Monday, November 30, 2015

Depression and Anxiety

Anxiety and depression continue to be problematic world-wide. Toward the end of 2013, Caitlin Dewey released global data in the form of a world-map. You might find it interesting to check this out. According to this data, the most depressed country is Afghanistan, where more than one in five people suffer from the disorder. The least depressed is Japan, with a diagnosed rate of less than 2.5 percent.

Friday, November 27, 2015

More Brain Proverbs

Every culture has its proverbs. Here are examples.

  • He who at thirty has no brains, will never purchase an estate.
  • He who has to deal with a blockhead has need of much brains.
  • Borrowed brains have no value.
  • When brains are needed, brawn won’t help.
  • Many complain of their looks, but none of their brains.
  • You'll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind.
  • You don't see the brain on one’s forehead.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Celebrate Thanksgiving with a few more brain proverbs. After all, if you choose to have a happy thanksgiving or a lousy thanksgiving you’re right—because everything starts in the brain and it will only do what it thinks it can do. How does it know what to do? You tell it what to do through your mindset and thoughts.

- A brain is worth little without a tongue.
 Long on hair, short on brains.
 If your brain is made of butter, don’t be a baker

- If the brain sows not corn, it plants thistles.
- Money spent on the brain is never spent in vain.
-   An idle brain is the devil's workshop.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What Could Be Better? 2

I remember thinking that my little piano student had a lot of talent. I expected her to excel and at the same time tried to make lessons ‘fun.’ After all, you can be very skilled at an activity and still have fun doing it. Doing well and having fun are not anathema to each other—although you’d think they were the way some approach life. I discovered that after I’d moved away, she had continued with her music lessons, winning every piano competition she entered. Music had changed my life for the better so I could understand her comments about the way in which music had helped her to navigate the maze of growing up and meet challenges that tested her metal. Bottom line: she perceived that those few years we spent together—with the ‘piano’ as the common denominator—made a lasting and positive impact on her life. Driving home I asked myself: What could be better? On this Thanksgiving eve I am grateful for all those who have made a positive impact on my life—and I am delighted when I can ‘pay back’ by ‘paying forward.’ Catching up with my little piano student of yore certainly made a positive difference in my ‘Thanksgiving’ this year.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What Could Be Better?

Do you ever wonder if what you do really makes any difference in the lives of others? Traveling in Southern California recently I had a wonderful experience when I reconnected with a girl (okay, she’s definitely a woman, now!) that I had known in Canada eons ago. (The last century feels like that!) Her mother had been trying to teach her to play the piano—and it wasn’t going well, to put it mildly. Turns out the old-world ‘do it right ethic’ hadn’t clicked in with the ‘have fun while doing it right ethic’ and the girl hated playing the piano. Sensing this, I had offered to give her piano lessons (to lessen the load on her mother, of course) and so we began. Several years later I moved with my family to the United States and lost track of her in the process. So imagine my surprise when we happened to connect at a luncheon meeting. I loved it! We chatted between and around the program items and it was so interesting to hear how this ‘little girl’ had perceived me, a ‘growing-up teenager’ only a decade or so older than she was. More tomorrow.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Horrible Holiday Headaches!

The end of the year is filled with a mixture of activities, some healthy and some not so healthy: visiting family, seeing friends, celebrating, eating, drinking, traveling, shopping, and you name it--but maybe not so much living in balance and getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, regular meals, and a positive mindset. Some individuals report an increase in headaches and migraine headaches as the holiday season approaches. According to Harvard Medical School, headaches, in many ways, are a reflection of the lives people are leading. For tension headaches, they report that stress is the most common precipitating factor, followed by missed meals, lack of sleep, and fatigue. Migraines have been found to have many of the same triggers. For some individuals, a specific food or additive or even a specific odor can prompt a migraine attack. Think ahead. Make end-of-year activities healthy ones. Keep your life in balance. You just might avoid some of those headaches!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Spine Shrinkage and Back Pain, 2

