weight or body shape?
  • Do you eat large amounts of food and then purging or make yourself vomit?
  • Have you avoided eating for a day then overate when you became too hungry?
  • Have you seen excessive hair growth on arms and face or loss of your menstrual cycle?

If you answered yes to any of these questions or believe you have an eating disorder, seek immediate treatment―eating disorders can become life-threatening. The following are some of the resources dedicated to the prevention and/or alleviation of eating disorders.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

#3 MH Problem Facing College Students

The #3 mental health problem? Suicide--the second leading cause of death among college students, although at least 1 in 10 college students has at least thought about killing themselves. A 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated there were 39,518 suicides reported in the U.S., making it the 10th leading cause of death that year. A majority of college students who take their lives have a diagnosable and treatable mental illness. Do any of the following common contributors to suicidal behavior apply to you:

  • Severe depression
  • Anxiety and devastation from a broken relationship or lost loved one
  • Family mental health history
  • Feelings of failure and hopelessness
Ask yourself:

  • Are you withdrawing from friends, peers, and activities you used to enjoy?
  • Have you ever thought about killing yourself?
  • Have you ever told someone you thought about killing yourself?
  • Have you experienced feeling of worthlessness or guilt?
  • Have you recently begun to abuse drugs or alcohol?
  • Do you experience extreme anxiety or intense anger?
 If yes, call 911 or go to an urgent care center. All things being equal, if suicide can be prevented, the world will not be deprived of what only you could have contributed with your unique, one-of-a-kind brain. The following organizations are some of those that are dedicated to preventing suicides.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

#2 MH Problem Facing College Students

The #2 mental health problem? Anxiety. Some anxiety and negative stress are a part of nearly every person's life, at least intermittently. So what’s the difference between experiencing some anxiety and an anxiety disorder? It’s when anxiety interferes with your daily life, halting your ability to function, and causing an immense amount of stress and fearful feelings. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that anxiety disorders are the most common mental problem in the U.S.--affecting 40 million adults over the age of 18. Nearly 75% of those affected by an anxiety disorder will experience their first episode before the age of 22. But unfortunately, only one-third of them seek and receive treatment. Ask yourself:
  • Do you experience anxious or worrisome thoughts on a daily basis?
  • Are you plagued by fears others perceive as unfounded or irrational?
  • Do you avoid everyday social activities because they cause you anxiety?
  • Do you experience sudden heart-pounding panic attacks?
  • Is your anxiety interfering with your school work, social life, and family?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these, access resources. Sooner is better than later.

Beyond OCD

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

#1 MH Problem Facing College Students

The #1 mental health problem? Depression. And depression is very tricky. It wears many faces and the symptoms exhibited can differ among individuals, to say nothing of between the genders. A survey conducted by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors found that 36.4% of college students reported experiencing some level of depression in 2013. That’s more than 1 in 3 students! Contributors to this disorder of brain function are myriad and legendary, including a combination of factors that range from genetics through expectations of parents and teachers (to say nothing of students themselves) to a host of biological, psychological, and environmental components. Depression is complex, sometimes preventable, and treatable—if you get help. Ask yourself:

  • Have you experienced extreme sadness or hopelessness?
  • Does your family have a history of depression?
  • Have you turned to heavy drinking or drug use to relieve feelings of hopelessness?
  • Have you been experiencing thoughts of death or suicide?
 Individuals who experience depression often perceive they are alone and have no one to turn to. The following organizations are some of those dedicated to providing resources:

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mental Health (MH) Problems Facing College Students

Recently I was emailing with Kayla Evans, contributor to and to their health resources. Our conversation served to reinforce the seriousness of the mental and physical stress that students reported to me during this past year as I traveled and spoke in several different countries. Unfortunately, America is no exception—although some would like to believe it is. Mental health research by the National Alliance on Mental Illness on college campuses shows that:

  • 80% feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities (8 in 10 students)
  • 50% have been so anxious they struggled in school (5 in 10 students)
  • 40% do not seek help (4 in 10 students)
  • 25% have a diagnosable illness (1 in 4 students)
These are both startling and horrific statistics. Because of this, I am devoting the next few blogs to the reported top five mental problems facing college students. If you are a college student, pay attention. Forewarned is forearmed. If you know a college student, share the resources.

Friday, December 5, 2014

High Cost of Multitasking, 5

Break the habit of trying to multitask. Researchers found that “heavy multitaskers” differed from “non-multitaskers.” Although multitaskers were accustomed to multitasking, they were actually worse at doing it than non-multitaskers who were part of the study. The multitaskers observed the information presented to them but were unable to focus on their goals. Instead, they absorbed the irrelevant information that they were told to ignore, and these distractions prevented them from accomplishing the main tasks of the experiment. In other words, multitaskers were more sensitive to incoming information than non-multitaskers, but were unable to shut off their multitasking tendencies even when they weren’t multitasking. One suggestion is to give your brain some rest. Rather than jumping from one task to another, take a quick break in between to clear your head, get the last task off your mind, and prepare you to focus on what you truly need to accomplish. Researchers say that by avoiding multitasking, you can make your days less stressful and your projects more rewarding. Try it. You just might like it!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

