Friday, March 31, 2017

Inflammation – Chronic, 2

Inflammation can become chronic due to differing factors. In addition to injury or infection, those factors may include poor quality nutrition or failure to implement portion control that can lead to morbid obesity, emotional or mental or physical stressors, lack of physical exercise, and exposure to chemical and environmental toxins. There is not always a specific cause that can be pointed to, and sometimes no cause may be identified at all. Some continuing inflammatory conditions are known as autoimmune diseases, which come in many different forms. Often what autoimmune diseases have in common is that the body misidentifies part of itself as being an invader and mounts an unnecessary and unwanted attack against itself. Multiple sclerosis is an example of a chronic condition where the body begins to destroy the myelin that is the fiber-optic wrapping around the long axons of some neurons. As the myelin begins to disappear, messages do not always quickly or accurately transmit across neuron pathways. Although medicine rarely uses the term ‘cured’ with autoimmune diseases, the good news is that enough is now known about them that those who carefully follow treatment guidelines and recommendations often experience long remissions and can enjoy productive and satisfying lives.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Inflammation – Chronic

Think of inflammation as an immune system response to injury, infection, environmental irritants, poisons and toxins—to name just a few. Earlier I mentioned immune system pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. When the immune system is activated by a trigger, pro-inflammatory substances signal white blood cells to go to the site of the infected or damaged tissue. When they have done their work, anti-inflammatory substances arrive and orchestrate the healing process. If everything goes right, that is. All things being equal when the immune system is working properly, a collaborative balance exists between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory agents. If the immune system gets stuck in the pro-inflammatory phase and the anti-inflammatory agents do not activate, chronic inflammation may result. This simply means that your body’s normal defense system, does not shut down appropriately and continues an inflammatory state longer than needed when there is no longer an infection to fight or because something unusual triggered the inflammatory state to start with. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Inflammation – Mediators

In addition to the classic signs, there are mediators of the inflammatory process. Some of these are chemical in nature such as histamines and serotonin. Others are hormonal, cortisol being one example. Still others are immune system cytokines, both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory types. The good news is that inflammation is a healthy and protective immune response to injury, illness, or infection. protective response involving immune cells, blood vessels, and molecular mediators—designed to resolve the initial cause of cell injury, clear out necrotic cells and tissues damaged from the original injury as well as from the inflammatory process, and to initiate tissue repair. When the healing is complete, however, inflammation should shut down! The body’s endocrine system has, as one of its responsibilities, attempting to keep all inflammation within the bounds of desirability. Unfortunately, it does not always succeed.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Inflammation – Signs

Classic signs of inflammation include heat, redness, swelling, pain, and loss of function, although they may or may not all be present. These symptoms result from physiologic changes that occur during the inflammatory process. Briefly, major components of the inflammation process include:
·         Hemodynamic changes – blood vessels begin to dilate, which allows for increased blood flow, accounting for redness and heat.
·         Increase capillary permeability – tiny blood vessels in the microcirculation start to allow fluid to leak out into the surrounding tissue. This contributes to swelling and edema around the site.
·         Exudation – the oozing of fluid, pus, or serum, as well as white blood cells that rush to the site do what they can to neutralize the damage or take out the germs or foreign particles. This, too, contributes to the swelling and pain.

Taken together, even when the inflammation is contributory to healing, there is usually pain and some loss of function, at least temporarily.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Inflammation - Description

In terms of the brain and body, the noun inflammation describes a localized protective response to injury or destruction of tissues. This can be due to physical, chemical, and biologic agents, such as mechanical trauma, exposure to excessive amounts of sunlight, x-rays and radioactive materials, corrosive chemicals, and extremes of heat (e.g., sunburn) and cold.(e.g., frostbite), Injury is by no means the only trigger, however. Infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and other pathogenic microorganisms or germs can trigger inflammation. While these infectious agents can produce inflammation, remember that infection and inflammation are not synonymous. The inflammation process is designed to destroy, dilute, or wall off both the injurious agent and the injured tissue. At its best, inflammation can help the body heal. At its worst, inflammation can inflict its own type of damage. More tomorrow.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Aphorisms, 2

·         Nothing risks changing one’s definition of a ‘friend’ so 
     surely as great success—yours or theirs.
·         The buck stops here—well, at least it stops at the top.
·         If you can't stand the heat avoid starting a fire.
·         Control your mind or someone else will.
·         Your eyes are but two holes in the mask of life.
·         The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
·         The race isn't always to the swift, nor the fight to the 
     strong, but that's the way to bet.
·         To err is human, to forgive takes hard work.
·         While there's life, there's hope.

