Monday, February 29, 2016

Happy February 29th!

For some of you, this is the first real-day anniversary of your birth that you will have had in four years. The question for some is “What’s the reason for a “leap year?” One answer is that Leap Years are needed to keep our modern day Gregorian Calendar in alignment with the Earth's revolutions around the sun. It takes the Earth approximately 365.242199 days—or 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds—to circle once around the Sun. This is called a tropical year. However, the Gregorian calendar has only 365 days in a year, so if the calendar didn't add a day on February 29 nearly every 4 years, the world would lose almost six hours off the calendar every year. After only 100 years, the calendar would be off by approximately 24 days. A similar February won't come again in the current generation’s because this February has  four Sundays, four Mondays, four Tuesdays, four Wednesdays, four Thursdays, four Fridays, and four Saturdays. This only happens once every 823years. So, enjoy it!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Origin of Phrases, 2

1.      Barrels of Oil: When the first oil wells were drilled they had made no provision for storing the liquid so they used water barrels. That is why, to this day, we speak of barrels of oil rather than gallons.

2.      Sleep Tight: Early beds were made with a wooden frame. Ropes were tied across the frame in a criss-cross pattern. A straw mattress was then put on top of the ropes. Over time the ropes stretched, causing the bed to sag. The owner would then tighten the ropes to get a better night's sleep. Also, those straw mattresses were full of bugs, so thus the expression: "Good night, sleep tight, and don't let the bed bugs bite."

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Arizona’s Javelina, 2

My brain got some additional stimulation as it learned about the Arizona Javelinas, creatures that may be descendants of collared peccaries that lived with the ancient Mayas in South America. Apparently they migrated north (the javelinas, not the Mayas), walking on only two toes of each foot. (They have three toes on their hind feet and four toes on their front feet. They are quite nimble—can leap six feet and jump up bout two feet—and gallop up to 25 miles an hour. Of course they leave behind them a cloud of dust and their distinctive javelina ‘perfume.’ About two feet in height, a full-grown javelina averages about three feet in length and can weigh between 40-50 pounds. Cute but do not feed them and remember they cannot be domesticated . . .If you want to see more pictures of javelinas, you may want to check out this URL.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Arizona’s Javelina

Visiting good friends in Tucson, Arizona,gave my brain some stimulation as I was introduced to the Arizona javelina (have-a-leen-a) or peccary. Oh my! I thought they were members of the pig family. While they are part of the same order of mammals as pigs (along with deer, antelope, and the hippopotamus), they are in different families (Tayassuidae for peccaries vs Suidae for pigs and hogs). Javilenas eat prickly pear cactus and somehow the cacti and other spiny plants hurt neither mouth or digestive system. Go figure! Speaking of sensory systems, javelinas, are very nearsighted, which means they live primarily in a world of scents and sounds. They grunt, growl, bark, squeal, chuckle, and click their teeth when communicating with each other. And speaking of kinesthesia, they tend to squirt musk when they are startled. Bobcats, mountain lions, and black bears are among their predators. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Understanding the Brain, 2

To the reasons for understanding more about the brain, provided by The National Science Foundation and the BRAIN Initiative, I would add this. Everything starts in the brain. When you understand more about brain function in general and your brain in particular, you are giving yourself the opportunity to ‘use your brain by design.’ Life is basically trial and error—with the hope that you learn from your mistakes, avoid making the same ones in the future, and realize fewer negative outcomes and far more positive outcomes. None will ever understand brain function completely, in general or more specifically to one’s own brain. However, when you can make decisions and exhibit behaviors that give you positive outcomes (as opposed to negative outcomes), everyone benefits. Therefore, I plan on learning as much about brain function as I can for as long as I live . . .

Monday, February 22, 2016

Understanding the Brain

At a recent seminar I was asked: “Why we need to understand the brain anyway?” It reminded me of a similar question on the National Science Foundation home page under “Understanding the brain: The National Science Foundation and the BRAIN Initiative.” Here is their reply:

Understanding the brain means knowing the fundamental principles underlying brain structure and function. The research required to do so will accelerate scientific discovery and innovation, promote advances in technology and bolster U.S. economic competitiveness. New neuroscience discoveries will enable us to foster brain health; engineer solutions that enhance, replace or compensate for lost function; improve the effectiveness of formal and informal educational approaches; promote learning across the lifespan and build brain-inspired smarter technologies for improved quality of life.

Friday, February 19, 2016

M-F Brains and Energy

Recently I was asked if I knew of any references about the male brain requiring less energy to run. There are several examples under Brain References on my website. Following are three:

·         Analogy: the male brain turns on to do a task and then turns off; the female brain is always on. (Gurian, Michael. The Wonder of Boys.)
  •          Many times a day the male brain enters a ‘rest state.’ Because the female brain doesn’t shut off in this way, each gender approaches something as basic as a conversation quite differently. (Gurian, Michael, PhD, with Barbara Annis. Leadership and the Sexes.