High Cost of Multitasking, 4

So what can one do to break free of the multitasking trap? First, teach yourself to recognize when you are trying to multitask. Awareness is the first step on the continuum of positive growth. Stop, look, and listen. If you’re in the habit of trying to do three or six or nine things at a time, rapidly alternating shifts of attention from one to another, stop. Breathe. Attempting to stop multitasking can be a challenge, especially if you’ve done it for years. Sometimes it may be necessary, but at other times, set priorities and reduce distractions—for example, jumping to get every email as soon as it arrives. Email can be very distracting and, as you try to multitask, the reply you write may be inaccurate or phrased in an unhelpful way and because you’re in a hurry you hit “send” and then it’s too late to take it back. Set a schedule for reading and deleting. Maybe 20 minutes first thing in the morning, another 20 minutes right before or after lunch, and again in the afternoon or evening. If it’s life and death, you’ll likely get a call on your mobile anyway . . . More tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

High Cost of Multitasking, 3

People try to multitask at work, too, not just at home. One study found that in the workplace, managers were the main offenders. Their attempts at multitasking caused a large number of delays. Rather than focusing on a single task at a time, the managers tried to fit in several tasks at once. One researcher put it this way: “When managers multitask, even small decisions can take days. Instead of spending, say, a quality 15 minutes with people, they can afford only a rushed and ineffective two to three minutes.” Researchers found that organizations lose up to 27.5% of productivity as a result of multitasking. They did some math and calculated this loss to equate to more than $450 billion a year globally, an amazing figure that all organizations would undoubtedly like to decrease. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

High Cost of Multitasking, 2

With its two hemispheres, the brain can only effectively handle two complex cognitive tasks or activities at the same time. Studies at Stanford found that when a third cognitive task was added and the brain attempted to prioritize the task, it became overwhelmed. It put what it perceived to be a less-important task on the back burner and often completely forgot to accomplish it. The myth is that when you attempt to complete two or more complicated tasks at once you are multitasking (working on multiple projects at the same time). Not so. The brain is simply rapidly shifting its attention from one task to another—or trying to do so. The brain requires time to completely shift its attention from one cognitive task to another, some have estimated this to be as much as seven seconds. Regardless, seconds or nanoseconds, constantly shifting one’s attention from one task to another can deplete productivity by as much as 40%, which can increase the time required to accomplish these tasks by as much as 50%. More tomorrow.

Monday, December 1, 2014

High Cost of Multitasking

Current wisdom says that you can raise your IQ from 5-15 points or more depending on when you begin. Conversely, heavy multitasking can temporarily lower your IQ by 15 points. Not only that, estimates are that multitasking costs the global economy about $450 billion annually. And people keep trying to multitask because? Perhaps because they don’t know about the research or don’t really believe it or think their brains are uniquely exceptional or feel under pressure to do so or . . . fMRI studies by neuroscientists Etienne Koechlin and Sylvain Charron of the French biomedical research agency INSERM in Paris, showed that the human brain the brain can't effectively handle more than two complex, related activities at the same time. The brain has two hemispheres. When the brain tries to do two things at once, it assigns about half of its gray matter to each task. You can talk while you walk (but reading while you walk has been dubbed “distracted walking” and increases one’s risk of injury) or read while you eat (although you may spill stuff on your book or iPad) because the function of automaticity helps out. Try to pound nails while holding a conversation on an unrelated topic, however, and you may put your thumb at risk; try to use power tools while watching TV and you may put life or limb at risk. More tomorrow. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Boosting Your Brain's "Positive", 4

But you say; "I come from a long line of depressed ancestors, including immediate family members." Many of us did. That's no reason to throw up your hands and wallow in an unhappy mindset, negative feelings, and listless behaviors. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a positive psychologist at the University of California at Riverside, and colleagues have been studying sets of twins. The results have led to the idea of an inborn set point of happiness. Current estimates are that half of one's happiness set point is inherited, 10 percent relates to your environmental circumstances, and 40 percent is under your own power to control. What can you do to up the ante for happiness?  Regardless of your inherited predisposition, gratitude can be honed. Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Mike McCullough of the University of Miami suggest keeping a daily gratitude journal. Just write a few sentences (long-hand electronic) about something for which you are grateful. Research participants who did this for just three months reported higher levels of optimism and fewer visits to physicians. It helped them focus on what they had rather than what they did not have. Remember the old proverb: If you plan to be thankful for what you'll get, be thankful for what you already have.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Gratitude Perspective

Researchers are taking another look at gratitude and how a grateful mindset positively impacts mind a and body. Today is Thanksgiving in America. Not every country even celebrates Thanksgiving. One think for which I'm grateful is that the two countries I have lived in both have a special day earmarked--not the same day in each country, but a day nevertheless. Although Thanksgiving celebrations dated back to the first European settlements in America, it was not until the 1860s that Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November to be a national holiday in the United States. After the harsh winter of 1620 killed a sizable portion of the community, the American colonists reportedly decided to collaborate with locals in collecting food for the upcoming winter. It worked and in 1621 they had a potluck to give thanks for the abundance. If you're not "up" on Thanksgiving history, take a few minutes to watch a video clip or two. And find at least one thing for which to be thankful. It will positively impact your brain and body!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Boosting Your Brain's "Positive", 3

