Dear Judy, here are 3 ways your body knows what to eat:
Taste: neurons that respond to taste signal your insula -which tracts sensations in your body. There are 5 basic tastes: bitterness, sweet, salty, sour and unami (savory). (We know which one is your favorite . . .)
Feel: the texture sensations of the food in the mouth.
Gut neurons: (Yes, you have neurons in your intestines). They are called neuropod cells and respond to amino acids, sugars and fatty acids, and send signals to the brain through a cluster of ganglia know as the nodose ganglia. (yes, Judy, you have nodose ganglia). This in turn triggers dopamine in your brain, which is a reward chemical that motivates you to eat more. The good and bad news is this is a subconscious signal which triggers release of dopamine that affects your eating choices.
A combination of these gut signals, taste and feel in your mouth entice you to eat certain foods and you don’t even know this is happening!
We also learn what foods to prefer. Partly cultural and partly bio-chemical as food impacts both our metabolism and our brain. This is especially true of sugar.
Humans are wired to eat food that raises blood sugar (blood glucose). In part sweet food signaled it was safe to eat when humans foraged for food and it gives energy to continue foraging. Research studies show that sugar actually helps brain neurons function.
And when sugar is consumed, there’s a surge of dopamine. Dopamine, often called a feel- good chemical, rewards you to to repeat the experience. (Dopamine is implicated in addictive behaviors)
Talk to yourself! Crave sardines over sugar . . .
How do you reduce sugar cravings? Using the dopamine trigger you can learn to change eating choices by pairing foods together . . . kinda like Pavlov’s dogs . . .
1. What we tell ourselves about food can impact how they taste. This won’t change your mind about tastes you can’t tolerate, so pick food with a more “neutral” appeal and tell yourself it is good for your brain or your health. Do this enough times with conviction, the “neutral” food will start to taste better. The process behind this involves the insula and nucleus accumbins, parts of the brain’s reward system.
2. Pair the “neutral” food with a carbohydrate that slightly raises your blood glucose, gives a dose of dopamine and you’ll be rewarded for eating the more neutral food.
For example: Click here for Part I and the healthier foods listed (J-I will add link when part 1 is PUB) alongside foods that raise glucose but are not sweet (rice, potatoes, meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy that is not sweetened)
Our learned response to food is good news because we are never too old to learn new behaviors and make new choices.
Judy struggles with chronic fatigue. She explains why she eats what she does as self medicating with food. I’ve been listening to podcasts* to help her figure out what food is better than the carbohydrates she craves for energy. (Hey! That’s what friends are for).
This is Part 1 on food and the brain. Part 2 (coming) focuses on how to change what foods you crave to better “feed” what your brain needs.
Dear Judy, Eat your FAT!
Neurons thrive on glucose and sometimes on ketones. The most important ingredient to help neurons thrive is FAT. Yep, the most important food to give your brain is fat.
This is because your brain’s cell membranes, which regulate electrical activity, are made of fat. (a bit different from body fat).
But not just any fat . . . Omega-3 and omega 6 fatty acids are a key family of polyunsaturated fats.Omega 3 is found in fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, sardines, arctic char and trout. Omega 6 is found in nuts and seeds, corn, meat poultry, fish and eggs. It is better to get Omega 6 from sources other than the saturated fats found in meat and dairy, and to get both kinds.
You can take supplements but it is better to get them from foods which also have other nutrients our brains and bodies need.
6 nutrients that enhance brain function and the foods to eat
The top 3:
#1 EPA mostly found in fish: mackerel, salmon, anchovies, caviar, sardines, walnuts, and chia seeds.
#2 Phosphosidolcerine: alipid like compound found in fish, meats and cabbage.
#3 Choline:helps produce acetylcholine to enhance the activity of neurons which helps focus and alertness. A primary source is egg yoke. Many plant foods also contain choline such as potatoes, nuts, seeds, grains and fruit.
and a few more…..
#4 Creatine: found in meat and isa fuel source for the brain, can enhance mood regulation, and particularly helps with depression.
#5 Anthocyanins: found in dark blue & black berries and helps lower inflammation—a cup or two every day can help reduce DNA damage and cognitive decline.
#6 Glutamine isan amino acid found in cottage cheese, beef, chicken, fish, beans, cabbage, spinach, parsley, which can offset sugar craving as well as reduce inflammation.
Other things that affect your brain health indirectly:
1. Sleep is basis of all health mental and physical
2. Cardiovascular health and exercise 150-180 min per week of cardio, (Judy, that’s just 20 minutes a day). Add in 5 minutes of weights, crucial for heart-health which affects the brain. ( I can hear you saying “it hurts to weight lift because of fibromyalgia”) . . . just find other things to lift – move furniture when cleaning, pick up garden tools when gardening . . . )
Part 2 focuses on how to change what foods you crave to better “feed” what your brain needs.
