Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Stress Response and Alcohol

Studies have shown that resilience, the ability to cope with stress, reflects how well a person is able to adapt to the psychological and physiological responses involved in the stress response. When under stress, the brain and body respond rapidly, pushing normal metabolic processes into high gear. The hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis or HPA triggers changes in hormonal levels that prepare the body either to fight the stressor or to flee from it (the fight-flight response). During this process the HPA works very hard to maintain an appropriate balance of stress hormones and other brain/chemicals. Studies have shown that when alcohol is added to this mix, the body is put at even greater risk for harm, because alcohol triggers the release of higher amounts of cortisol. In turn, this alters the brain’s chemistry and ‘resets’ what the body considers ‘normal.’ Unfortunately, alcohol also prevents the body from returning to its initial balance point, so it must set a new point of physiological functioning known as allostasis. The setting of a new balance point puts wear and tear on the body and increases the risk of serious disease.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Belly Fat, Cortisol, and Alcohol

The theory has been that alcohol may affect brain chemicals that signal the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol. To study this, researchers at the Veterans Affairs North Texas Health Care System in Dallas recorded the breath alcohol concentrations and cortisol levels in a three groups of patients: a group of alcohol-dependent patients who were abstinent and participating in a residential treatment program, a group who were intoxicated and in the treatment program, and a group who were going through withdrawal. The study found:

·      Both the intoxicated group and the withdrawal group had increased cortisol levels compared to the abstinent group
·      Cortisol concentrations actually increased during the progression from intoxication to withdrawal
·      Alcohol consumption increases the body's production of cortisol, not only while the person is intoxicated, but also when the drinker is withdrawing from the effects of intoxication; cortisol does remains elevated throughout the drinking cycle
·     A high level of intoxication can cause a state of general stress, which can stimulate cortisol release.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Cortisol and Belly Fat

Cortisol is the stress hormone released when your brain recognizes a ‘stressor.’ Designed for short-term emergencies cortisol is made in your adrenal glands and increases blood pressure, impacts immune function, and raises blood sugar to give you fast energy. That’s the good news. Cortisol levels that stay high for too long are linked with increased risks for diabetes, high blood pressure, memory issues, insomnia, and increased belly fat, to name a few. Belly fat cells reportedly have four times as many receptors for cortisol compared to fat cells at other locations in your body. Researchers at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, California, studied the effects of a mindfulness program for stress eating on Cortisol Awakening Response or CAR and abdominal fat. Study results showed that Improvements in mindfulness, chronic stress, and CAR were associated with reductions in abdominal fat.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Optimism and Cognition, 2

Studies on adults ages sixty-five and older have provided some scientific endorsement of cognitive benefits associated with optimism. A national survey by the US National Institute of Aging linked an optimistic mindset about the future with better problem-solving abilities and fewer memory problems. Optimism is also associated with individuals taking better care of themselves, as well as to a reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes. Other studies have shown that gratitude is an antidote to fear, and fear can trigger downshifting of the brain and less ready access to some of the complex executive functions of the brain. According to Deepak Chopra, by adopting gratitude as your default position, you tell your brain that positive input far outweighs negative input. So if you want to hang onto your memory and other cognitive abilities, optimism and gratitude may be invaluable strategies. And because of the brain’s penchant for congruence, more optimism and gratitude tend to lead to higher levels of optimism and gratitude.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Optimism and Cognition

Does an optimistic mindset have anything to do with your cognitive ability? In the past, although anecdotal studies have linked optimism with positive health behaviors, they were not specifically geared to evaluating cognition in older adults. Researchers decided to evaluate data from the Health and Retirement Study in an attempt to determine whether optimism was associated with cognitive impairment in older adults. The researchers discovered that an optimistic mindset was prospectively linked with a reduced risk of developing cognitive impairment. Therefore, developing an optimistic mindset may be one way to slow down or not prevent cognitive impairment in older adults. The questions then become individually: Do you look at the glass half full or half empty? Do you look for the positive aspects in any given situation or immediately identify whatever is negative? Do you put on a happy face each morning as you begin the day? 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Handedness – the Bottom Line