As you may already know, studies have shown that the left cerebral hemisphere appears linked with positive emotions, while the right cerebral hemisphere appears appears to be associated with the protective emotions: anger, fear, and sadness. Both PET scans and electroencephalography have revealed that the brains of generally happy people tended to show greater activity in the left prefrontal cortex; whereas the right prefrontal cortex tended to show greater activity in the brains of those who experienced more negative emotions, anxiety, or depression. And what is happiness? It can be defined in many different ways. Proponents of positive psychology tend to use the term 'happiness' to describe a subjective sense of well-being including the sense that your life is worthwhile (along with a relative lack of negative feelings, so-called, such as sadness, fear, and anger). Since your have a whole brain and, unimpaired, can access all parts of your brain, this is an emerging belief that you can choose to control your thoughts--at least at some level. When you become aware of a negative thought, be mindful of it and take action as appropriate and needed. Then choose to replace that negative thought with a positive one. Bottom line? You're not responsible for every thought that crosses your brain. You are likely responsible for the thoughts you choose to hang onto, ruminate over, and take action around.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Booting Your Brain's "Positive", 2

Think of your brain as your innate command center for the molecular chemical--neurotransmitter and hormonal--changes that occur in both your brain and body when you embrace and live a positive mindset. When your brain receives a pleasure stimulus (or even anticipates a pleasurable experience), it activates its reward system in the limbic system. This results in the release of dopamine, the feel better chemical that goes at least to the amygdalae (those twin almond-shaped brain organs that process emotion) and to the prefrontal cortex (the portion of the brain right behind your forehead that contains high-level executive functions including conscious thought).   [Dopamine release is also associated with addictive behaviors, many of which may be pleasurable but are harmful in the long term such as smoking, taking drugs, gambling excessively, engaging in promiscuous sexual activity or even viewing pronography.]  Endorphins, your brain's opiate-like chemicals, are also associated with pleasurable sensations be they released by eating chocolate or by physical exercise. Turns out than maintaining an attitude of gratitude can also have a similar effect.  More tomorrow.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Booting Your Brain's "Positive"

How positive is your mindset? How positive is your self-talk? How positive is your communication? How positive is your life? Turns out the emerging field of positive psychology is designed to study happiness, vitality, and meaning in life. Where do you place yourself on Andrews & Withey’s single-question Delighted-Terrible Scale?
How do you feel about your life as a whole, taking into account what has happened in the last year and what you expect to happen in the future?
7  delighted
6  pleased
5  mostly satisfied
4  mixed
3  mostly dissatisfied
2  unhappy
1  terrible 
Andrews, F. M., & Withey, S. B. (1976). Social indicators of well-being: Americans’ perceptions of life quality. New York: Plenum Press.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Choices, Choices, 2

Your brain has only two hemispheres. When considering options it will assign an option to each hemisphere for consideration, dividing its brain power, if you will.  If you give it three or four or five options to consider, it will focus on two of them and, consequently, may miss or overlook an option that could be important or desirable in the long term.  Interestingly enough, people who try to analyze multiple options at the same time and agonize over making the perfect or optimum choice, often end up less satisfied with the decision they finally do make, which sometimes is to not make a choice (a choice in and of itself). Practice evaluating only two options at a time. Compare A and B, and make a choice. Let's say you select A. Now compare A and C and choose between those two options, and so on.  Knowing that you never can have it all, that you always give up something to get something, you may prefer to weigh the pros and cons of each option separately. Ask: "What do I get with A and what do I give up? Which one outweighs the other, what I get or what I must give up?"  Practice.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Choices, Choices

Are you the type of person who wants to evaluate all the possible choices that could possibly be available to you before selecting one?  The more choices you have to consider, the smaller the number that seem really viable.  It can be so confusing that you find yourself just walking away and not making a selection, which, of course, is a type of choice in and of itself. Making choices can be exhausting whether you're doing it in a shopping mall or searching for something on the internet. Researchers at the University of Minnesota did a study in a shopping mall. They found that people who made more shopping choices were less able to pay attention and complete simple mathematical problems. The study conclusion was that if you want to focus your attention on an upcoming activity or if you need emotional energy to handle challenging situations, you are much better off to limit the number of choices you make beforehand. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Aging Perspective and Humor, 2

Old is when:

  • A sexy baby catches your fancy and your pacemaker opens the garage door
  • Your sweetie says, "Let's go upstairs and make love," and you reply, "pick one because I can't do both."  (Anyone for one-story living?)
  • Getting l"ucky" means you find your car in the parking lot
  • Getting "some action" means you don't need to take any fiber today 
  • You'd don't really mind where your spouse goes as long as you don't have to tag along
  • Going braless is an instant and inexpensive face lift
  • An "all-nighter" means not having to get up to pee
So be glad you are still around to grow older and hone your sense of humor so you can stay younger longer . . .