Researchers wanted to evaluate whether or not work stress make you shorter. A 1-point decrease on a 5-point scale of perceived job control (the degree to which an employee feels free to set his or her pace or change the sequence of tasks) is associated with an additional 1 millimeter of daily spine shrinkage, a phenomenon linked to lower-back pain, According to the abstract, they found that after adjustment for sex, age, body weight, smoking status, biomechanical work strain, and time spent on physical and low-effort activities during the day, lower levels of daily job control significantly predicted increased spinal shrinkage. So, if you perceive your job is stressful, it might be helpful to ‘reframe’ the stress part.

Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Vol 18(4), Oct 2013, 469-480.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Spine Shrinkage and Back Pain

Does work stress make you shorter? On average, normal spinal shrinkage causes people to lose about 14 millimeters, or 1% of their stature over the course of a day.  This is due to fluid loss from the intervertebral disk. With adequate sleep, they tend to recover their height. Researcher Ivana Igic and two colleagues from the University of Bern in Switzerland, performed an ambulatory field study of daily work stressors, job control, and spinal shrinkage among Swiss office workers to assess daily spine shrinkage, a phenomenon linked to lower-back pain. They wanted to investigate whether spinal shrinkage was greater during workdays compared with nonwork days, if daily work stressors were positively related to spinal shrinkage, and whether or not job control was negatively related to spinal shrinkage. The study involved 2 consecutive weeks with 512 days of observation of 39 office employees. Results tomorrow. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Heteronym or Heterophone

I enjoy heteronyms. A heteronym or a heterophone, as you probably already know, is a word that is written identically to another word but which has a different pronunciation and meaning. Here are a few of my favorites:
·         The weather was beginning to affect her affect.
·         He was an advocate for hiring someone to advocate for them.
·         A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
·         They were too close to the door to close it.
·         Please do not desert me here in the desert!
·         Do you know what a buck does to does?
·         The dove dove into the bushes when it was startled.
·         How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
·         The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

·         I’m sure he could lead if he would just get the lead out.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Stigma of Child Obesity

Would you like to help your child avoid the stigma of obesity? Create and maintain a Longevity Lifestyle. Get your own brain, body, and weight in the game and keep it there. Studies have shown that obesity does tend to stigmatize a child and not much has changed during the last 40 years. In 1961, Mickey Stunkard, an obesity research veteran, showed children drawings of healthy disabled and obese children and asked how much they liked them. The obese drawings were liked least of all. In 2001 the experiment was repeated and obese children were liked even less than before. Children observe their parents—even when it doesn’t look like they are watching. What you ‘say’ is not nearly as impactful as what you ‘do’ yourself. Do your child a favor and role-model your optimum weight. Your child will likely follow your lead and by maintaining an optimum weight, also be more likely to avoid serious illnesses such as diabetes type 2 and 3 and/or a shortened lifespan.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Mindset, Perception, and Success

Dr. Steven Campbell recently had this little piece in one of his newsletters. Most people could likely apply this in some way to his or life. The story is as follows.

A little boy came home one day from school and gave a paper to his mother. “My teacher gave this paper to me and told me to only give it to my mother.” His mother’s eyes teared up as she read the letter to her child: "Your son is a genius. This school is too small for him and doesn’t have enough good teachers for training him. Please teach him yourself." Many years after his mother had died and this little boy had grown, he was looking through old family things in her desk. When he saw a folded paper in the corner of a drawer, it read, “Your son is addled. We won’t let him come to school anymore.” That little boy was Thomas Edison, the genius of the 20th Century. He had always been so, but his genius came to the world because of one person—his mother—who believed in him enough to teach him how to believe in himself. Years later, when a reporter from the New York Times asked Edison how it felt to fail 999 times as he looked for the filament of a light bulb, he answered, “I did not fail 999 times! I simply found 999 ways that did not work!”