·         Who pays the piper calls the tune.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Daily Fruits or Veggies, 2

The researchers stated that it’s important to eat whole plant foods to get the benefits (antioxidant or vitamin supplements have not been shown to reduce disease risk). What does ten 80-gram portions of fruits or veggies look like? For example: An 80-gram portion of fruit would be a small banana, apple, pear, or large mandarin orange. An 80-gram portion of veggies would be three heaping tablespoons of cooked vegetables such as spinach, peas, cauliflower, or broccoli. According to the study, foods to prevent heart disease, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and early death, include: apples, pears, citrus fruits, salads, and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and chicory, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. Foods to reduce cancer risk include: green vegetables, such as spinach or green beans, yellow vegetables such as peppers and carrots, and cruciferous vegetables. (For cancer, no further reductions in risk were observed above 600grams per day.)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Daily Fruits or Veggies

Researchers from Imperial College London, led by Dagfinn Aune PhD, reported on studies that indicated eating 800 grams of fruit or vegetables each day could reduce your risk of stroke, heart attack, cancer, and early death. They estimated that potentially 7.8 million premature deaths annually worldwide could be prevented if this recommended protocol were followed. That figures out to ten 80-gram portions. Previous guidelines in the United Kingdom have suggested eating at least five portions or 400 grams per day. In the Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern at the 2,000-calorie level, the U.S. Health and Human Services/USDA guidelines has recommended 2½ cups of vegetables per day and 2 cups of fruit per day. How many 80-gram portions do you typically eat on a daily basis? More tomorrow.

Aune, D., et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality – a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International Journal of Epidemiology. ISSN 0300-5771

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Blood Pressure-Cognition Link

The brain is dependent on blood flow for everything from oxygen and glucose to micronutrients and the removal of waste products. It has been believed for some time that elevated blood pressure is a major risk factor for vascular cognitive impairment, defined as a range of changes in brain function, from mild to severe, caused by the impaired flow of blood to the brain. After a review of multiple studies, it appears that high blood pressure is a major risk factor for vascular cognitive impairment and is emerging as a potential risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. This is likely to provide impetus for more specific studies in this area. It also may be a wake-up call for those with high blood pressure to work with their healthcare providers to do everything possible to keep their blood pressure within desirable limits for their age. Prevention runs circles around treatment.

Source: American Heart Association Scientific Statement, American Heart Association journal Hypertension

Monday, March 20, 2017

Cognitive Impairment

Dementia (a decrease in cognitive ability, also known as cognitive impairment), is one of the most common neurological disorders. It is estimated to impact 30 to 40 million people worldwide. By the year 2050 this number is expected to triple worldwide by 2050 due to aging of the population, shifts in demography, and lack of treatment. The estimated costs associated with dementia may exceed $1.1 trillion. Two leading causes of cognitive impairment are Alzheimer’s disease and vascular cognitive impairment. They may account for as many as 80 percent of cases. Individuals suffering from dementia often have a mixture of the two conditions. Wikipedia describes cognition as a term for a set of mental abilities and processes related to knowledge, attention, memory and working memory, judgment and evaluation, reasoning and computation, problem solving and decision making, comprehension and production of language, etc.. These crucial abilities tend to slowly slip away in a brain with dementia or cognitive impairment.  

Friday, March 17, 2017

Sugar-Alzheimer’s Link, 2

Sugar is included in many highly processed prepared foods—not just in deserts and beverages. It is relatively easy for the brain reward system to become attached to sugar and crave it regularly. For that reason many advocate purchasing products that assure ‘no sugar added’ (as long as those same products are not filled with artificial sweeteners, which are believed in many cases to also act as brain toxins.) So what to eat? Food in as natural state as possible free of additives. For example, applesauce comes packaged with or without sugar. Eating an orange as opposed to orange juice is likely a better option, as well, because the sugar content is lower and the pulp of the orange is present. Read the ingredients on highly processed packages of prepared foods and you may cringe when you see how much sugar the product admits to containing. For brain function, you might want to make a healthier choice. And, by the way, Happy St. Patrick's day!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sugar-Alzheimer’s Link

Although it must be fairly well known by now that refined sugar is a brain toxin, I still hear comments such as:  “It can’t be that bad.” Or “Sugar is in everything so I can’t avoid it.” Or "I like the taste of sugar and so does my brain." Well, yes, your brain's reward system can easily become habituated if not addicted to refined sugar. One of the down sides is the high blood-sugar spike that refined sugar can trigger in the brain. Recent studies are showing that there is likely a sugar-Alzheimer’s link; one in which too much sugar in your food intake may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s. Studies led by Dr. Omar Kassaar compared brain-tissue samples from individuals who had Alzheimer’s with brain-tissue samples from those who did not have that diagnosis. The researchers discovered that an enzyme known as MIF or macrophage migration inhibitory factor appears to fight the accumulation of abnormal proteins in the brain. Sugar damages MIF. It reduces some MIF functions and completely inhibits others. Some are calling sugar the ‘tipping point’ that allows Alzheimer’s to develop. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Plaques & Tangles, 2

