Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Brain and the NBA, 4

Someone asked me “what in the wide-wide world does emotional intelligence or EQ have to do being an outstanding basketball player?” My brain’s opinion is that it has a lot to do with a lot of it. Perhaps with all of it. Certainly it may impact the length of one’s career and success path. For example, high EQ involves the ability to defer short-term gratification for a long-term goal. That involves many small decisions on a daily basis; decisions that move the person closer to or further away from their long-term goal. The individual must make daily decisions about whether to practice or sluff off; what to eat and drink and the choices that would be better for brain and body; how much sleep their brain needs and whether to get that amount or not, and so on. High EQ also involves developing skills in managing emotions and feelings and the behaviors that would best align with your goals when you encounter stresses and setbacks. It involves avoiding or minimizing J-O-T behaviors: Jumping to conclusions, Overreacting, and Taking things personally. And avoiding behaviors that can get you ‘fined’ or ‘kicked out of the game.’ And it involves classy and credible role-modeling to younger brains that look up to yours. And so on. EQ matters!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Brain and the NBA, 3

In these types of competitions someone wins and someone loses—the game. Many of the players had never played in a NBA finals series before and I can only imagine the expectations and stress levels. When a brain has done something once it makes it easier to do it a second time. What their brains learned by having the opportunity to compete in these finals could be learned in no other way and can stand them in good stead for the next series as they apply that learning. Any given brain functions differently on different days—sometimes it can do no wrong and sometimes it struggles just to get through the game. Naturally, the truly great performers are those whose brains are able to perform as consistently as possible over time—but no brain does it flawlessly all the time. Watching the Olympics makes that perfectly clear . . . What does it take to be a great basketball player? I’m guessing that it’s the same things it takes to be world class in almost any arena: above average innate talent, a brain and body that match the needs of the endeavor, an environment that is conducive to honing the requisite skills, consistent effective practice, the ability to learn from your mistakes and your successes, the right mindset, a pattern of helpful self-talk, a high-level healthiness lifestyle, high levels of emotional intelligence, and a burning desire to be absolutely the best you can possibly be. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Brain and the NBA, 2

The Brain and the NBA, 2

As I watched the finals (my friends thought I was joking when I told them), and living in Northern California as I do, my brain wanted the Warriors to cap their amazing season with a win. However, my heart could understand how badly the Cleveland fans wanted the Cavaliers to win—fifty-two years is a long time to wait for a win, and they finally got it, spurred on by the amazing LeBron James! Watching the player’s brains and hearts combine toward that goal was awe-inspiring.

Not being a sports-caster or news-interviewer myself (but having been a radio talk-show host for a weekly program), I found it interesting to listen to the questions being asked of the Warriors’ players after the game had ended. Questions about why they ‘fell short’ or ‘didn’t play as well as they could have’ or ‘didn’t mirror their performance in some of the earlier season’s games’. My goodness! I was proud of all the players, especially those who did their best to answer ‘unanswerable questions’ and who remained positive rather than trying to dig up some reason or excuse to satisfy the questioners (some of whom I’d like to see try to sink a ball—smile). Good grief, if the brain doesn’t fully mature until mid to late twenties . . . some of those player’s brains are barely ‘done’! More tomorrow.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Brain and the NBA

I was actually writing my next Brain Bulletin while watching game seven of the NBA finals between the Warriors and Cavaliers. My brain wrote precious little as it quickly became involved with what was going on. You understand that I’ve never been a basketball fan. Ever. Had never heard of ‘three-pointers.’ You get my drift. Sometime, somewhere, however, I had caught a news clip about Stephen Curry and his ability to shoot baskets from almost the middle of the court (well, that’s what it looked like to me!). I have a huge regard for what brain and body in concert, and with the correct mindset, can accomplish. The news clip peaked my interest in basketball for the first time. Although I didn’t sit and watch any games, I paid attention to news reports about which games the Warriors won. And they were winning a lot of them! By the time it was announced that the Golden State Warriors would be playing the Cleveland Cavaliers, I was hooked. Because there was yet another story: player LeBron James, who changed teams with the goal of helping the Cavaliers that had never won a NBA series—win. More tomorrow.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Emotions vs Feelings, 2