As a parent and/or care provider and/or teacher, what would be an appropriate position to take regarding handedness? My brain’s opinion is to void imposing your handedness on any child with whom you come into contact. Allow the brain to do what the brain wants to do in terms of handedness, because the brain knows how it was wired, and there does appear to be an energy advantage when handedness follows its brain’s wiring. Strategies? Place utensils and pencils and crayons and toys in front of the child in the midline and allow the child to select which hand to use. If the child consistently leans toward the left hand, find a left-hander to interact with the child from time to time so the child has a model of someone who has a similar handedness.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Creature Handedness, 2

Recently I was in Australia, again enjoying seeing some of the creatures that are indigenous only to that continent. Marsupials, for example. According to some sources, true handedness would not be expected in the average marsupial because these creatures (unlike placental mammals) lack a corpus callosum. In the wild, however, kangaroos favor left-handedness for everyday tasks. Studies showed this was especially true for red kangaroos and eastern gray kangaroos. Bennett’s wallabies, showed left-handed use for activities that required fine manipulation and right-handed use for activities that required physical strength. I was interested to learn that chickens (definitely not marsupials) seem to favor the left eye when it comes to social recognition tasks. Toads reportedly favor the right front foot when it comes to removing stuff stuck to their bodies. And more polar bears appear to be left-pawed than right-pawed. Hmm-m.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Creature Handedness

 Actually, to be more accurate I probably should say creature pawedness. Although approximately ninety percent of all humans are right-handed, cats, rats, and mice that show handedness seem to be equally split between right- and left-pawedness. A decade of research by primatologist Bill Hopkins has shown that apes, like humans, also have hand preferences, but apparently handedness differs by type of ‘apes.’ For example, at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia, a third of the chimpanzees are lefties and the rest have a right-handed preference. In another study, ten out of twelve gorillas used their right hand as the dominant one, all six gibbons used their left, while orangutans used either hand equally. In yet another study, gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos showed a right-handed preference, while orangutans evidenced left-handedness. My guess is that it may be a combination of genetics along with epigenetics, including how the parents taught their offspring, what was role modeled to them, perhaps even birth order, and whether researchers did the studies on subjects in the wild or in captivity.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Lexophilia and Lexophiles, 2

This is #2 in the Lexophilia and Lexophiles series. Enjoy!

1.   This girl said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I'd never met herbivore.
2.   I'm reading a book about anti-gravity. I simply cannot put it down.
3.   I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words
4.   Why were the Indians here first? They had reservations, of course.
5.   I didn't like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.
6.   Did you hear about the cross-eyed teacher who lost her job because she couldn't control her pupils? 
7.   When you get a bladder infection, urine trouble.
8.   Just try writing with a broken pencil. It’s pointless.

9.   What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary? A thesaurus.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Brain and Handedness, 3

How soon can handedness be identified? Researchers who studied fetal handedness concluded that handedness during gestation was a very accurate predictor of handedness once the baby was born. Something on the order of ninety-seven percent of toddlers demonstrated a handedness preference. Right-handers tend to use the left cerebral hemisphere more efficiently and may excel in math and science and verbal fluency. Left-handers on the other hand have an especially fine use of the right hemisphere, males even more than females. Many famous individuals were reportedly left-handed, including: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Queen Elizabeth the II and her grandson Prince William, Bill Clinton, Barak Obama, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, an estimated fifty percent of famous entertainers, many artists, and a host of sports figures. If you are interested, Wikipedia provides an extensive list of left-handers along with their pictures. More tomorrow