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Aging Perspective and Humor

Yes, things do changed as the brain and body age. It would be downright ludicrous to pretend they don't. However, if more than half the factors that impact aging are within your partial if not complete control, and if 70 percent of how long and how well you live is in your hands--you have a huge role to play. And humor can play a very positive part in healthy aging. Think ahead. Prevent what you can. Identify and manage what you can't prevent. Be serious about life and avoid taking every little think too seriously. Laugh about aging--a lot. Humor is just an exaggeration of real life. It's healthy medicine or at least it helps the medicine go down more easily. The other day I got an email containing definitions for "old." I'd love to know the author but none was listed. Nevertheless, here are a couple definitions and I'll include the rest tomorrow. Enjoy them. Think up some more and send them along--I'd be happy to pass them on. Old is when:

  • Your friends compliment you on your new alligator shoes and you are barefoot
  • Your friends mention that your shirt is rather wrinkled and you don't have one on
  • Your doctor cautions you to slow down (instead of the police doing so)
More tomorrow.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Autism Spectrum and Seinfeld

In September I reported new research from neuroscientists at the University of Toronto and Case Western Reserve University related to the brain and the autism spectrum. Imagine my delight when I heard an interview with Seinfeld that mentioned autism. The interview was reported on many sites, Huffington Post being one of them. Seinfeld mentioned he thought his brain was likely somewhere on the autism spectrum and described it as just an "alternate mindset." Another time he reportedly said it was just "another way of thinking." Brilliant! Naturally, people only know their own brain, and there is a great tendency to stereotype what has come to be the preferred way of thinking--your own will likely fall into that box--and other ways of thinking tend to be perceived as disordered. Education typically teaches to the stereotype; business hires to the stereotype; parents raise children to the stereotype. Those that fall outside the stereotype are often marginalized if not outright ostracized, bullied, punished, or you name it. And yet the world loves those "outside-the-stereotype" brains, especially comedic brains that share so much laughter as they bring to the listener's attention a perspective hitherto never perceived in exactly that same way before.  I so agree with Seinfeld. The autism spectrum brains do exhibit "another way of thinking." It is only "bad" if compared against the stereotype. It is often "great" when compared against itself and what that brain offers to the world. In this, the age of the brain, my brain's opinion is that it is high time people started looking at what different brains can offer rather than whether or not they match the age-old stereotype...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Brain and Trick Eye

Having never had the opportunity to experience a Trick Eye Museum, imagine my delight to discover that one had recently opened in Singapore. I had the great good fortune to experience this trompe l’oeil with a personal tour guide, Roger Wong. Located at Resorts World Sentosa's Waterfront, the Singapore Trick Eye Museum includes more than 80 three-dimensional paintings and optical illusions in 800 square meters of space. These works are presented in six themed zones: Love, Circus, Masterpiece, Safari, Fairytale, and Adventure. And “adventure” is exactly what it is! Created with the local context in mind, the works reportedly aim to capture Singapore's essence as a cosmopolitan city with a thriving ecosystem, and feature influences from both Eastern and Western cultures to reflect the island's status as a cultural melting pot. If you get the opportunity to go to a Trick Eye Museum, take it. I had lots of fun when I went. For once in my life I felt “taller.”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Brain and Trick Eye

Enter Trick Eye Museums. They’re based on trompe l’oeil—a French phrase meaning ‘deceive the eye.’ And that’s exactly what they do. The museum’s 3D artworks look as if they’re coming out of the frame or that you’re stepping into the frame or putting yourself in the picture, so to speak. There are any number of interactive settings that allow you to become part of the landscape from flying on a witch’s broom, careening through Alaska on a dogsled pulled by enthusiastic and energetic Huskies, to water skiing on the snouts of two powerful dolphins. Cameras are allowed (no flash) and by carefully taking pictures from just the right angle, you can come away with interesting photos of yourself interacting with trompe l’oeil settings. I had heard of these museums but never been in one. There reportedly are now three Trick Eye Museums in South Korea (Seoul, Hongdae, and Busan) but they were opened after my trip to that country. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Brain and Trick Eye, 2

Trompe l’oeil is sometimes referred to as perspectival illusionism. A comparable illusion to Trompe-l’oeil is found in forced perspective, a technique that employs optical illusion to make an object appear farther away, closer, or larger or smaller than it actually is. Used primarily in filmmaking, photography, and architecture, it manipulates human visual perception by using scaled objects and the correlation between them and the vantage point of the spectator or camera. You’ve likely seen this in a variety of movies and may not have realized what was happening. For example, Wikipedia points out that this technique was utilized in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring with some enhancements for use in moving shots. Portions of sets were mounted on movable platforms that would move precisely according to the movement of the camera, so that the optical illusion would be preserved for the duration of the shot. The same techniques were used in the Harry Potter movies to make the character Hagrid appear to be a giant. Props around Harry and his friends are of normal size, while seemingly identical props placed around Hagrid are in fact much smaller. More tomorrow.