A feeling is actually a portrayal of what is going on in the brain and body organs when you are experiencing an emotion. It’s really the next thing that happens. If you have just an emotion, you would not necessarily feel it. To feel an emotion, you need to represent in the brain (in structures that are actually different from the structures that lead to the emotion) what is going on in the organs when you are in the grip of an emotion. It involves the process of perceiving what is going on in those organs when you are in the grip of an emotion. That feeling perception is achieved by a collection of structures, some of which are in the brain stem, and some of which are in the cerebral cortex including the insular cortex. Practically, this means that you are not responsible for every emotion that arises in brain and body. Neither are you responsible for every feeling that crosses your brain in response to and in explanation of the emotion. However, you do have the ability to decide a couple of things. One: what action do you want to take or what behavior do you want to exhibit based on the emotion? And two: do you want to hang onto your initial feeling or do you want to ‘feel’ something else based on what you decide to tell yourself? You choose.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Emotions vs Feelings

Individuals sometime have a difficult time understanding the difference between emotions and feelings. I’ve tried to explain this by saying that emotions are physiological cellular signals that arise throughout the body and that are designed to get our attention and give us information; while feelings are the brain’s interpretation of the emotion’s significance. Dr. Antonio Damasio, is author of Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, winner of the 2010 Honda Prize for most important international awards for scientific achievement, and a renowned neuroscientist who heads the USC Brain and Creativity Institute. He has explained the difference like this. An emotion consists of a very well-orchestrated set of alterations in the body that has the general purpose of making life more survivable by taking care of a danger or an opportunity or something in between. It’s something that is set in one’s genome and it’s going to be similar across even other species. You may smile and a dog may wag its tail, but in essence, there is a set program in the brain and body that is similar across individuals in the species. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Brain Emotion Signatures, 3

This research is particularly fascinating because years ago Candace B. Pert PhD believed that each core emotion might be associated with a specific neuropeptide, while news in the British Medical Journal the Lancet suggested that emotions and feelings represented not only different concepts but also followed different pathways in the brain. According to Thomas Ethofer, previous research methods analyzed increased brain activity at individual locations. This study looked at overall patterns of activity. He has been reported as saying, “Consider the following analogy. If you have a puzzle consisting of black and white pieces, it is hard to say whether they belong to a picture of a zebra or a checkerboard if you look at each piece in isolation, but it becomes relatively easy if you put the pieces together.” Brilliant!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Brain Emotion Signatures, 2

Researchers at the University Medical Center of Geneva in Switzerland were able to identify signatures of emotion in the primary auditory cortex (PAC) of study participants. Using fMRI and MVPA, they were able to match distinct patterns of brain activity as different emotions were heard by the brain. This technique enabled them to identify which emotion was being heard and processed in the brains of the participants from other alternatives. This discovery pointed out that the PAC is not just a sensory region of the brain but also plays a specialized role in the processing of distinct emotions. Understanding the emotions of others is vital to one’s social skills. The authors hope these findings may help researchers unravel the distorted brain pathways that may manifest as unhelpful emotional responses in some psychiatric disorders (e.g., schizophrenia, autism, depression . . .). 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Brain Emotion Signatures

Did you know that each emotion leaves its own unique signature in the brain? Led by Thomas Ethofer, researchers at the University Medical Center of Geneva, Switzerland have identified spatial signatures of emotion in an areas of the temporal lobes at each side of the brain. Known as the primary auditory cortex or PAC, these area are responsible for decoding the sensation of sound. Scientists knew that the PAC tends to react more strongly to emotional vocalizations than to neutral speech, but because the activity increase is similar for all emotions, existing scanning equipment had not allowed them to separate one emotion from another. Ethofer scanned participant brains using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) while they listened to emotional speech. Researchers then combined fMRI with multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) used to identify patterns in brain activation. This allowed them to identify the specific emotion in the listener participant’s brain by identifying the listener’s brain activity. More tomorrow.