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Brain and Handedness, 2

What triggers handedness? Genetics can play a part. Estimated inheritability of handedness may be about twenty-five percent. This may be reflected in left-handers who have a first-degree relative who is also left-handed. Identical twins may have differing dominant hand preference, especially if they are ‘mirror twins’. Epigenetics can play a part, as well. A weak association between ultrasound screenings during pregnancy and non-right-handedness has been found. Many children who were innately left-handed have been forced to use their right hand as their dominant hand, sometimes by having their left hand tied to their belt behind their back. Negative consequences can accrue from forcing the brain to operate differently from its innate preference. Meaning that the left hemisphere is wired to orchestrate muscle movements in a person who is right-handed. The right hemisphere directs muscle movements in a person who is left-handed. Preventing a person from using their innate dominant hand does not, apparently, change this brain design; it just makes it more energy-intensive to develop skills in their nondominant hand. More tomorrow.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Brain and Handedness

What is the definition of handedness? Basically it describes a preference for the use of one hand over the other, which typically provide more precise results. Handedness likely involves a continuous continuum that can be expressed at levels between right and left depending on the type of task or activity involved, rather than being a discrete variable. Four types of handedness are typically recognized: right handedness, left handedness, mixed-handedness, and ambidexterity. Right handedness is most common, meaning that these individuals tend to be more skillful when using their right hand. Some estimates are that left-handers account for about ten percent of the population, with more males than females evidencing a left-handed preference. Mixed handedness (a change in handedness between tasks) may occur in about thirty percent of the population. Some level of mixed handedness can be learned, although the individual still tends to favor their dominant hand—often the left hand. Genuine ambidexterity (able to do given tasks equally well with either hand) appears to be very rare, occurring in about one percent of the population. More tomorrow.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Brain and Handedness

Tomorrow, August 13th, is International Left-hander's Day. Established in 1996, this yearly event celebrates left-handedness and is designed to raise awareness of the difficulties and frustrations left-handers may experience in a world designed for right-handers. I hope the left-handed population world-wide have a wonderful celebratory day. Some interesting studies have been published about left-handednessrelated both to humans and to non-humans. Although males are more likely to be left-handed than females, the estimated percentage of left-handers continues to be steady around ten to twelve percent. One woman told me she was a holding out for a left-handed male with whom to partner because she had read that they have a thicker layer of cortex on the brain and a larger corpus callosum (the largest bridge that connects the two cerebral hemispheres). I wished her 'good luck.' The North American Zuni tribe was said to believe that left-handedness signified good luck. Reportedly the Incas thought left-handers were capable of healing and that they possessed magical abilities. Hmm-m. More in my next blog.

Left-Hander's Day

Tomorrow, August 13th, is International Left-Hander's Day. Established in 1996, this yearly event celebrates left-handedness and is designed to raise awareness of the difficulties and frustrations left-handers may experience in a world designed for right-handers.  I hope the left-handed population world-wide may have a wonderful celebratory days. Some interesting studies have been published about left-handedness—related both to humans and to creatures. Although males are more likely to be left-handed than females, the estimated percentage of left-handers continues to be steady around ten to twelve percent. One woman told me she was a holding out for a left-handed male with whom to partner because she had read that they have a thicker layer of cortex on the brain and a larger corpus callosum (the largest bridge that connects the two cerebral hemispheres). I wished her 'good luck' but suggested she might not want to limit herself to a relatively small pool of potential partners . . . The North American Zuni tribe was said to believe that left-handedness signified good luck. Reportedly the Incas thought left-handers were capable of healing and that they possessed magical abilities. Hmm-m. More in my next blog.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

APD – Antisocial Personality Disorder

Antisocial Personality Disorder or APD is defined by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV) as "...a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood." These individuals may be witty, charming, and fun to be around; they may also disregard social norms and laws, repeatedly lie, place others at risk for their own benefit, and demonstrate a profound lack of remorse. In severe forms it may be referred to as sociopathic personality disorder or sociopathy. Technically the individual must be at least age eighteen for a diagnosis of APD to be made. Genetics and other biological factors, brain defects and injuries during developmental years, and growing up in a traumatic or abusive environment may be linked with APD. According to WebMD, individuals who break the law are at higher risk for having APD. For example, as many as 47% of male inmates and 21% of female inmates have the disorder. Fire-setting and cruelty to animals during childhood may be seen in the development of APD. Additional co-occurring disorders and complications may include imprisonment, drug abuse, violence, and attempted suicide or successful suicide. It is estimated to affect 0.6% of the population with APD more commonly diagnosed in males.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

BPD – Borderline Personality Disorder.

