Thursday, March 31, 2016

Worry, Anxiety, and Your Brain, 4

Conclusions from research point toward major consequences from habits of worry and anxiety. Recent studies by researchers at Baycrest Health Sciences’ Rotman Research Institute have shown that symptoms of anxiety in people diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) increase the risk of a speedier decline in cognitive functions, independent of depression, which is another risk marker. For MCI patients with mild, moderate or severe anxiety, Alzheimer's risk increased by 33%, 78% and 135% respectively. MCI patients who had reported anxiety symptoms at any time over the follow-up period had greater rates of atrophy in the medial temporal lobe regions of the brain, which are essential for creating memories and which are implicated in Alzheimer’s. More tomorrow.

1.   The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 2014; DOI:10.1016/j.jagp.2014.10.005

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Worry, Anxiety, and Your Brain, 3

One of the individuals I was mentoring through an educational process gave me a book written by Richard Carlson entitled:  “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff . . . and It’s All Small Stuff.” Part of a series on ‘don’t sweat the small stuff,’ it advertised ‘Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things From Taking Over Your Life.’ I thought it was a wonderful title and we chuckled about it at the time. In retrospect, however, it is a particularly excellent perspective. Today I tried to recall some of the things that were worrying the student at the time and I cannot recall any of them. What did you worry about last year or the year before? Whatever they were, it likely doesn’t matter now—the worries and anxieties. The consequences to your brain and immune system, however, may matter a great deal. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Worry, Anxiety, and Your Brain, 2

Think of the four emotions as four categories: joy, anger, fear, and sadness. Many languages, including English, have hundreds of words for emotions and feelings (because they lump those two words together and sometimes use them interchangeably or synonymously). That’s unfortunate since they represent different states and are believed to follow different pathways through the brain. It is my brain opinion that you can place each of the hundreds of words in one of those four categories. Worry and anxiety would go into the bucket of ‘fear’ since fear is all about helping you recognize that you are unsafe unless the fear is not about a bona fide situation of actual danger and represents your thoughts and beliefs about imaginary fears (e.g., I’m not smart enough or good looking enough or wealthy enough or . . .). Unfortunately, imaginary fears can still trigger the stress response . . . More tomorrow.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Worry, Anxiety, and Your Brain

Recently while lecturing in the United Kingdom, I was chatting with the producer of a TV program on which I was being interviewed. Both of us had heard someone say, “I was so anxious I was sure I was losing my mind!” Worry and anxiety seem to be global problems and we chatted briefly about their contribution to memory problems and even dementia. Flying back home I decided to do so blogs on the topic. First a reminder that I talk about four core emotions because they can be seen on the face of the fetus: joy, anger, fear, and sadness. Three of those (anger, fear, and sadness) are said to be ‘protective emotions’ because they help us manage a variety of types of events and situations. The protective emotions appear to be aligned with the right hemisphere of the brain, while the left hemisphere lights up on brain scans when the emotion of joy is being experienced. More tomorrow.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Origin of Phrases, 6

Origin of Phrases, 6

1.                  Cobweb: The Old English word for ‘spider’ was ‘cob.’

2.                  Riff-raff: The Mississippi River was the main way of traveling from north to south. River-boats carried passengers and freight but they were expensive so most people used rafts. Everything had the right of way over rafts which were considered cheap. The steering oar on the rafts was called a ‘riff’ and this transposed into riff-raff, meaning low class.

3.                  Ship state rooms: Traveling by steamboat was considered the height of comfort. Passenger cabins on the boats were not numbered. Instead they were named after states. To this day cabins on ships are called staterooms.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Beating Addiction

Because everything starts in the brain, my brain's opinion is that beating addiction starts by learning something about the brain and choosing a mindset of recovery. One resource I use is The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction by Dirk Hansen. He explains in easy-to-understand language what happens in the brain when a molecule of cocaine or gin or THC finds its way there. And outlines the combination of molecular messengers (serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, glutamate, and CRF) that hit the brain reward system; pointing out that “everything that follows, from behavioral problems to broken marriages, from jail time to rehab, is a result of changes in infinitesimally small amounts of these chemicals in the brain.” Addictive behaviors represent a ‘disease’ in my brain’s opinion and need to be dealt with like all other diseases. Sooner than later, as they always result in negative outcomes . . .