Friday, June 17, 2016


So what are triglycerides and how do they play into the cholesterol equation? Triglycerides are just another type of fat. Their job, if you will, is to store excess energy from whatever you eat and drink. High levels of triglycerides in the blood are associated with atherosclerosis. Elevated triglycerides can be caused by cigarette smoking, excess consumption of alcohol, being overweight or obese, physical inactivity, and a menu that is very high in carbohydrates (more than sixty percent of total calories). Underlying diseases (e.g., diabetes, heart disease) or genetic disorders may sometimes contribute as well. People with high triglycerides often have a high total cholesterol level, including a high LDL cholesterol (bad) level and a low HDL cholesterol (good) level. Creating and maintaining a Longevity Lifestyle can help bring brain and body chemistry into balance, including cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

HDL and LDL Cholesterol

Many people have heard that there is more than one type of cholesterol, that waxy substance that can’t dissolve in blood and so is transported by lipoproteins, carriers that are partly fat (lipid) and partly protein. According to the American Heart Association, LDL or low-density lipoprotein is considered ‘bad’ cholesterol because it contributes to plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries and make them less flexible. HDL or high-density lipoprotein, is considered good cholesterol because it acts as a scavenger, carrying ‘bad LDL’ cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver where the LDL is broken down and then excreted from the body. [Lp(a) is a genetic variation of LDL (bad) cholesterol that may contribute to the buildup of fatty deposits.]

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Suicide and Cholesterol

Decreasing levels of cholesterol can contribute to an altered brain state and have been linked with increased suicide risk. The decrease may occur spontaneously for some reason or other or be due to drugs or dramatic alterations in a person’s typical menu. This waxy fat-like substance, found in all cells of the body, is made largely by cells in the liver. Cholesterol levels can also be impacted by what a person eats, especially foods that come from animal products and/or involve hydrogenated oils or trans fats. Cholesterol is the precursor for the synthesis of cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and vitamin D; and impacts memory functions. The brain and body work best when everything is in balance. The brain and body need cholesterolnot too much and not too little and higher amounts of the HDL type. HDL and LDL tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Suicide and Norepinephrine

Excessive activity of the norepinephrine system have been linked with increased risks for suicidal behavior. Both a neurotransmitter and a hormone, norepinephrine mobilizes the body for action (e.g., fight-flight). High levels of this substance, however, increase restlessness and anxiety. In addition, elevated levels of norepinephrine inhibit activity in the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that helps regulate conscience, willpower, decision-making, and behavior. Bottom line: when a brain commits suicide it does so in an altered state. Individuals need to refrain from rushing to judgement when this unfortunate behavior occurs. Judgmental comments, due to a lack of understanding about altered brain states, can actually increase the shock and emotional pain of loss among the survivors.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Suicide and Serotonin

Malfunctions in the serotonin system can trigger an altered brain state. Serotonin is a powerful neurotransmitter that regulates mood, sleep, and etc. Abnormal levels are associated with depression, anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a suicidal tendency, and alcoholism Neurons in the reptilian or 1st brain layer produce serotonin, which is carried to the prefrontal cortex or 3rd brain layer by long projections. In suicide, neurons appear to send less than normal amounts of serotonin to the prefrontal cortex. Interestingly, 90 percent of all serotonin is found in the gut or Enteric Nervous System or Gastrointestinal Tract—with only 10 percent in the brain and central nervous system.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Suicide and Cortisol

An increase in levels of cortisol can cause an altered brain state. Cortisol, a powerful stress chemical, is released when the brain recognizes a stressor—and the brain is the first body organ to do so. It responds at nanosecond speed to trigger the stress response. Cortisol is part of that stress response and has many important functions including working with the thyroid gland and assisting with the fight-flight stress response. Studies identified elevated 24-hour urinary cortisol production in patients who recently attempted suicide compared with patients who, although depressed, did not have a history of suicidal behavior.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Suicide and Altered Brain

What have studies shown in relation to altered brain states and severe depression and suicide? 
Here are a few key points. 
Research studies by Cornelius van Heeringen MD PhD of The Netherlands have pointed out that suicide may be a unique entity, reflecting the culmination of several complex processes. These processes can include:

ü  Depression
ü  Impulsivity
ü  Disinhibition
ü  Anxiety (mammalian)
ü  Executive function dysregulation (neocortex)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Suicide and Shock