  •          Scans: women’s brains showed 90 percent activity during a resting state; men’s brains in a resting state showed at least 70 percent of its electrical activity was shut down. (Pease, Barbara and Allan. Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps.)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

New Neurons

Neurons, thinking cells, are generated in the human brain in the hippocampus every day. However, their production is influenced by a number of different environmental factors. For example, the consumption of alcohol has been shown to retard the generation of new neurons. Studies have shown that rats that exercise regularly can produce twice as many new cells in the hippocampus than those who lead a more sedentary lifestyle. However, unless the rats are cognitively challenged, the new neurons disappear rather quickly and do not survive indefinitely.

(Shors, Tracey J. “Saving New Bain Cells.” Scientific American, p 47-48, march 2009)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Stroke-Weight Risk

Controlling your weight is an important way to lower stroke risk. Excess pounds strain the entire circulatory system and can lead to other health conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and obstructive sleep apnea. But losing as little as 5% to 10% of your starting weight can lower your blood pressure and other stroke risk factors.

(Harvard Medical School:

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Origin of Phrases, 1

I really enjoy words and learning the history behind them (etymology). Consequently, I was delighted when I received an email with the origin of several phrases. Here are some.

1.      Hot off the press: As the paper goes through the rotary printing press friction causes it to heat up. Therefore, if you grab the paper right off the press, it's hot. The expression means to get immediate information.

2.      Curfew: The word comes from the French phrase ‘couvre-feu’ that means ‘cover the fire.’ It was used to describe the time of blowing out all lamps and candles. It was later adopted into Middle English as ‘curfeu’ that later became the modern ‘curfew.’ In the early American colonies homes had no real fireplaces so a fire was built in the center of the room. In order to make sure a fire did not get out of control during the night it was required that, by an agreed upon time, all fires would be covered with a clay pot called a curfew.

3.      Ironclad: This came about from the ironclad ships of the Civil War. It meant something so strong it could not be broken.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Free 'Wont't'

Recently, neuroscientists at Charit√© - Universit√§tsmedizin Berlin devised an experiment to find out. They used a ‘duel’ game between human brains and a brain-computer interface (BCI). The idea was to evaluate whether or not a person could alter a movement after the readiness potential (RP) for a movement has already been triggered. In other words, are humans able to stop planned movements (under conscious control). State-of-the-art measurement techniques revealed that research subjects could control their actions for much longer than previously thought--but that there‘s a ‘point of no return’ in the decision-making process [at about 200 milliseconds after the Readiness Potential], after which cancellation of movement is no longer possible. According to research-team leader, Professor John-Dylan Haynes PhD, a person’s decisions are not at the mercy of unconscious and early brain waves. Humans are able to actively intervene in the decision-making process and interrupt a movement. The key is to become aware of a thought and impulse as quickly as possible and choose ‘yes’ to follow through with it or ‘no’ to make a different choice.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Free Will—or Not

Do you really have ‘free will’ or is that yet another figment of human imagination? Philosophers in many countries have debated that very question for centuries if not eons. Benjamin Libet, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, conducted an experiment in the 1980’s to assess the nature of free will. Subjects hooked up to an electroencephalogram (EEG) were asked to push a button whenever they liked. They were also asked to note the precise time that they first became aware of the wish or urge to move. According to a report by Kurzweil, Libet’s experiments showed that distinctive ‘readiness potential’ brain activity began, on average, several seconds before study participants became aware consciously that they planned to move. Libet’s conclusion was that the desire to move arose unconsciously, and ‘free will’ could instead only come in the form of a conscious veto of what he called ‘free won’t.’ More to come.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Event Boundary

I often get questions about the reason a person decided to retrieve something from another room and, once there, cannot recall what they wanted to retrieve. Enter “Event Boundary.” Psychologists at the University of Notre Dame have discovered that passing through a doorway triggers what's known as an “Event Boundary” in your brain. This ‘boundary’ separates one set of thoughts and memories from the next. It appears that as you move through a ‘doorway’ your brain files away the thoughts you had in the previous room and prepares a blank slate for the new room. So it’s pretty simply—at least it consistently works for my brain. As I walk through the doorway I say aloud what it is I want to retrieve in the next room or garage or whatever. Voila! My brain hangs onto it. Wonderful!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Abuse-Autism Link

Studies found that women who had suffered abuse were 60 percent more likely to have a child with autism. Researchers hypothesize that the long-lasting impact of abuse on a women’s brain and body, including the immune system and stress response system may be responsible for their increased chance of having a child with autism. If the trauma is current and ongoing, seek help immediately to either stop the trauma or remove yourself from it. If it was in the past you can’t change the past. But you can recover and create a healthier future for yourself. 