Brain and Trick Eye, 3

The technique of forced perspective is used in some theme parks, as well. You may have seen it, too, but may not have realized what you were actually seeing. Disneyland, for example. The Sleeping Beauty Castle in America’s Disneyland and in the Hong Kong Disneyland makes use of forced perspective. The actual height is reported to be 77 feet. However, the scale of the architectural elements is much smaller in the upper portions of the castle as compared with the scale at the foundation. This makes the castle seem much taller than it really is. A similar technique is used for Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and at Tokyo Disneyland. The actual height is listed at 189 feet. Again, the scale of the architectural elements gets smaller the higher up you go on the castle. The human eye thus perceives the height of the castle to be significantly taller than it really is. Hmm. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembrance Day

I grew up knowing it as "Remembrance Day." Later I learned to refer to it as "Veterans Day." The name is not all that important. What the day stands for--is. If you know your history, what was known at the time as “The Great War”  officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles in France. However, the actual fighting had stopped seven months earlier when an armistice between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th in the year 1918 (the year my father was born). Voila, Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in the United States. I love living in a "free" country. The debt I owe to those to fought for this can never be repaid. I can remember.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Brain and Trick Eye

Does your eye really see what is actually there? Although you are sure it does, maybe not. Trompe l'œil is an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create optical illusions that the objects or landscapes depicted are three dimensional. Many of them actually exist on a flat surface, however. (You may have seen this in some sidewalk murals.) Dating from before the Baroque period, murals from Greek and Roman times were known to exist in places such as Pompeii, where a typical trompe l'œil mural might depict a window, door, or hallway, intended to suggest a much larger room. There is an old Greek story that purports a contest between two renowned painters: Zeuxis (born around 464 BC) and Parrhasius, a rival artist. Zeuxis produced a still life painting so convincing that birds flew down to peck at the painted grapes. Parrhasius asked Zeuxis to judge one of his (Parhasius’) paintings that was behind a pair of tattered curtains in his study. Parrhasius asked Zeuxis to pull back the curtains, but when Zeuxis tried, he could not, because the curtains were Parrhasius’s painting. Of course, that made Parrhasius the winner. More tomorrow.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Momilies and the Brain, 2

Momilies are phrases you heard in childhood that keep repeating themselves over and over in your brain. You may want to keep some of the momilies you heard in childhood because they are affirming and encouraging. You also may want to replace some momilies with new ones. Take a look at these.  Send me examples of what you create.
  • You are worth my time, money, and energy--simply because you exist
  • I love you, regardless of the fact that I don't always like your behaviors
  • Everyone makes mistakes, it's part of being human
  • Mistakes give you the opportunity to learn to do things in a better way
  • I don't have all the answers, no one does. Together we can create a plan.
  • In life, you always give up something to get something; some things cost too much--and I'm not just talking money here
  • I understand you want a tattoo; you can do that after age 18. Right now you can use the stick-on style.
  • I am always willing to listen to your opinion; but as the parent, I need to make the final decision
  • We can afford _________  or __________ so we need to choose one option
  • I want you to live a long time and have a happy life. Let's talk about the pros and cons of becoming sexually active at age 15

What do you want your children, nieces, nephews, their friends, or students to recall about you?  Create new momilies that may change what the next  generations remember.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Momilies and the Brain

Are you familiar with  the term "momilies?" It rhymes with the word homilies. Whether or not you know that word that rhymes with homilies, your brain is likely filled with them. phrases you heard in childhood; phrases that keep repeating themselves over and over in your brain. Some common ones include:

  • Because I said so
  • Don't cross your eyes or they'll stay that way
  • I'm only doing this for your own good
  • Don't talk back to me; I'm the adult here
  • If I ever spoke to your Grandma that way, I ...
  • You're full? Then I guess you're too full for dessert
  • Just because your friend jumped off the bridge doesn't mean I have to let you do it, too
  • Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about
  • Eat what's in front of you--think of all the starving children in China 
  • Don't you dare look at me in that tone of voice
  • I may not be right but I am definitely your mother...

From the perspective of adulthood, you may chuckle at momilies but the bad news is that you tend to "do to others as we were done to." What do you want your children, nieces, nephews, their friends, or students to remember? You can create new momilies that may change what the next generation recalls.  More tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Chemobrain, 2

Do you have chemobrain? Do you know someone who does? Take heart. Several studies now indicate that there is likely something you can do about it. That is great news! Study conclusions include:
·         Memory training and speed of processing training are promising treatment options for breast cancer survivors with self-reported cognitive concerns. (Chemobrain.)
·         Speed of processing training also had positive effects on memory performance which warrant further study. Importantly, both interventions also had transfer effects on specific self-reported measures of cognitive function, symptom distress, and quality of life which impact individual functioning and well-being.
·         In addition, both interventions were highly satisfactory/acceptable to breast cancer survivors.
·         These pilot study findings point to the importance of full-scale efficacy testing of these interventions in a larger, more diverse sample of breast cancer survivors, and possibly other cancer survivors.