During self-isolation due to coronavirus, many are turningto the arts. Whether looking for a creative outlet or opportunity for expression, it’s possible that we are driven by an innate desire to use our brains in ways that make us feel good.
Having facilitated millions (maybe not millions, but a LOT) of Therapeutic Creative Expression workshops I know that creative expression — in all its many forms – is stress reducing and a tool for healing. There is compelling cutting-edge research, that the arts have positive effects on mental health which supports my experience and observations.
Found objects & magazine pictures
This is a new field of study called neuroesthetics, which uses brain imaging and biofeedback to learn about the brain on art. Scientists are learning about how art lifts our moods and captures our minds.
Scientists also found that creating art decreases levels of cortisol and can create a positive mental state.
Evidence from biological, cognitive and neurological studies show visual art boosts wellness and the ability to adapt to stress.
1. Art promotes well-being through Mindfullness
HeART of Spirituality Workshop Judy Facilitated
MINDFULNESS AND FLOW — The arts have been found to be effective tools for mindfulness (a trending practice in schools that is effective for managing mental health).
The first rule of all my Creative Expression workshops is:
THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG
Try something new and be willing to make mistakes to learn. Most professional artists practice for years and admit to making lots of pictures they don’t like before one they are satisfied with. Those we now consider “masters” destroy pieces of their art – we only see what they felt was successful.
Our “feel-good” brain neurochemistry is activated when we try to learn new things.
2. Reuse and repeat – Practice & Process over Product
Play and experiment with reusable materials:
Dry-erase markers on windows that can be easily wiped away.
Sculpting material, like play dough that can be squished and reshaped.
Etch-a-Sketch, Buddha Boards
Crayons and coloring books
Scribble on cardboard
When your goal is to experiment you emphasize practice and process over product and take the pressure off to make something that looks good. If you want to keep a copy, snap a photo of the work, then let it go.
3. Silence Part of Your Brain
Don’t talk when you are making art, and if you are listening to music, choose something without lyrics. The parts of the brain activated during visual art are different than those activated for speech generation and language processing. Give those overworked parts of the mind a break, and indulge in the calm relaxation that comes from doing so.
The neurochemicals that are released feel good, and that is your brain’s way of thanking you for the experience.
Take a look at some early posts on Creative Expression:
Yawns are known to be contagious and often occur at inopportune times. But, have you ever stopped to consider why humans and countless other mammals yawn so frequently? What purpose does it serve?
For a long time, the most widely believed theory was that yawning helps oxygenate our blood. Now, however, new research from Utrecht University reports yawning actually serves to cool the brain.
“According to study co-author Andrew Gallup, from the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute, yawning works as the mind’s AC system “through the simultaneous inhalation of cool air and the stretching of the muscles surrounding the oral cavities, yawning increases the flow of cooler blood to the brain, and thus has a thermoregulatory function.”
“Tons of recorded observations support this theory. Brain temperature always drops post-yawn, and ambient brain temperature can be used to accurately predict when the next yawn is coming. Moreover, when people hold an ice pack or cold beverage to their head or neck, they rarely yawn.
So, with all this under consideration, researchers theorized that the larger the brain, the more cooling down it needs. In other words, a big brain means a long yawn. To investigate, a total of 1,250 yawns emitted by 55 mammal species and 46 bird species were analyzed. Additional videos of animals yawning on the internet were also considered.
“In this new study, we wanted to see how universal that theory is, and especially whether it holds true for birds,” comments behavioral biologist and study co-author Jorg Massen. “We went to several zoos with a camera and waited by the animal enclosures for the animals to yawn. That was a pretty long haul.”
“Getting video footage of so many yawning animals requires quite some patience, and the subsequent coding of all these yawns has made me immune to the contagiousness of yawning,” explains co-lead author Margarita Hartlieb of the University of Vienna.
Next, the duration of all those yawns was compared and linked to brain and neuronal data. Ultimately, that process led researchers to conclude that regardless of body size, yawning duration increases “with the size and number of neurons in the brain of a given species.”
Mammals (including humans) also tend to yawn longer than birds, but that can be explained by differences in body temperature. Birds have a higher core temperature, which means it takes less air (yawning) to cool down.
In summation, it seems mammals and birds both evolved over time to yawn as a way to keep our minds in top shape. The brain doesn’t work well when it’s overheating.
On a lighter note, this study certainly flips the script on the typical narrative surrounding yawning. Yawning is often seen as rude or inconsiderate like we’re deliberately trying to let everyone know we’re bored, but maybe in reality the opposite holds true. The next time a friend laments your multiple yawns during a story, remind him or her that your brain was just trying to stay alert and functioning.