Friday, November 13, 2015

Neurons in Your Gut, 5

Because of these two ‘brains.’ the one in your head and the one in your gut, it’s no surprise that there is a direct relationship between emotional stress and physical distress. Another mechanism that lends credence to physiology as the source of intestinal dysfunctions is the system of mast cells in the gut that have an important role in immune response. During stress, trauma, or fight or flight reactions, brain neurons call for more immune surveillance and mast cells in the wall of the GI system are activated. These mast cells release histamines and other inflammatory agents, mobilizing the enteric nervous system to expel the perceived intruders, which can cause diarrhea. According to Dr. Mawe, professor of anatomy and neurobiology at the University of Vermont, In animals, inflammation makes the sensory neurons in the gut fire more often, causing a kind of sensory hyperactivity. He is reported to have said, “I have a theory that some chronic disorders may be caused by something like attention deficit disorder in the gut.”

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Neurons in Your Gut, 4

 Several studies seem to substantiate that gut neurons form an underlying contributor to conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS. Michael Gershon, MD, neurobiologist at New York's Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, has pointed out that antidepressants such as SSRIs, when used in doses too low to treat depression, have been found effective immediately in helping to resolve symptoms in IBS patients. A study by Robert M. Stern, a professor of psychology at Penn State (the results published in the journey ‘Neurogastroenterology and Motility’) found that biofeedback helped people consciously increase and enhance their gastrointestinal activity. They used brain neurons to help the gut neurons. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Neurons in Your Gut, 3

Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS is estimated to impact 20% of Americans with symptoms that include abdominal pain and loose stool, affects 20% of Americans. Dr. Gershon indicates that many doctors dismiss the severity of IBS and/or attribute it to psychoneurosis because they don't know exactly what it is. Gary M. Mawe, professor of anatomy and neurobiology at the University of Vermont, has pointed out that the GI tracts of people with IBS look essentially normal. The default assumption has been that IBS is a psychosomatic disease. It turns out that IBS, like depression, is partly a function of changes in the serotonin system: too much serotonin rather than too little. Typically, when working properly, serotonin is released into the gut and initiates an intestinal reflex. Then it is removed from the bowel by a molecule known as the serotonin transporter, or SERT, found in the cells that line the gut wall. People with IBS have insufficient amounts of SERT so they have too much serotonin floating around in the bowl, which triggers diarrhea. The excess serotonin then overwhelms the receptors in the gut, shutting them down and triggering constipation.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Neurons in Your Gut, 2

A sense of butterflies in your stomach can result from a surge of stress hormones released during a fight-or-flight event. According to Dr. Gershon, author of The Second Brain, you feel like there are butterflies in your stomach when brain neurons send a message of anxiety to gut neurons. The gut neurons then send messages back up to the brain that it’s unhappy, too. But gut neurons can work on their own, initiating messages that go up to brain neurons when the GI system isn’t happy. Serotonin also acts as a go-between, keeping brain neurons up to date with what is happening in gut neurons—with perhaps 90% of the messages traveling from gut neurons up to brain neurons. Conditions such as anxiety, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, and Parkinson's disease evidence symptoms both at brain neuron and gut neuron levels. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Neurons in Your Gut

It began with researchers finding ‘neurons’ in the gastrointestinal or GI system, perhaps a million or more. Then the estimate was revised upwards to maybe 200-600 million. Hmm-m-m. Now it appears that there may be as many neurons in your gut as you have in your brain. These gut neurons look like those in the brain in hour head, eat the same neurotrophic food, and use many of the same neurotransmitters. Estimates are that 90-95% of all the serotonin in your entire body lives in your gut. The serotonin helps trigger digestion and collaborates with the immune system to protect you from undesirable microorganisms. Neurons also utilize serotonin to send signals up to the brain in your head, information that can impact your desire to eat or not to eat.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