There’s one caveat: you are the only one who can do it! Start now!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Chemobrain--Fact or Fancy

The word "chemobrain" has circulated for years, often slightly below the radar: something that has been touted, denied, argued about, and you name it. It is now pretty well accepted, however, that perhaps 75% of cancer survivors may experience “foggier” thinking as an outcome of cancer and chemotherapy treatment. Although scientists are divided on the exact cause of chemobrain, it can be a difficult and limiting residue of cancer treatment. But what to do about it?  An independent peer-reviewed study has found that breast cancer survivors who used a set of Posit Science's visual brain training exercises available as part of BrainHQ showed significant improvements in memory, brain speed, anxiety, depression, and health-related quality of life--post surgery and chemo. Avoid discounting the recommendations simply because the study used brain training exercises that were part of the BrainHQ programs. There are other options available ( for example) to investigate. The bottom line is to get serious about doing challenging mental aerobic brain exercises for at least 30 minutes a day. More tomorrow. 

Disclaimer:  The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. Posit Science Corporation is the developer of the speed of processing (Insight®) program used in this study. Posit Science Corporation holds the patent for and a proprietary interest in this software. The software was provided at cost of the CD by Posit Science. Dr. Karlene Ball is on the Board of Directors of Posit Science and has stock in the company. Dr. Unverzagt has received support for training for an investigator initiated research from Posit Science.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Chemicals and Autism, ADHD, etc.

Abstract of Lancet Neurology paper

Neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other cognitive impairments, affect millions of children worldwide, and some diagnoses seem to be increasing in frequency. Industrial chemicals that injure the developing brain are among the known causes for this rise in prevalence. In 2006, we did a systematic review and identified five industrial chemicals as developmental neurotoxicants: lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic, and toluene. Since 2006, epidemiological studies have documented six additional developmental neurotoxicants—manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene, and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers. We postulate that even more neurotoxicants remain undiscovered. To control the pandemic of developmental neurotoxicity, we propose a global prevention strategy. Untested chemicals should not be presumed to be safe to brain development, and chemicals in existing use and all new chemicals must therefore be tested for developmental neurotoxicity. To coordinate these efforts and to accelerate translation of science into prevention, we propose the urgent formation of a new international clearinghouse.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Etymology and the Brain, 5

The verb stenograph means to write or report in stenographic (shorthand) characters. So stenography—a combination of Greek words graphic (writing) and stenos (narrow)—is the process of writing in shorthand especially from dictation or oral discourse. It is typically done now using a stenograph, patented in 1879 by Miles Bartholomew, a newspaper reporter. Many court reporters use stenotype machines, trained users being able to input text on a stenotype keyboard as fast as 225 words per minute (the minimum needed to become certified by the National Court Reporters). Digital and audio recordings are being introduced in court rooms, although it may be a very long time before they replace stenotype machines. Outside court rooms, modern day shorthand includes the myriad letter homophones commonly used in texting: ‘btw’ (by the way), ‘lol’ (laugh out loud), and so on. In fact, every person who texts may eventually be considered a stenographer. So, while waiting for an appointment, if I have an iPad, iPhone, or laptop with me and Wi-Fi or 3G is available—I can always delve deeper into Etymology! At the very least I can stimulate my brain with ‘Whirly Word.”

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Etymology and the Brain, 4

And typeface. What is typeface? According to Wikipedia, a typeface is a set of characters that share common design features (all of one style) and sometimes one size. There are thousands of different typefaces in existence. Moreover, new ones are being developed constantly, which can be disconcerting to a brain that prefers one style and energizing to a brain that enjoys variety. There is even a term font paralysis to describe a situation wherein an individual cannot even decide on the type of font to use. According to, “Open Sans is the new Arial.” The typeface Times New Roman has perhaps been the most widely used typeface in more modern times. Originally created for a British newspaper The Times in 1931, it was adopted for use in Microsoft products, beginning in 1992 with Windows 3.1. While it may be splitting hairs to talk about a typeface versus a font, typeface designates a consistent visual appearance or style which can be a family or related set of fonts. A font designates a specific member of a type family such as roman, italic, or boldface type. And stenograph? More tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Etymology and the Brain, 3

Enter the word typography (which has nothing to do with topography). It is a combination of two Greek words: typos meaning impression and graphie meaning writing. As a craft, typography reportedly had its origins in the punches and dies used to make currency and seals in ancient times. The world's first known movable type system for printing was created in China, circa 1040 A.D. Until the digital age, typography was a specialized occupation. Digitization opened up typography to new generations of visual designers and lay users. The definition now includes the digital equivalents of typesetting as well as the arrangement and appearance of printed matter along with the style of typeface. According to David Jury, Head of Graphic Design at Colchester Institute in England, “typography is now something everybody does.” Although the digital age brought typography into the reach of lay people, Claudie Fisher’s opinion is that “the art is best left to trained designers who are enjoying increased demand, due in large part to the growth of the Internet.” More tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Etymology and the Brain, 2

Topography. Is it literal or metaphorically? To complicate one’s understanding of topography, the form can be used literally or metaphorically. Used literally, it studies and describes the surface shapes on the earth and other planetary objects. Used metaphorically, it observes an entity and describes the relationship among its components. Here are examples:

“The topography of that country’s economy shows several depressed areas.”
“The topography of that laugh contains dramatic highs and lows.”
“The topography of that curricula is very uneven.”
“That woman’s topography is very eye-catching, to say the least!”
“The topography of that grilled steak leaves plenty of room for sauce!”
“What a ripped topography!”