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Pot Withdrawal, 2

For some marijuana users, withdrawal can be a real challenge. Fortunately, over the last decade or so, a body of knowledge is being collected about the symptoms of pot withdrawal. For example, Dirk Hansen outlined some of these symptoms in his blog: “The syndrome is marked by irritability, restlessness, generalized anxiety, hostility, depression, difficulty sleeping, excessive sweating, loose stools, loss of appetite, and a general ‘blah’ feeling.” [You may want to access his blogspot for additional information.] For overall health, productivity, relationships, and success in life, I recommend that people put in the work to free themselves from addictive behaviors, especially those related to substances. They directly impact your brain and typically result in negative outcomes.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Pot Withdrawal

Dr. Ryan Vandrey of John’s Hopkins School of Medicine and colleagues compared symptoms of tobacco withdrawal with marijuana withdrawal and to the withdrawal in study participants who used both substances. The abstract of that study pointed out that “overall withdrawal severity associated with cannabis alone and tobacco alone was of a similar magnitude. Withdrawal during simultaneous cessation of both substances was more severe than for each substance alone, but these differences were of short duration and substantial individual differences were noted.” In working with addictive behavior programs, some of the program attendees reported that nicotine withdrawal was more of a problem during waking hours while marijuana withdrawal was more of a problem during sleeping hours—because of an increase in anxiety and insomnia (and sometimes in dreaming).

Monday, March 21, 2016

Illicit Drug Use Increasing

This week I’ll provide some comments and resources for those who have asked about illicit drug use. According to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) for 2014: 27.0 million people aged 12 or older used an illicit drug in the past 30 days, which corresponds to about 1 in 10 Americans (10.2 %), higher than the percentage in every year from 2002 through 2013. That included 22.2 million current marijuana users aged 12 or older (can double their risk of being in a car accident); 473,000 young adults who used cocaine, including 29,000 who used crack (after just one use cocaine can rewire the brain and drastically affect decision-making); and about 435,000 people aged 12 or older were current heroin users (a dangerous and highly addictive opiod with no accepted medical use in the USA). The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported highest rates of dependence to lowest; the top three listed: Heroin, Crack, and Marijuana.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Origin of Phrases, 5

1.   The whole nine yards: American fighter planes in WW2 had machine guns that were fed by a belt of cartridges. The average plane held belts that were 27 feet (9 yards) long. If the pilot used up all his ammo he was said to have given it the whole nine yards. 

2.   Buying the farm: This is synonymous with dying. During WW1 soldiers were given life insurance policies worth $5,000. This was about the price of an average farm so if you died you ‘bought the farm’ for your survivors. 

3.   Passing the Buck / the buck stops here: Most men in the early west carried a jack knife made by the Buck knife company. When playing poker it was common to place one of these Buck knives in front of the dealer so that everyone knew who he was. When it was time for a new dealer the deck of cards and the knife were given to the new dealer. If this person didn't want to deal he would ‘pass the buck’ to the next player. If that player accepted then ‘the buck stopped there.’

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Brain-Immune Link, 2

The discovery of Immune System lymphatic vessels in the brain—by researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine—raises questions that now need answers, both about the workings of the brain, the diseases that plague it, and the link between the brain and the immune system. Jonathan Kipnis, professor in the Department of Neuroscience and director of the Center for Brain Immunology and Glia at the University of Virginia, said, “In Alzheimer’s, there are accumulations of big protein chunks in the brain. We think they may be accumulating in the brain because they’re not being efficiently removed by these vessels.” And there is an array of other neurological diseases, from autism to multiple sclerosis to be reconsidered in light of the presence of something science did not know about or even believe existed. Watch for more discoveries about PNI (psychoneuroimmunology) and the close brain-body connection.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Brain-Immune Link Discovered