“We should maybe stop considering yawning as rude, and instead appreciate that the individual is trying to stay attentive,” Mullen concludes.
*Bet You Didn’t Know!
The full study can be found here, published in Communications Biology.
Children love to be read stories. And as always, children know best. Research published in eNeuro shows . . .
Successful storytelling can synchronize brain activity between the speaker and listener, but not all stories are created equal. Sharing happy stories increases feelings of closeness and brain synchrony more than sad stories.
Researchers from East China Normal University compared how emotional stories impact interpersonal connection and communication. In the study:
The speaker — watched happy, sad, and neutral videos and recorded themselves explaining the contents of the videos.
The listeners — listened to the narration and rated how close they felt to the speaker afterward. Both the speaker and the listeners completed their tasks while researchers measured their brain activity with EEG.
“Sharing happy stories produced better recall in the listeners, as well as higher ratings of interpersonal closeness. The increased closeness was linked to increased synchrony between the brain activity of the speaker and listener, particularly in the frontal and left temporoparietal cortices. These regions are involved in emotional processing and theory of mind, respectively. Brain synchrony could become a measure of successful connection and communication.”
Our books have happy endings. Perhaps we were syncing our brains with yours?
If you don’t like blogs, e-mail us at PeggyJudyTime@gmail.com to be put on our mailing list for our once a month CURIOUS KNEWSletter.
We often include links for FREE PDF’s and periodically curious things,fun things, helpful things,scientific things. You never know what our monthly focus will be because we (read Judy) doesn’t plan ahead . . . much to Peggy’s chagrin as she is charged with all the illustrations. The one thing you CAN count on is our KnewsLetter will appear in your e-mail sometime during the month.
Here’s a sample of of KNEWS where we repeated one of our favorite quickie stress relievers we first featured here on MAXyourMIND:
July 2021 KNEWSletter
Ice cream, vacations, and hugs all deserve to be repeated – along with many of the self-help tips and techniques we’ve shared on MAXyourMIND blog. One of the most requested repeats is Square breathing. So we’ve now gotten around to sharing it with you. (pun intended).
Square breathing can lead to mindfulness, slow the heartbeat, lower or stabilize blood pressure.” and it’s easy to do.
What is square breathing?
Also known as box breathing, 4×4 breathing or four-part breath, square breathing is a type of diaphragmatic breath work—deep breathing using your diaphragm, which fills your lungs with oxygenated air more fully than shallow chest breathing. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange—that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide.
First, breathe normally (if you’re reading this you are probably doing it already!). Then inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Make sure your belly expands as you inhale and constricts as you exhale; this is diaphragmatic breathing because you’re using your diaphragm! Take a moment to think about each cycle of breath. As you simply stay aware of your breathing, you’re already practicing mindfulness. On your next cycle, start square breathing:
Inhale through your nose for a count of four (1, 2, 3, 4)
Hold your breath for a count of four (1, 2, 3, 4)
Exhale through your mouth for a count of four (1, 2, 3, 4)
Pause and hold for a count of four (1, 2, 3, 4)
When to practice square breathing?
On a walk, before bed, in the shower, sitting at your desk – anywhere you breath. Practicing square breathing when you’re not in a stressful situation is just as important for mindfulness, and it will prepare you to do it when you are in a tense situation, whether that’s a stressful meeting or an actual crisis.
PLEEEEEEZE forward to a friend . . . or stranger.
We want to share as much of our accumulated information as possible before we turn 100 years old!
I’m an avid reader and read at least two books at a time – one fiction and one non-fiction. It’s my way to relax, learn, experience other worlds and points of view. Little did I know that my reading habit increases empathy, improves brain connectivity, fights depression, reduces age-related cognitive decline, and helps me sleep (via Healthline). Surprisingly it also gives physical benefits. Peggy
Here’s what happens to your body if you read every day.
When researchers set out to discover which traditional method of relaxation works best, reading came out on top. Participants in a study first underwent a range of rest and exercises to increase their stress levels and heart rate. They were then subjected to the methods of relaxation like listening to music, playing video games, going for a stroll, sipping a piping hot cup of tea, or reading silently for six minutes. Neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis reported that the latter activity had the largest effect, ultimately reducing stress levels by a whopping 68%.
“Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation,” said Lewis. “This is particularly poignant in uncertain economic times when we are all craving a certain amount of escapism.” He also noted that it doesn’t really matter what pick you pick up. Whether you opt for a gory mystery novel or the latest self-help book to make its rounds, it’s the actual act of reading that causes you to enter a more relaxed state. “By losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination,”
Reading a chapter a day keeps the doctor away
“Another relevant study focused on whether or not reading a chapter of a book each day increases a person’s survival advantage, or length of life.The results, which were published in Social Science & Medicine, indicated that those who regularly read books for 12 years experienced a 20% reduction in their risk of dying compared to non-book readers.Based on these numbers, book readers can add almost a year to their life. This is because reading involves a cognitive mediator, which is a mental process that occurs between an activity and a response. It’s similar to how cognitive behavioral therapy affects your mind and body.”