Figure out ways to use the word to spice up your speech. Have fun with it! More tomorrow.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Etymology and the Brain

I really love words and enjoy etymology (the origin of the meaning of words). Some of it may have come from my mother who was a language teacher. Reportedly, she read aloud to “me” for 30 minutes a day during much of her pregnancy. I wonder how she knew to do that because back in the last century the reading-aloud information wasn’t well known . . . Anyway, the other day I heard someone say, “The topography of the Grand Canyon is amazing.” An individual nearby said, “Don’t you mean typography?” Close, but no cigar. Topography refers to the field of geoscience and includes the study of surface shapes on the earth and other planetary objects. A topographer is a person who describes such surface shapes and features graphically, usually in detail that includes elevation information. Cartography, on the other hand, is the art and science of making maps of the surface shapes. And a cartographer is a person who makes those maps, hand-drawn or computer-prepared. And if that’s not complicated enough, is topography literal or metaphorical? More tomorrow.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Your "Second Brain," 5

Medical understandings about brain-body connection is increasing by leaps and bounds, especially regarding the connection between the brain in one’s skull and the “second brain” in one’s gut. Sue Shepherd, PhD, is a dietitian, senior lecturer at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, and a research scientist who is internationally recognized as an expert on the low-FODMAP diet and irritable bowel syndrome. Diagnosed with celiac disease herself, Dr. Shepherd consults on several international medical advisory committees for gastrointestinal conditions. Her book coauthored with Peter Gibson, MD, and William D. Chey, MD, is entitled The Complete Low-FODMAP Diet: A Revolutionary Plan for Managing IBS and Other Digestive Disorders. I have yet to read it. However, Gerard E. Mullin, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of Integrative GI Nutrition Services at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in commenting about this book wrote: “Begin your journey back to good gut health by using food as medicine.” Bottom line? Your “second brain” definitely impacts your “first brain.” Take care of one and it can positively impact the other—and vice versa. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Your "Second Brain," 4

Have you heard about FODMAPs—an acronym coined by a group of researchers who were studying several types of digestive disorders? The acronym stands for fermentable oligo-, di- and mono-saccharides, and polyols—types of short-chain carbs that are commonly found in modern Western diets but that are poorly absorbed in the small intestines and easily fermented by bacteria: fructan in wheat, fructose in some fruits and artificial sweeteners, lactose in some dairy products, and galactans in some legumes. Foods that contain these forms of carbohydrates may exacerbate the symptoms of some digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) that may be a type of gluten intolerance, and functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID). Studies have shown that in some people their bowl symptoms may be due to the presence of these FODMAPs more than to gluten. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Your "Second Brain," 3

Gluten-free products, so-called, are proliferating. But what really is gluten? Many people seem to be on the gluten-free bandwagon but don’t always seem to even know what gluten is. You may have watched the YouTube segment by Jimmy Kimmel about gluten (see link below). As you may know, gluten is a protein composite, gliadin and glutenin, that is limited to specific members of the grass family, including wheat, barley, and rye. It gives dough its elasticity, helps it to rise, and provides a chewy texture for many products. Some people have a wheat allergy; the immune system treats a component of wheat as a foreign body. Typically this immune response is time-limited with no lasting harm to body tissues. Different from wheat allergies, some individuals with celiac disease experience adverse health issues ranging from bloating, gas, and diarrhea and vomiting, to migraine headaches and joint pain. And different from either wheat allergy or celiac, some experience non-celiac gluten sensitivity (likely a gluten intolerance) that may be caused by a reaction to other components of wheat. Enter FODMAPs.  More tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Your "Second Brain," 2

Neurons have been identified in the Enteric Nervous System, also known as your GI system—at least a million. That’s one reason some scientists refer to the ENS as the ‘second brain.’ This stance is also changing perspectives on functional gastrointestinal disorders or FGID. For example, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is now being referred to as an enteric neuropathy: enteric referring to the bowel and neuropathy indicating that the nerves are functioning sub-optimally. Patricia Raymond, MD, assistant professor of clinical internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, points out that fiber can function like an on-off switch for IBS. Soluble fiber can slow down movement in the digestive tract, helping with diarrhea. Soluble fiber-rich foods include fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, apples, avocado, dried figs and prunes, oranges, and mango; and veggies such as asparagus, edamame, broccoli, green beans and peas, carrots, plus legumes, oats, barley, and psyllium. Insoluble fiber can speed up movement, alleviating constipation. Insoluble fiber can be found in zucchini, broccoli, cabbage, leafy greens, grapes, root vegetables, whole grains, brown rice, legumes, oats, and nuts. And what does that matter? Neurons in the gut communicate regularly with neurons in the brain. A healthier gut often means a more well-functioning brain. More tomorrow.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Your "Second Brain"

