Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Brain and Ice Cream, 3

It’s important to be clear about what any study is ‘studying’ and what the results actually mean. While ice cream may be better than nothing for the brain, you may want to look at the big picture before choosing ice cream for breakfast. One source of nutritional data on ice cream described a typical scoop this way: one 3.5-ounce serving of vanilla ice cream contains 125 calories, 7 grams of fat, and 14 grams of sugar. Fourteen grams of sugar is likely to trigger a blood-sugar high in the brain followed by a corresponding blood-sugar low that pushes the brain to want to reverse the blood-sugar low. And it will often do this by grabbing a donut, sweet roll, sugary drink or candy bar. A roller-coaster of blood sugar levels are unhelpful for overall and long-term brain function. This study reaffirms, in my brain’s opinion, that the brain does better when it gets breakfast after waking from a night’s sleep—and will likely do better yet with foods that contain healthier proteins and carbs. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Brain and Ice Cream, 2

Some perceived the study results as implying that ice cream improves brain function, period, and wrote to say they were going to allow their kids to have ice cream for breakfast after all. What may be happening here? A couple of things. First, the brain is ‘fasting’ while you sleep (unless you’re hooked up to some type of nutritional source). It needs some nutrition first thing in the morning to help it ‘boot up’ and function well. After all, that’s the definition of breakfast: giving the brain some food to break the fast. According to Katie Barfoot, a Nutritional Psychology Doctoral Researcher at Reading University, a possible explanation for the increased alertness observed in the study may simply eating breakfast versus not eating breakfast. Secondly, the brain needs water to function and it works better when the ambient temperature is cooler rather than hotter. Drinking cold water may help to cool the brain but it doesn’t trigger the same level of increased alertness, since water doesn’t provide nutrition in the form of calories. More tomorrow.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Brain and Ice Cream

You may have heard about the study by a professor at Kyorin University in Tokyo who decided to study the impact of ice cream—first thing in the morning—and the brain. According to the Abstract, researchers gave participants three spoonful’s (don’t know how big the spoons were) of ice cream first thing in the morning. The study participants were then asked to do a series of exercises on a computer. Turns out that those who ate the ice cream were better able to process the information and had a faster reaction time as compared with those who had not eaten anything in the morning. The researchers repeated the study asking participants to drink ice-cold water. Although the ‘alertness’ results were similar, the effect was smaller compared to when patients ate ice cream. What may be happening in the brain? More tomorrow.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Lexophilia and Lexophiles, 9

1.   I thought I saw an eye-doctor on an Alaskan island, but it 
    turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
2.   She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.
3.   No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.
4.   Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
5.   A dog gave birth to puppies beside the road and was cited for littering.
6.   A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.
7.   Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
8.   I used to be a banker, but then I lost interest.

9.   Two hats were hanging on a rack. One hat said to the other, "You stay here; I'll go on ahead."

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Brain, Gratitude, and Quality Time

It is Thanksgiving Day in the USA—a time to celebrate the quality of being grateful. And to practice it! Neurobiologically, gratitude is right up there with awe and wonder and the benefits are myriad. Doctors have pointed out that when you pause to appreciate and show caring and compassion, the more order and coherence you experience internally. When your heart is in an ‘internal coherence state,’ studies suggest that you enjoy the capacity to be peaceful and calm yet retain the ability to respond appropriately to stressful circumstances. I choose to practice gratitude on a daily basis. So what makes Thanksgiving Day more unique than any other day? On this day I pause to be specifically grateful for those individuals who love me enough to give me quality time throughout the year by phone, text, email, snailmail—and sometimes in person (how deliciously rewarding). I refer to them as my ‘family-of-choice’ because a gift of time is a personal choice. It is the only thing your brain can give another brain that no one else can. So for their quality time I am truly grateful. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, my wish for you today is that you both give and receive the gift of ‘quality time.’

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hugs and Health, 3

Hugs. “But,” you may say: “I don’t like to hug other people!” So hug a pet; hug a body pillow at night (some say that the pressure against your skin (assuming you sleep without being swathed in cloth) gives your brain the sense of a hug. Now that studies are showing the benefits of hugging, you have a choice: develop the skills of hugging valued family and friends or of hugging a pet or pillow. Remember, Sheldon Cohen PhD studied the impact of ‘hugs’ in helping to protect stressed people from getting sick and found that hugs were responsible for one-third of the protective effect the research revealed. I did not grow up being hugged—in fact, my wonderful little French Grandmother was not a hugger (she hugged by preparing wonderful meals whenever she visited us). Dr. Cohen reportedly said that the apparent protective effect of hugs may be attributable to the physical contact itself or to hugging being a behavioral indicator of support and intimacy. Whatever, in adulthood, I now hug selected individuals—around the world—and have learned to enjoy the reward immensely. I believe it positively contributes to my brain-body health.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hugs and Health, 2