Recently I heard about Takotsubo cardiomyopathy occurring when a woman was notified her best friend had died by suicide. The shock was doubly compounded because church administration refused to allow the individual to be interred in the family mausoleum because the death was the result of violating a ‘Thou shalt not kill’ commandment. They all were unaware of current research leading to the conclusion that people kill themselves only when their brains are in an altered state. While that was somewhat stress-reducing for the survivor, it didn’t ‘cut it’ for the guardians of the mausoleum. Candace B. Pert PhD was very clear that when the brain is in the grip of a strong emotion it is in an altered state. When the brain is in an altered state, that brain is at risk for taking actions and exhibiting behaviors that it might not do had the brain been functioning optimally. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Broken Heart Syndrome, 4

Epictetus, a 2nd century Greek philosopher, is credited with saying: It’s not so much what happens to you that matters as what you think about what happens to you. That’s one of the 20:80 Rules, so called. Only 20% of the negative effect to your brain and heart is due to the event; while 80% is due to what you think about the event and the weight you give to it. Even when you had nothing to do with the event and didn’t cause or trigger it by your own choices, you can do almost everything about the 80% because that has to do with personal perception—and your brain creates your perceptions. Implementing this 20:80 rule has been lifesaving for me. It has allowed me to make presentations after just hearing bad news about a loved one. My brain’s opinion is that living the 20:80 Rule, along with finding something for which to be grateful, may be a key part of a ‘prevention strategy’ for this strange Broken Heart Syndrome.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Broken Heart Syndrome, 3

Different hearts and brains respond to events differently. Something that wouldn’t be pleasant but not the end of the world, either, for one person, may be perceived as totally catastrophic for another. An unexpected and terrifying medical diagnosis, or being fired, or losing a great deal or money, or going bankrupt, or domestic abuse may trigger the syndrome for some. For others it might be a surprise birthday party or being expected or forced to perform in public. It’s different strokes for different folks. That’s one reason to know your friends and loved ones very well because what you think would be a hoot might be more than they could cope with. No brain and heart can be completely ready for every catastrophe. Understanding and living the 20:80 Rule and having good stress management strategies and a strong social network in place can be immensely helpful, however. More tomorrow

Friday, June 3, 2016

Broken Heart Syndrome, 2

Broken heart syndrome or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is not a ‘heart attack’ per se, although it may be misdiagnosed as such because the symptoms and test results are similar to those of a heart attack, including major changes in heart rhythm. But typically the arteries are not blocked. Rather, part of the heart enlarges temporarily (left heart ventricle) in the shape of an octopus trap while the rest of the heart is trying to function normally. It’s usually treatable although it can result in death. Considered stress-related, what type of stressors could trigger the syndrome? Almost anything that the individual finds ‘emotionally stressful’ or ‘shocking’ or ‘intense, including: For example: breakup of a relationship, betrayal by someone you thought was a friend, divorce, sudden death of a loved one, a catastrophic natural disaster, or even winning the lottery. Part 3 coming up.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Broken Heart Syndrome

“There seems to be a lot of death and dying going on recently,” as one of my colleagues put it. Along with some serious illnesses among some very good friends, I might add. Someone wrote to say that a cousin died from broken heart syndrome and asked if there really was such a thing. Definitely there is. That’s one reason good grief-recovery strategies and stress-management techniques can be so important. Broken heart syndrome is also known as a stress-induced Takotsubo cardiomyopathy and it can strike a person who has a healthy heart. The name came from octopus traps known as Tako tsubo because the traps resemble the pot-like shape of a broken heart. Both males and females can experience this syndrome although women are more likely than men to have the sudden intense chest pain that occurs as a reaction to a tsunami of stress hormones. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Brain Trivia

According to Richard Restak MD in his book entitled Mysteries of the Mind, the human brain is the most intricately organized and densely populated expanse of biological real estate in the world.

One cubic millimeter of brain tissue—roughly the size of a grain of coarse sand—contains approximately one hundred thousand neurons that can make about ten billion connections or synapses. These neuronal connections, places where the brain cells meet but do not touch each other, are more important than the brain’s total number of cells.

At the rate of one connection per second, some have estimated it would take thirty-two million years to count the synapses (connections) in the average brain.