According to Professor Rudolph Tanzi, an Alzheimer’s researcher at Harvard, “…the brain must be saved by stopping neuroinflammation." As researchers take another look at plaques and tangles and their link with Alzheimer’s, some are saying that it’s possible that beta-amyloid plaques are merely the body’s reaction to the continuing assault of chronic inflammation on the brain rather than the cause of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Inflammation is a society-wide epidemic that’s implicated not only in dementia but in cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes, to name a few. Some are beginning to hypothesize that inflammation may underpin most chronic illnesses. It can be triggered by many different things, some of which are preventable. No one can prevent everything but likely everyone can do something in the area of prevention. In my brain’s opinion, that is definitely ‘good news!’

Source -

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Plaques & Tangles

For years it has been surmised that plaques and tangles in the brain likely underpin Alzheimer’s disease. The findings support growing evidence that plaques and tangles might not be a direct cause of Alzheimer’s, According to University of Texas at Austin’s Cheasequah Blevins, there is growing evidence that plaques and tangles may not be a direct cause of Alzheimer’s. In other words, there may be correlation but not necessarily causation. Some very elderly and still very sharp individuals also have plaques and tangles in their brains. Emily Rogalski and her colleagues at Northwestern University in Chicago are studying a subset of elderly people known as ‘superagers,’ some of whom seem to retain a good memory as they age. To qualify as a superager, the individual must be over the age of 80 but perform as well as 55-year-olds in memory tests. For example, when asked to recall a list of 15 words 15 minutes after hearing them, the average 80-year-old remembers about five. Superagers remember around nine. Based on brain scans, their brain tissue appears to shrink less than average. More tomorrow.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Rat Brain - Human Brain

“How is it that rats are often used for studies and then someone thinks the conclusions translate to humans?” Good question. First, studies have shown that rat brains are more like human brains than one might think. Neuroscientists face a multitude of challenges trying to better understand the human brain. Because of model organisms such as the rat, researchers are able to discover information that might not otherwise be known because some experiments would be impossible to do on humans. What are some of the similarities? For starters a recent paper published in the journal Frontiers in Neural Circuits by Jared Smith and Kevin Alloway indicated the discovery of a parallel between the motor cortices of rats and humans that signifies a greater relevance of the rat model to studies of the human brain than scientists had previously known. For another, rat and human brains have more than 30 identical peptides. Peptides are molecules consisting of two or more amino acids that impact mood; some are hormones, others are neurotransmitters, and some are a combination of both. Therefore, depending on the topic under research, what happens in the rat brain may be very similar to what goes on in the human brain. Maybe being called a rat isn’t so far off base after all . . .

Friday, March 10, 2017


Do you enjoy aphorisms? I certainly do and have quite a collection. Spoken or written, aphorism literally means “definition.” The term may have originated with Hippocrates, the Greek physician regarded as the father of modern medicine. He used aphorismos (a Greek ancestor of aphorism meaning "definition") as the title of his book outlining his principles on the diagnosis and treatment of disease. aphorisms can be defined as:

  • A pithy observation that contains a general truth
  • A statement of truth or opinion expressed in a concise and witty manner

From time to time I shall share some aphorisms with you from my collection. This is a favorite of mine:

  • Better to be silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Life of a Neuron, 2

Cerebrospinal fluid flows between the pia and arachnoid membranes that cover the brain. This fluid provides nutrition for brain and helps cushion it from bumps. The outermost brain layer is known as the cerebral cortex. Quite smooth at birth, it soon becomes wrinkled and folded until it resembles a pinkish gray walnut. This part of the brain is home to complex high-level executive functions so-called (e.g., creativity, complex thinking, planning, reasoning, language, intuition decision-making, imagination) that distinguish the brains of homo sapiens from the brains of other creatures—although some are voicing concerns about behaviors exhibited by some homo sapiens and whether or not they reflect complex high-level executive functions. Perhaps the bottom line is that you get one shot (so far) of a brain full of neurons. How well you take care of them has a great deal to do with how successful you are over a lifetime and how long you live. Get smart about your brain!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Life of a Neuron