Think with Your Heart, 2

Researchers now believe that you ‘think’ with our heart. Because the heart is a subconscious organ, however, it must communicate with the brain in order for you to become ‘consciously aware’ of what your heart is thinking. Your heart and brain neurons communicate continually through what has been called an unmediated channel (described as having no valves or governers). As with your brain, your heart can be happy, angry, fearful, or sad. Without even knowing about neurons in the heart, poets and writers have written about how this organ thinks and feels. The English language (and likely all others) even has euphemistic phrases to describe how the heart thinks and feels: heartache, heartbreak, broken heart, anguished heart, heart-felt, generous heart, burden on my heart, hard heart, soft heart, no heart, pounding heart, trembling heart, lighthearted, heartburn, and so on.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Think with Your Heart

It was once believed that neurons lived only in your brain and in the central and peripheral nervous tissue. Now it is know that there are neurons in many places throughout your body. In your heart, for example; that organ about the size of your fist that keeps blood pumping to your brain, bringing oxygen and nutrients to your neurons. Once thought to contain only muscle cells, researchers have found that your heart contains neurons, as well, 40,000 plus. They look like those in your brain, eat the same type of neurotrophic food, use the same neurotransmitters, are probably supported and assisted by glial cells—and ‘think.’ Admittedly, it’s a new way of perceiving functions of the heart. According to Sir Ken Robinson, stories can reach and educate both heart and mind. No wonder eloquent and often beloved writers and speakers tend to use 'stores' as their basic communication medium.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Think with Your Brain, 3

No surprise, there is an entire retinue of supporting cells to help care for your neurons. Known as glial cells, there may be 6 glia for every neurons, concentrations varying in differing parts of the brain. Some neurons have 9 glia each. These personal assistants manufacture the myelin that covers many of the axons and which allows communication to occur much more quickly. (When something causes deterioration of the myelin a variety of problems can arise such as those seen in Multiple Sclerosis.) The glial cells also prepare food for the neurons, neurotrophins. They help maintain homeostasis (balance) among the neurons and provide support and protection for them in the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system. It’s beginning to appear that glial cells can be found almost anywhere in the brain and body where neurons reside.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Think with Your Brain, 2

In general, neurons do not undergo cell division—except perhaps for cells in the hippocampus and olfactory bulb. So you have what you have and they need to last your entire life. That’s one reason for making careful choices about how to take care of these vital cells. Although protected by your bony skull, neurons can be easily damaged. Blunt trauma, for example, can break off some of the axons, interfering with the transmission of information. That’s part of the controversy about some types of sports that can damage these delicate but vital cells. Pugilistic Parkinson’s is one example of problems that can arise from some types of sports. Wear a helmet when doing any type of sport or activity that might result in an injury to your head. A broken bone often heals ‘as good as new.’ A broken ‘head’ rarely does. If you smoke, stop. If you don’t, never start. Be careful about breathing in side smoke from tobacco products or from vehicle exhaust. Stay alert and avoid falls—a huge cause of head injuries and often of deteriorating brain function.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Think with Your Brain

You can think because of neurons in your brain; cells that have a propensity to exchange information with each other. Researchers believe these neurons talk to each other almost constantly using electrical and chemical transmission. Sometimes you are aware of their chatter at a conscious level, but much more often they are communicating at a subconscious level. The brain contains an estimated 86 billion neurons, give or take a few billion. About 1.3 billion are in the cerebral cortex or gray matter, while 69 billion are in the cerebellum. You may recall from high school biology that a neuron has a cell body or soma and a relatively large axon projecting from the cell body that allows information to leave the neuron. Depending on your height, some of these axons (the ones going down to your big toe, for example) can be a meter or more in length. Each neuron also has many tiny filaments projecting from the cell body called dendrites. These little finger-like projections absorb information and put it into the cell so you can 'think' about it. In some forms of mental retardation, it is believed that the neurons have insufficient or malformed numbers of dendrites. So the neuron can be exposed to information but it isn't absorbed and pulled into the neuron.