  (Andrea L. Roberts et al.Association of Maternal Exposure to Childhood Abuse With Elevated Risk for Autism in Offspring Autism and Maternal Exposure to Childhood Abuse.”)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Trauma and CRF

People sometimes ask if it’s worth it to do the work necessary for recovery from identified childhood trauma. Corticotropin Releasing Factor or CRF is a very powerful brain substance. Effects of CRF in limbic brain regions have been associated with increased fear, alertness, decreased appetite and libido, all functions relevant in the Fight-or-flight response and dysregulated in depression and anxiety disorders. Over-activity of the CRF/CRF1 receptor system has been demonstrated to be one of the long term neurobiological sequelae of early life trauma, a major risk factor for the development of affective disorders (such as depession). In fact, both rodents and non-human primates exposed to adverse experiences in early life exhibit evidence of hyperactivity of the CRF system as adults. Recovery work may be able to dampen down some of this CRF hyperactivity.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Override Your Genetic Code for Cancer

According to David P. Rakel, MD, director of integrative medicine at the University of Wisconsin, School of Medicine and Public health, even if your family has a history of cancer, there are things you can do to bathe that gene in a way to keep it from expressing itself. This means your genes may produce healthy tissue instead of tissue that is diseased or cancerous. Your lifestyle choices can override your genetic code and effectively reduce or even eliminate your chance of repeating your family’s history of poor health . . . We have the choice to bathe our genes with joy, happiness, exercise, and nutritious foods, or we can bath them with anger, lack of hope, unforgiveness, junk food, and a sedentary lifestyle. . . (LaBrec, Adelle. How to Reprogram Your DNA for Optimum Health.)

Friday, February 5, 2016

Rare Blood Type Registry

Fortunately, the American Red Cross has the world’s largest registry of rare blood donors and maintains a supply of frozen rare blood available for immediate shipment anywhere in the world. Here are a couple URLs that may be helpful if you’re looking for additional information or want to register.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Rare Blood Types

The Bloodbook website lists rare ethic-related blood types. Here is an example of the most common blood types in the most often seen rare ethnic categories:

African American Blacks - U- and Duffy-
American Indians and Alaskan Native peoples – RzRz
Pacific Island peoples and Asians - Jk ( a- b- )
Hispanics - Di ( b- )
Russian Jews - Dr ( a- )
Whites - Kp ( b- ) and Vel

This means, of course, that minority and diverse populations play a critical role in meeting the constant need for blood for diversity.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Bombay Blood

The year 1952 marked a change in the understanding about blood types. That’s when the rarest blood type in the world was discovered. Dr. Y. M. Bhende and colleagues identified this rare blood type in Bombay (now Mumbai) India. Thus its name: Bombay (hh). The major characteristic of the red blood cells of the Bombay blood group is the absence of the H antigen. In India (mostly East India), it found in 1 among every 7,000-8,000 people, whereas in other parts of the world it occurs in 1 in about 250,000. Individuals with a Bombay Blood type can donate blood to types A, B, AB, and O people. However, a person with this rare blood phenotype cannot receive blood from these A, B, AB, and O types. This can make it difficult if a blood transfusion is needed. Fortunately, for individuals who possess an uncommon blood type, a rare blood type registry does exist. More next time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Blood Types and Diversity

Humans are more alike than they are difference. For example, their brains are all the same color, if you will, regardless of skin or hair color. And humans all have blood—and it’s all red, again regardless of skin or hair color. However, actual blood types can differ based on ethnic diversity. Different ethnic and racial groups also have different frequency of the main blood types in their populations. An estimated 45 % of Caucasians are Type O, 51% of African Americans, and 57% of Hispanics are Type O. That means that type O is routinely in short supply and in high demand by hospitals, both because it is the most common blood type and because Type O-negative blood, in particular, is the universal type needed for emergency transfusions.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Blood Types

Each embryo has a blood type. Your red blood cells carry markers called antigens on their surface that provide evidence of your blood type. For a long time it was thought there were only four blood types: O being the most common, A, B, and AB being the least common. Then that was expanded to eight blood types because of Rh factor and other antigen/antibody markers. (Reportedly there are more than 600 known antigens besides A and B.) The vast majority of blood types fall into one of the major ABO groups. However, for a small percentage of the population, it can be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack to find another person with the same blood type, which can be an issue if the individual suddenly requires a blood transfusion. Do you know your blood type? Mine happens to be O.