Neurologist Shekar Raman MD reportedly said, ‘A hug, pat on the back, and even a friendly handshake are processed by the reward center in the central nervous system, which is why they can have a powerful impact on the human psyche, making us feel happiness and joy… And it doesn't matter if you're the toucher or touchee. The more you connect with otherson even the smallest physical levelthe happier you'll be.’ Psychotherapist Virginia Satir posited that you need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs a day for maintenance, and twelve hugs a day for growth. Some have suggested that this may represent some type of ‘hug threshold’ that triggers your brain and body to produce ample amounts of oxytocin, the naturally occurring substance released in response to physical touch. How much do you hug? Did your family members routinely share hugs with each other and close friends? Fortunately, hugging is a learned skill that you can develop any time you choose to do so. Hug for your brain-body health.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Hugs and Health

Do hugs have any link with health? Studies indicate that there are many positives, perhaps more so that you might believe. Research on the benefits to the brain from giving and receiving hugs has identified many positives. Of course, positivity relates to genuine hugs where trust is present, and when this occurs, they trigger your body to release oxytocin, a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. This substance is designed to enhance ability to handle life's stressors and to decrease the level of stress hormones such as cortisol, lowering blood pressure in response to anxiety-producing events. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak, also known as ‘Dr. Love’, has said that you need at least eight hugs a day to be happier and enjoy better relationships. Some days you may get more than that, some days less, and eight may be a desirable average. According to Dr. Mercola, even a 10-second hug a day can lead to biochemical and physiological reactions in your body that can significantly improve your health. More tomorrow. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Brain and Happiness, 5

In his TED talk, Dr. Robert Waldinger, the fourth director of the Harvard study of happiness and satisfaction, presented some research results from this 75-year study.

2. The quality of your close social relationships matters. Living in conflict may be more detrimental than a divorce. Individuals who were the most satisfied with their relationships at age 50 were predictably healthier at age 80.

3. Good relationships help protect the brain as well as the body. Study participants who had relationships that they felt they could count on, were more likely to maintain their memory functions. Those who were happiest in retirement were those who replaced their ‘work mates’ with ‘play mates’—family, friends, and community

Do you need to give up conflict with friends and family or actual feuds? They are lethal. Do you need to replace screen time with quality people time? Have you developed close reciprocal and rewarding social relationships, perhaps including family-of-choice friendships? Your level of genuine happiness, health, and longevity may be at stake.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Brain and Happiness, 4

    Researchers working with the Harvard 75-year study of adult development that was begun in 1928, have drawn some significant conclusions. Dr. Robert Waldinger, the fourth director of this study of happiness and satisfaction, presented some research results in a TED talk: 'Can a 75-Year-Old Study Deliver Wisdom for All of Us? What makes a good life? Lessons from the oldest study on Happiness.'
    Waldinger discussed three specific findings under the general heading of: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.

   1.  Individuals with good social connections are happier, healthier, and live longer. Loneliness is toxic. Those who describe themselves as lonely tend to experience more brain-function decline and tend to live shorter lives.

The human brain is relational. Do you have social relationships and do you regularly connect and interact with those individuals? More tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Brain and Happiness, 3

Are you familiar with the Harvard 75-year study of adult development? Begun in 1938 and the longest of its type in history, it began with 724 males in two groups:

·         Males who were sophomores at Harvard College
·         Male from disadvantaged families in Boston’s poorer areas

About 10 years ago, wives were invited to be part of the study. Sixty of those original 724 males (most of whom are in their 90’s) are still alive. Researchers are now also studying the children of these 724 males.

Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger MD is the fourth director of the Harvard study of happiness and satisfaction. What are some of the important findings from this study? More tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Brain and Happiness, 2

Martin Seligman PhD is director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center, Zellerbach family Professor of Psychology in the Penn Department of Psychology, and Director of the Penn master of Applied Positive Psychology Program or MAPP. Commonly known as the founder of Positive Psychology, Seligman is a leading authority in the fields of resilience, learned helplessness, depression, optimism, and pessimism; and a recognized authority on interventions that prevent depression, and build strengths and well-being. He has said that happiness is not solely derived from external and momentary pleasures. He coined the acronym PERMA to outline correlational findings related to happiness. Human beings appear to be happiest when they have:

1.   Pleasure (shelter, safety, good food, warm baths, etc.)
2.   Engagement or flow (the absorption in and of an enjoyable yet challenging activity)
3.   Relationships (social ties that are reciprocal, rewarding, and can be counted on)
4.   Meaning (a perceived personal quest or belonging to something bigger than oneself)
5.   Accomplishments (having realized tangible goals)

As outlined by PERMA, how happy are you?