According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD likely arises from a combination of inheritable and environmental factors. BPD is a serious mental illness marked by unstable moods, behavior, and relationships problems. In 1980 it was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Third Edition(DSM-III) for the first time as a diagnosable mental illness. Most psychiatrists and other mental health professionals use the DSM to diagnose mental illnesses. Reportedly it was called ‘borderline’ initially because those with severe BPD may have brief psychotic episodes believed to be versions of other mental illnesses and challenges. Common symptoms revolve around problems with regulating emotions and thoughts, impulsive and reckless behavior, and unstable relationships with other people. Individuals with BPD tend to have high rates of other co-occurring disorders, such as depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and eating disorders, along with self-harm, suicidal behaviors, and sometimes successful suicides. BPD is more common than both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, affecting two percent of adults, mostly young women.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


Recently several young people approached me and asked if I could help them understand the difference between BPD and APD—because they had heard that these two conditions varied in incidence based on gender. With all the acronyms floating around these days I thought it prudent to ask what those two represented in their vocabularies. They laughed and said, "We wondered if you would make an assumption or ask a question." [They had heard me talk about JOT behaviors, the 'J' representing 'jumping to conclusions.'] It turned out that a classmate had been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD and they wanted to know how that differed from Antisocial Personality Disorder or APD. Interestingly enough, I had just spent some time with a cousin of mine who happens to have spent the last fifty years as a practicing psychiatrist; and who went into the field after a student at the same University committed suicide. In the conversation my cousin mentioned that in his experience BPD is diagnosed much more commonly in females and that likely APD is the male equivalent, it being diagnosed much more commonly in males. More tomorrow.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Heavy Mobile Phone/Computer Use

Technology provides many benefits to individuals and society but it is not without its down side. Sara Thomée, doctoral student, and colleagues at the University of Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska Academy conducted four studies to evaluate the effects of heavy computer and cell phone by young adults on sleep quality, stress levels, and general mental health. The studies found that young adults who make particularly heavy use of mobile phones and computers run a greater risk of sleep disturbances, stress, and symptoms of mental health.

·         Frequent computer use without breaks was found to increase the risk of stress, sleeping problems, and depressive symptoms in women

·         Males who use mobile phones / computers extensively without breaks were more likely to develop sleeping problems.

·         Regularly using a computer late at night was associated not only with sleep disorders but also with stress and depressive symptoms in both men and women

Adequate sleep is related to cognitive performance and is independently linked with longevity. The artificial light from TV and computer screens and smart phones affects melatonin production and throws off circadian rhythms, preventing deep, restorative sleep. 

Brain and Race or Ethnicity

Admittedly my brain struggles to understand some of the current problems surrounding race or ethnic differences as I am told is now the correct term. I grew up believing that most anthropologists recognize only 3 or 4 main races on this planetalthough a 1998 study published in the Scientific American estimated there were 5,000 ethnic groups—and that we’re all members of the same species, Homo sapiens. I also grew up believing that abusive, violent, and destructive behaviors are unacceptable, period; and that those who engage in them need to understand that the way they are perceived by others results from the observation of their behaviors. I know that my life has been completely enriched through collaboration, interaction, and friendship with brains that are housed in bodies that differ racially or ethnically from mine, although our brains and hearts are all the same color. Cellular memory differs, too, but then epigenetics differs for every person on the planet because every brain is different. Recently I enjoyed the perspective offered in short monologue by Clint Smith entitled How Black Reality and White Reality Differ, from Growing up to Parenting Kids.’ As you may know, Clint is a teacher, poet, and doctoral candidate in Education at Harvard University with a concentration in Culture, Institutions, and Society (CIS)—he may be done by now! 