Some researchers are now talking about your “second brain.” What are they referring to? Your Enteric Nervous System or ENS—otherwise known as your gastrointestinal system. What forms the basis for this designation? Neurons. Thinking cells. Your ENS contains a million-plus neurons. They look just like brain neurons, eat the same type of food (neurotrophins), and have at least 30 neurotransmitters in common. Most of the serotonin in your brain and body—perhaps as much as 90%—is found in your gut along with half of all the dopamine. Knowing this it should be no surprise that an upset stomach can trigger a headache and upset emotions can result in a GI upset (e.g., constipation, diarrhea). An excess release of serotonin can cause nausea and vomiting, and so on. There is a close connection between brain and body, specifically between your first and second brains. More tomorrow.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Brain-Heart Health and Cholesterol, 5

It’s been known for some time that ingesting saturated fats, especially from non-plant sources, can adversely impact one’s health. Researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands studied the impact of trans fatty acids (TFAs) on blood vessel health. They wanted to investigate whether different diets affect the blood vessels' ability to dilate or expand; namely a comparison of a diet high in TFAs (9.2 percent of fats ingested were TFAs) versus one in which saturated fats replaced the TFAs. (Takeaway? TFAs are even more lethal than animal-derived saturated fats.) According to Nicole M. de Roos, M.Sc., a Ph.D. fellow and lead author of the study, although trans fats typically make up a relatively small portion of total fat ingested, it can have a huge impact on disease risk. They found that the ability of the blood vessels to dilate was 29 percent lower in people who ate the high-TFA diet compared those on the saturated fat diet. Blood levels of HDL cholesterol were 21 percent lower in the TFA group compared to the saturated fat group. Bottom line? Avoid TFAs. Lower your intake of animal-derived saturated fats. Use healthier fats in moderation (e.g., cold-pressed olive oil, coconut oil, avocados).

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Brain-Heart Health and Cholesterol, 4

Reportedly, trans fatty acids (TFAs) make up 4 percent to 7 percent of the dietary fat intake in the United States and the Netherlands. What is the effect on the potential health of individuals who ingest trans fats? It isn’t pretty! TFAs are created when hydrogen atoms are forced into liquid oils, such as soybean or corn oils. This process is required to make oils solid at room temperature so they can be used in processed foods and so the shelf-life of processed foods can be increased. When you read the terms "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" oils you know some of the ingredients have been subjected to this process. TFAs are commonly found in margarine, packaged baked goods, cookies, crackers, and restaurant fried foods. Trans fatty acids have been found to raise the lousy LDL cholesterol and lower the healthy HDL cholesterol, which can contribute to any number of disorders in the brain and body, especially cardiovascular disease that impacts both the heart and the brain. Is there a relationship between TFAs and decreased dilation of blood vessels? More tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Brain-Body Health and Cholesterol, 3

Cholesterol is vital to your health. Researchers are discovering just how vital it is. As one explained it, think of the liver as packaging cholesterol into so-called lipoproteins, combinations of fats and proteins that function as mass-transit systems. They transport cholesterol, fat-soluble vitamins, and other needed substances through the bloodstream to the cells that need them. What is so vital about cholesterol? Here are a few key functions cholesterol provides:
  • Helps keep cell walls (membranes) working appropriately
  • Assists cells in adjusting to temperature changes
  • Is used by nerve cells for insulation (myelin)
  • Helps create substances such as vitamin D in the presence of sunlight
  • Produces bile, a fluid that helps process and digest fats
  • Creates hormones such as testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen

What role do trans fatty acids play in raising LDL cholesterol? More tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Brain-Heart Health and Cholesterol, 2

Most of the cholesterol needed by your brain and body is manufactured in your liver, along with smaller amounts in the small intestine and even in some cells throughout the body. Cholesterol is also found in some foods. There are a number of Internet sources that provide lists of foods that are high, low, or cholesterol-free. According to the American Heart Association, LDL is found in foods containing saturated fats, such as those in animal-based products; and in foods containing trans fats, found in commercially prepared products that contain partially hydrogenated oils and shortening. Oatmeal and foods such as apples, prunes, and kidney beans contains soluble fiber, which can help to reduce LDL. Soluble fiber in many other fruits and vegetables can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your blood stream, as well. What is cholesterol needed for in your brain and body anyway? More tomorrow.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Brain-Heart Health and Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is vital to your health and found in the blood stream. Rather than just floating around in your blood, cholesterol can get into the walls of the blood vessels. Too much cholesterol in your blood stream and too much can lodge in the blood-vessel walls and remain there. Too much cholesterol in the walls of your blood vessels and the diameter of these vessels can narrow. This can clog the vessels causing any number of problems such as decreasing appropriate rate of blood flow to the brain and vital body organs and increasing the risk for blood clots. Blood clots in the circulatory system can cause heart attacks and venous thrombosis; strokes in the brain. The two main types of cholesterol are HDL and LDL. HDL (high density lipoprotein) is generally referred to a healthier cholesterol because it returns to the liver to be broken down. LDL (low density lipoprotein) is sometimes referred to as lousy cholesterol, as someone once put it, because it is more likely to hang out in the blood and lodge in the walls of the blood vessels. Where does cholesterol come from? More tomorrow.