Monday, November 14, 2016

Brain and Happiness

Are you happy? Would you like to be happy or happier? If you think, ‘I’d need to know your definition of happiness before I can really answer those questions,’ you’d likely be correct. According to some, happiness is an elusive and ethereal quality that it rarely obtainable and definitely unsustainable. Living that definition tends to involve expectations that some place (the environment) or some thing (what you have) or some one (who you know) creates and gives you happiness. Nothing could be farther from the truth in my brain’s opinion. Coming up with a universal definition is likely elusive. For purposes of this blog, here’s mine:

Happiness is a mindset that is evidenced by positivity, life satisfaction, and realistic optimism that can range from calm contentment to moments of intense joy. This state of mind involves a decision about how to respond to both desirable and undesirable events in life—a choice that impacts yourself as well as others along with your health and likely your longevity.

What is your definition? More tomorrow.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Lexophilia and Lexophiles, 8

1.   I dropped out of communism class because of lousy Marx.
2.   A cartoonist was found dead in his home. Details are sketchy.
3.   Haunted French pancakes give me the crêpes.
4.   When chemists die, they barium.
5.   All the toilets in New York's police stations have been stolen. The police have nothing to go on.
6.   A rubber-band pistol was confiscated from an algebra class. It was a weapon of math disruption.
7.   I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.
8.   Police were called to a day care, where a three-year-old was resisting a rest. A hole has been found in the nudist-camp wall. Police are looking into it.
9. Did you hear about the buy whose whole left side was cut off? He's all right now.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Brain: Where to from here? 2

I was not born in The United States of America. As an immigrant to this country, I made a decision to become a citizen and live here the rest of my life. It remains my country of choice. Perfect? Are you kidding? Hardly! But no surprise, because it is a collection of human beings who are hardly perfect. The citizens of America are simply a coalition of ‘families,’ many of whom resemble President-elect Trump’s rather unusual and blended family. In such groupings, not everyone likes or gets along easily with all the other members of the nuclear and extended family. Those with higher levels of Emotional Intelligence usually learn how to get along at some level, even with those they do not particularly like, and they know how to set appropriate personal boundaries when confronted with negative and dysfunctional behaviors—skills that require intelligent choice, seeing the big picture, personal exhibition of healthier behaviors, and lots of practice. It requires positive rhetoric about what we are working to achieve rather than a negative excoriation of those who differ from us—and every brain is different. Knowing that the brain and heart are the same color in all bodies—no matter the skin tone—makes this a relatively easy decision for me. I know my options: invest my energy in sustaining an ongoing backlash of disappointment and divisiveness OR put my shoulder to the metaphorical wheel and promote health, happiness, longevity, cooperation, collaboration, and unity—with the goal of doing what I can do to help individuals, families, and the nation become stronger and healthier. My brain chooses to be part of the solution rather than perpetuate the problems. Your brain has similar choices. Choose health.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Brain: Where to from here?

Those who did not stay up most of the night, awakened to learn of perhaps the biggest upset since a Hollywood actor became president-elect. Each is now confronted with a series of choices, and the outcome of those personal decisions will impact not only the individual’s own future, personally and collectively, but also what happens to upcoming generations and the nation itself. None of us knows how this will play out. I know that it is what it is and my response will influence my brain-body health. In the words of Epictetus, 2nd century Greek philosopher: It’s not so much what happens that matters as what you think about what happens. I would add ‘and how you choose to respond to what is, because everything starts in the brain.’ Mine is distressed when humans act out their anger and frustration by hurting others and destroying property because in the end they damage themselves and their future. Anyone can complain and act out negatively. Society doesn’t like that behavior in children—how much less in adults—an unfortunate role-model for the young in how to approach disappointment and perceived failure. (Interestingly, the word about town is that this father might never have thrown his hat into the political ring or continued to pursue his goal if his daughter had not continually encouraged him to do so, which may represent female power behind a president.) Individuals will choose either to follow and replicate the dysfunction that was exhibited (inside and outside of both camps) or take a higher road. Either choice will impact brain-body health in differing ways. My brain chooses a response to this unexpected situation by exhibiting behaviors that reflect high levels of Emotional Intelligence—because that will impact my own brain-body health positively. More tomorrow. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Hugs and the Brain