In what has been termed a “stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching,” researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have found that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by lymphatic vessels previously thought not to exist. According to Jonathan Kipnis, a professor in the Department of Neuroscience and director of the Center for Brain Immunology and Glia, “It changes entirely the way we perceive the neuro-immune interaction. . .We believe that for every neurological disease that has an immune component to it, these vessels may play a major role.” The discovery was made possible by the work of Antoine Louveau, a postdoctoral fellow in Kipnis’ lab. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Zika and the Brain, 2

How do you get Zika? This viral disease is caused by the Zika virus that is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes that typically lay eggs in and near standing water in things like buckets, bowls, animal dishes, flower pots and vases. Besides standing water, rodents, birds and small mammals, may act as reservoirs. These mosquitoes are aggressive daytime biters. They can also bite at night. Reportedly they prefer to bite people, and live indoors and outdoors near people. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person already infected with the virus and they then can spread the virus to other people through bites. A mother can pass the Zika virus to her unborn child (although there are no reports to date of transmission through breast milk). And there have been reports of infected males passing the Zika virus to sexual partners through infected semen. Much more information is available through the CDC Zika site.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Zika and the Brain

Perhaps recalling that I was once the Supervising PHN and then acting director of a county health department and an Infection Control Preventionist for several acute hospitals, I have been asked (among other questions), “What do you think of mosquitoes?” My answer? I think mosquitoes are the ultimate in bioterrorism, causing damage and death to millions the world over. They spread any number of viruses and parasites and who knows what else, causing diseases such as Malaria, Yellow Fever, Dengue, Zika, and Chikungunya. Zika is related to Dengue, Yellow Fever, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile viruses. Some recent studies are linking the Zika virus to microcephaly (a smaller-than usual sized head in the fetus of a pregnant woman who has the Zika virus). Thus, the suggestion that women in areas where these mosquitos live should avoid getting pregnant because of the risk of microcephaly and/or other birth defects to the developing fetus.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Origin of Phrases, 4

1.      Log-book: An early way to measure a ship’s progress was by casting overboard a wooden board known as ‘the log’ with a string attached to it. The rate at which the string was played out as the ship moved away from the stationary log was measured by counting how long it took between knots in the string, and a 'knot' came to used as the unit of speed at sea. These measurements were transcribed into a ‘log-book.’

2.      Barge in: Heavy freight was moved along the Mississippi in large barges pushed by steamboats. These were hard to control and would sometimes swing into piers or other boats. People would say they ‘barged in.’

3.      A shot of whiskey: In the old west a .45 cartridge for a six-gun cost 12 cents, so did a glass of whiskey. If a cowhand was low on cash he would often give the bartender a cartridge in exchange for a drink. This became known as a ‘shot’ of whiskey.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Heart Em Energy, 2

Speaking of Em energy, you know I enjoy quotations, and this one by William Blake is no exception. “Man’s perceptions are not bounded by organs of perception. He perceives far more than sense (though ever so acute) can discover.” So Blake must have been aware, at least at some level, of the Em energy that we as human beings are always generating, releasing, and picking up from others in the environment. In The HeartMath Solution Doc Childre and Howard Martin pointed out that the heart has its own independent nervous system with at least 40,000 neurons (as many as are found in various subcortical sections of the brain) and there is a 2-way nervous system relay between the brain and the heart. There are a few people in my life that I love to spend time with because my brain and my heart ‘feel good around them.’ Marvelous!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Heart Em Energy

You may be familiar with the work being done at the HeartMath Institute, where researchers have been studying the heart and its electrical field for over two decades. I always pause whenever an email from Sara Childre, President of HeartMath Institute (HMI) pops up in my in-box and read what she has to say. Recently, one of her communications reminded me that “Even through the brain is a principal energy force, it turns out the heart actually has an electrical field estimated by HMI to be 60 times the amplitude of the brain.” Many studies have shown that the electromagnetic energy or Em energy that is generated by neurons in your brain and heart can be detected by another person in close proximity. Which, of course, always makes me want to be sure that the Em energy my neurons are generating is positive. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Picture Worth 3200 Years

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. How about a picture worth 3200 years? One of my strategies for age-proofing my brain while growing older is to look for interesting pieces of information. I ran across one the other day, the National Geographic Society always being a good source. Photographers took and managed to take and piece together 126 photographs. This means that for the first time ever there is a picture of ‘The President.’ No, not the US president. Rather a giant sequoia that stands at 247 feet tall, is estimated to be over 3,200 years old, and has been nicknamed ‘The President.’ The story of how they did it is amazing, too.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Struggling with Forgiveness?