Did you know that neurons can live more than 100 years? That’s good news—if you have been taking care of them. Hopefully you are, because currently you have pretty much the same neurons you had when you were a baby. Your brain contains at least 86 billion neurons, all ow which are very sensitive to lack of oxygen. They can become weakened and die after just a few minutes without adequate levels of oxygen. Twenty percent of your entire blood supply is earmarked to supplying your brain with oxygen, glucose, and micronutrients. Scientists believe that high blood-sugar spikes to the brain can be damaging to your neurons, one reason for avoiding sugary foods and beverages and simple refined carbs. Brain neurons are protected by the 22-bone skull and three membrane layers known as the dura mater, arachnoid mater, and the pia mater. Immune vessels run throughout these three membranes, directly connecting the immune system and brain tissue. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Westminster Quarters

One of the many side-benefits I enjoy when visiting my cousins Carmen and Jim is hearing their grandfather clock chime the Westminster Quarters. I was written in 1793 for a new clock in the church of St. Mary the Great, Cambridge, so the tune is also known as the Cambridge Quarters. Some think that this chime is a set of variations on the four notes that make up the fifth and sixth measures of “I know that my Redeemer liveth” from Handel’s Messiah. It may be the reason the chime is also played by the bells of the so-called 'Red Tower' in Handel’s na├»ve town of Halle. In the mid-19th century the chime was placed in the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster where Big Ben lives. This helped the chime fame spread and now may be the most commonly used chime for striking clocks. Westminster Quarters were incorporated into the tower clock of the Trinity Episcopal Church in Williamsport, PA, and dedicated in December 1875. It holds the distinction of being the first tower clock in the United States to sound the Cambridge Quarters. My brain really likes this chime.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Pain in the Brain

Poetry, plays, and music have often reflected metaphorically on the pain of loss, rejection, or exclusion. It appears this is more than metaphor, however. Emotional pain due to the loss of a loved one, the distress of separation experienced by young children (or young animals), or rejection by one’s social group, is often accompanied by a sense of physical pain. A new brain study indicates this may reflect real changes in the mammalian or limbic areas of the human brain. The pain from broken leg, the anguish of a broken heart, and the distress caused by social rejection or exclusion—share much of same circuitry. All activate the same brain regions. According to Tor Wager, associate professor of neuroscience at the University of Colorado in Boulder, “Of all the things I’ve observed in the brain, nothing is more similar to physical pain than social pain.” As far as the brain goes, social pain literally hurts. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Brain Safety, 3

Because of ramifications for dementia and other cognitive impairment later in life, recommendations are to wear seat belts, avoid sports that involve ‘heading the ball’ or hitting the head, and fall-proof your home to the extent possible. You only have one brain and its neurons tend to be the same ones you had in childhood. Although you cannot prevent all head injuries, you can prevent some. This is one area in life where an ounce of prevention is worth pounds of cure. What does research recommend for brain safety? Here are a few examples:

  • Wear seat belts; properly install and use age- and size-appropriate car seats and booster seats
  • If you smoke, stop; if you don’t smoke, never start
  • Remove trip hazards from your home such as throw rugs
  • Wear sturdy shoes and watch where you are going
  • Avoid toxins and pesticides (exercise away from vehicle exhaust and side smoke from tobacco products)
  • Drink sufficient amounts of water to achieve at least one pale urine per day
  • Get regular physical exercise to increase rate of blood flow through your brain

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Brain Safety, 2

The spattering of the soft butter against the inside of the glass jar can give you some idea of the brain damage that can result from head trauma. Since neurons do not generally replace themselves as do other cells and possess a rather limited capacity for repair, repeated brain bruising or torn blood vessels can result in cognitive and memory problems later in life. Thus the recommendations to wear seat belts, avoid sports that involve ‘heading the ball,’ and fall-proof your home to the extent possible. You only have one brain and its neurons tend to be the same ones you had in childhood. Although you cannot prevent all head injuries, you can prevent some. This is one area in life where an ounce of prevention is worth pounds of cure. The nerve axons (the typically largest projection from a neuron) can actually break and then the electrical impulses cannot travel smoothly along the axon. Picture that as a large sinkhole in the middle of the highway which prevents a vehicle from continuing down the highway. Since neurons do not generally replace themselves as do other cells and possess a rather limited capacity for repair, repeated brain bruising or torn blood vessels can result in cognitive and memory problems later in life. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Brain Safety

Did you know the real purpose of wearing a helmet during sports activities? Most people say it’s to ‘protect my brain.’ In a sense that’s true but the main reason is to protect your skull, the collection of 22 bones that houses your brain. Your skull is designed to protect your brain so it makes sense to protect that bony housing from cracking and breaking. Unfortunately, helmets designed to protect brain tissue and prevent concussions are not yet commonly available and even when they are, trauma and sudden blows to the head may still cause brain damage. To help children understand this better, you can describe the skull as a large glass jar. Place a several cubes of butter inside the jar and allow the butter to come to room temperature. Now tap your finger against the jar. There is little movement of the butter. Shake the jar violently, however, and butter can spatter against the inside of the glass. More tomorrow.