The human brain is a relational organ. That’s the good news and the bad news. Bad news if its relationships are dysfunctional and less than affirming; great news if they contain positive components that contribute to health and wellbeing. Take ‘hugs,’ for example. Research led by Sheldon Cohen PhD studied the impact of ‘hugs’ in helping to protect stressed people from getting sick. They exposed study participants to a common cold virus, sequestered them, and monitored infection and symptoms of illness. The results, published in Psychological Science, revealed that perceived social support reduced the risk of infection associated with experiencing conflicts—with hugs being responsible for one-third of the protective effect. Among participants who did become infected, greater perceived social support and more frequent hugs both resulted in less severe illness symptoms, whether or not the individual was experiencing conflicts in life. According to Dr. Cohen, the apparent protective effect of hugs may be attributable to the physical contact itself or to hugging being a behavioral indicator of support and intimacy. More tomorrow.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Walking – a Wonder Drug

Periodically some news item flashes information about a new 'wonder drug.' Well, according to Thomas Frieden MD MPH, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, walking may be the closest thing we have to a wonder drug. A 15- minute walk can reduce cravings and the intake of a variety of sugary snacks. And breakfast. Eat a good breakfast that includes some healthier complex carbohydrates. They provide fuel to power the brain and nervous system. Eating breakfast is an excellent way to jump-start your brain for everyone but especially for schoolchildren and adolescents. According to Andrew Weil MD, it is more important to eat some carbohydrates at breakfast because the brain needs fuel right away, and healthier carbs are the best source. Follow the old adage to eat like a king or queen for breakfast, like a prince or princess for lunch, and like a pauper in the evening. Happy and healthy carbing!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Carbohydrate Intolerance Disorder

Some individuals have an inability to digest specific types of carbohydrates due to a lack of one or more intestinal enzymes. This carb intolerance is a type of malabsorption syndrome sometimes referred to as Carbohydrate Intolerance Disorder (CID). It can be congenital (fairly rare), acquired, or secondary to conditions that damage the small-intestine (e.g., celiac disease, tropical sprue, acute intestinal infections a child, symptoms may include diarrhea and failure to gain weight appropriately. In an adult, symptoms may include watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps and bloating, excessive flatus or gas, and nausea, borborygmi or stomach rumbling. No surprise, this malabsorption is often readily controlled by avoiding dietary sugars that cannot be absorbed; for example, by following a lactose-free diet in cases of lactase deficiency.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Carbs & Weight Loss

Exercise has a huge upside for health but that doesn’t seem to necessarily apply to weight loss. While exercise is beneficial for numerous reasons, it's not the best way to lose weight. When it comes to reaching a healthy weight, what you don’t eat is much more important than an excessive emphasis on exercise (e.g., 30 minutes of running or swimming laps might burn off 350 calories or you could achieve the same calorie reduction by eliminating two 16-ounce sodas each day). Evidence is beginning to accumulate that dietary intake may be more important than energy expenditure level. Decreased physical activity may not be the primary driver of the obesity epidemic. Weight loss is not likely to happen without dietary restraint. When you exercise can be a factor in weight loss, as well. Years ago Candace B. Pert PhD reported that 20-25 minutes of aerobic exercise before breakfast could turn on fat-burning peptides that would burn for several hours. A study from Northumbria University, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, reported that participants lost 20 percent more fat when they exercised before eating breakfast

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Carb Smart

Have you been trying to avoid all carbs? Think again! Healthier carbs are the preferred source of fuel for much of the work done by the brain and body. They provide energy for working muscles and fuel for the brain and central nervous system, without which weakness, dizziness, and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can occur. They also provide needed dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble. Providing sufficient carbs in your daily cuisine can help prevent the body from trying to use proteins or fats for energy. Some weight-loss diets advocate severely restricting all carbohydrates, claiming this is more effective in preventing cardiovascular disease as compared with balanced weight-loss strategies. Naude and colleagues compared the effects of low-carb versus balanced weight-loss programs in overweight and obese adults. They reported that in the minimum follow-up period of three months, the low carb approach showed no weight-loss advantage. Be carb smart. Both your brain and body will thank you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Healthier Carbs

Watch out for ‘carb myths’ and course correct as needed. Researchers studied groups of individuals and analyzed their intake of carbohydrates. Those who consumed forty-five to sixty-four percent of their total calories from healthier carbs showed the lowest risk of being overweight or obese. They found that adults with higher intakes of healthier carbs actually weighed less than those with lower intakes. Studies suggest that eating healthier carbs—ancient grains such steel-cut oats, amaranth, basmati brown rice, rye and millet, along with seeds like chia, teff, sunflower, flax, hemp, and quinoa—may help keep you younger for longer. Rich sources of fiber, these types of healthier carbs not only fill you up and support a healthy gastrointestinal system but also contribute antioxidants to protect your cells from the effects of damaging chemicals, toxins, and free radicals, all of which contribute to chronic illness and disease. The goal, of course, is to slow down your rate of biological aging and retard the onset of symptoms of aging—in so far as it is possible to do so.