Anger, bitterness, hostility, and unforgiveness are hungry parasites that feed and feed until there is nothing left for the brain or heart to eat. ¾Arlene R. Taylor
So begins my mini-monograph on forgiveness. I’ve been asked to speak about the brain and forgiveness a lot lately. Some have heard about the work to Herbert Benson MD, internationally known cardiologist and researcher. His studies have shown how critically important forgiveness is for the health and wellbeing of the person doing the forgiving. You forgive for ‘your’ health and longevity, not for the one you are forgiving. This means that the person you are forgiving need not even know he or she is being forgiven, need not even be still alive. Once your brain ‘gets’ that forgiving yourself and others is healthy selfishness, it makes it easier. It’s about you, not them. By request I took the time to write out some of the information on forgiveness—the URL is below. I encourage you to embrace forgiveness; it’s good medicine.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Origin of Phrases, 3

1.      Showboat: These were floating theatres built on a barge that was pushed by a steamboat. These played small towns along the Mississippi River. Unlike the boat shown in the movie ‘Showboat’ these did not have an engine. They were gaudy and attention grabbing which is why we say someone who is being the life of the party is ‘showboating.’

2.      Over a barrel: In the days before CPR a drowning victim would be placed face down over a barrel and the barrel would be rolled back and forth in an effort to empty the lungs of water. It was rarely effective. If you are over a barrel you are in deep trouble.

3.      Hogwash: Steamboats carried both people and animals. Since pigs smelled so bad they would be washed before being put on board. The mud and other filth that was washed off was considered useless ‘hog wash.’

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Two Goals at a Time, 2

When humans pursue two goals A and B concurrently, a part of the brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex (MFC) divides so that half of the region focuses on one task and the other half on the other task. The anterior most part of the frontal lobes enables you to switch back and forth between the two goals, i.e. executing one goal while maintaining the other one on hold. This inter-hemispheric division of labor explains why humans appear unable to accurately carry out more than two tasks at one time. If you want to look at a visual representation of how this works in the brain, I’ll include a URL below. Credit for the representation goes to principle brain researcher: Etienne Koechlin, INSERM-ENS, Paris, France.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Two At a Time for the Brain

Many people believe they can ‘multitask’ very efficiently. Those who do, may need to think again. Studies by researcher researcher Etienne Koechlin of the Universit√© Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, France show that “… we can readily divide tasking. We can cook, and at the same time talk on the phone, and switch back and forth between these two activities. However, we cannot multitask with more than two tasks.” According to Koechlin, the study results might also explain why humans seem to have difficulty when decisions involve more than two choices. When faced with three or more choices, subjects don't appear to evaluate them rationally; they simply start discarding choices until they get back to a binary choice. This is perhaps because your brain can't keep track of the rewards involved with more than two choices.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Fiji Under the Sea

In actuality, I know very little about Fiji – although as I child I was so curious about it and hoped I could go there one day.  Well, next year I may get my wish as I have been invited to present some brain-function seminars that. What fun! Opening my email today I discovered that my friend and colleague, Dr. Banford, had send me the URL for a YouTube presentation about life under the sea in Fiji. Just having finished presenting three brain-function seminars I kicked off my shoes in my hotel room and proceeded to watch the YouTube. Oh, My, Goodness. Most of the underwater creatures I had never seen before and they were amazing. You may want to take a few minutes and watch this . . . And, last but not least, Happy Birthday to my friend and superb composer-pianist-organist, David H. Hegarty.