Friday, August 5, 2016

Lexophilia and Lexophiles

As you probably already know, Lexophilia is the love of words. A Lexophile is a person who loves words, who finds pleasure from various usages of words, who appreciates the nuances surrounding different words, and who is alert to synonyms, antonyms, homophones, and homonyms, often using them for effect, sometimes in humor. I’ve been a lexophile for as long as I can remember—perhaps because my mother started reading aloud to me for thirty minutes a day during her pregnancy. Recently, a friend of mine sent me some phrases to enjoy, so I decided to share a few of them with you. Maybe you can challenge your brain to come up with some on your own.

1.   Venison for dinner? Again? Oh deer!
2.   How does Moses make tea? Hebrews it, of course.
3.   England has no kidney bank but it does have a Liverpool.
4.   I tried to catch some fog, but I mist.
5.   They told me I had type-A blood, but it was a Typo.
6.   I changed my iPod's name to Titanic. It's syncing now.
7.   Jokes about German sausage are the absolute wurst.
8.   I know a guy who's addicted to brake fluid, but he says he can stop any time.
9. I stayed up all night to see where the sun went, and then it dawned on me.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Brain and Motivation

Recently I returned to the same venue (a year later) to present additional seminars—perhaps the greatest compliment a speaker can receive, to be repeatedly invited to make presentations. In the course of questions and answers I asked how many individuals were reading aloud for ten minutes a day. Five hands went up out of several hundred individuals. That reminded of a couple of quotations:

It is not that I do not know what to do—it is that I do not do what I know         Confucius (551-479 BC)
What I want to do I do not do but what I hate I do
                                             —Apostle Paul, Romans 7:15

It also reminded me of words attributed to Socrates: The unexamined life is not worth living.

Indeed, even as studies reveal ways to increase health, wellness, and longevity, our time on this planet is relatively short. Take time to examine your lifestyle. Are you doing what you know? A Longevity Lifestyle is designed to help you 'know' and to assist you in staying motivated to 'do what you know.'

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Immune System and Social Interactions

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have reported that the immune system directly impacts the social behavior of human beings including their desire to interact with others. They are also suggesting that this discovery could have significant implications for neurological diseases such as autism-spectrum disorders and schizophrenia. Jonathan Kipnis, lead researcher for some of these studies, has been quoted as saying: “The brain and the adaptive immune system were thought to be isolated from each other, and any immune activity in the brain was perceived as sign of a pathology. And now, not only are we showing that they are closely interacting, but some of our behavior traits might have evolved because of our immune response to pathogens.” Add that to the study results of the link between anxiety, depression, and viral diseases and it makes one wonder if there is much of anything related to brain and body and health that are not closely connected. My brain’s opinion is that health and wellness and longevity are linked with the wholistic and balanced (or unbalanced) interactions in the BodyMind.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Dr. Pert and Opiates

In the 1970’s, Candace B. Pert PhD was working on a research team at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the 1970s when they found the opiate receptor in the brain, one of the most sought-after objects in brain research (and later also discovered endorphins). This discovery helped change the way opiate addiction was viewed and even managed. In 1978, so the story goes, this discovery earned the coveted Albert Lasker Award, touted as typical precursor to the Nobel Prize. Pert was not named in the aware, nor any of the other lab assistants cited. The protestation of this omission by neuroscientist Pert created a world-wide sensation. Nevertheless, she went on to become a leading proponent of the close connection between mind and body, and the ability of emotions to affect health—and was featured in the 2004 film ‘What the (bleep) Do We Know!?’ Unfortunately this brain explorer died of cardiac arrest Sept 12, 2013.