“These findings proved true regardless of the gender, education, wealth, or health of participants. Reading did, however, have an even more powerful effect on the elderly, and reading books proved much more effective than reading newspapers or magazines. So if you want to live until Elon Musk starts colonizing Mars, you’ll have to put down that People Magazine and head on over to your local library.”
Almost without exception, serious artists describe how they carry a sketchbook and draw – on public transportation, in doctor’s offices, in the car, on land, sea and air . . . wherever they are, wherever they go. I’ve tried it and failed. Obviously, I’m not serious artist. I am, however a proponent of creative expression for health and well-being. (We have posted many tutorials on easy ways of doing “art” for the non-artist. Check the links below)
These artists often explain that when they create it clears their head, makes them feel calmer and more relaxed. Research supports their experience.
It turns out there’s a lot happening in our minds and bodies when we make art or engage in any form ofcreative expression:drawing, painting, collaging, sculpting clay, writing poetry, cake decorating, knitting, scrapbooking— the sky’s the limit.
Judy doing art by Peggy
“Anything that engages your creative mind — the ability to make connections between unrelated things and imagine new ways to communicate — is good for you,”says Girija Kaimal. She’s a professor at Drexel University and a researcher in art therapy, leading art sessions with members of the military suffering from traumatic brain injury and caregivers of cancer patients.
Everybody, no matter what your skill level, is something you should try to do on a regular basis. Here’s 5 reasons why:
1. Creative expression helps you imagine a more hopeful future
Our brain is a predictive machine.
Art’s ability to flex our imaginations may be one of the reasons why we’ve been making art since we were cave-dwellers and might serve an evolutionary purpose. Girija Kaimal,art therapists holds the theory that art-making helps us navigate problems that might arise in the future.
Her theory builds off of an idea developed in the last few years — that our brain is a predictive machine. The brain uses “information to make predictions about we might do next — and more importantly what we need to do next to survive and thrive.
“When you make art, you’re making a series of decisions — what kind of drawing utensil to use, what color, how to translate what you’re seeing onto the paper. And ultimately, interpreting the images — figuring out what it means.”
“So what our brain is doing every day, every moment, consciously and unconsciously, is trying to imagine what is going to come and preparing yourself to face that,” she says.
“Kaimal has seen this play out at her clinical practice as an art therapist with a student who was severely depressed. “She was despairing. Her grades were really poor and she had a sense of hopelessness,” she recalls.”
The student took out a piece of paper and colored the whole sheet with thick black marker. Kaimal didn’t say anything.
“She looked at that black sheet of paper and stared at it for some time,” says Kaimal. “And then she said, ‘Wow. That looks really dark and bleak.’ “
And then something amazing happened, says Kaimal. The student looked around and grabbed some pink sculpting clay. And she started making … flowers: “She said, you know what? I think maybe this reminds me of spring.”
Through that session and through creating art, says Kaimal, the student was able to imagine possibilities and see a future beyond the present moment in which she was despairing and depressed.
“This act of imagination is actually an act of survival,” she says. “It is preparing us to imagine possibilities and hopefully survive those possibilities.”
2. Creativity activates the reward center of our brain
For some people, making art can be intimidating – I’m not an artist. What would I make? What if it sucks? Studies show that despite those fears, “engaging in any sort of visual expression results in the reward pathway in the brain being activated,” says Kaimal. “Which means that you feel good and it’s perceived as a pleasurable experience.”
She and a team of researchers measured blood flow to the brain’s reward center, the medial prefrontal cortex. In 26 participants as they completed three art activities: coloring in a mandala, doodling and drawing freely on a blank sheet of paper. there was an increase in blood flow to this part of the brain when the participants were making art.
This research suggests making art may have benefit for people dealing with health conditions that activate the reward pathways in the brain, like addictive behaviors, eating disorders or mood disorders.
3. Creative expression lowers stress
There’s evidence that making art can lower stress and anxiety. Researchers measured cortisol levels of 39 healthy adults. Cortisol is a hormone that helps the body respond to stress.
They found that 45 minutes of creating art in a studio setting with an art therapist significant lowered cortisol levels.
The research also showed that there were no differences in health outcomes between people who identify as experienced artists and people who don’t. So no matter your skill level, you’ll be able to feel all the good things that come with doing creative expression.
4. Creativity lets you focus deeply – creates a meditative state
“Ultimately, says Kaimal, making art should induce what the scientific community calls “flow” — the wonderful thing that happens when you’re in the zone. “It’s that sense of losing yourself, losing all awareness. You’re so in the moment and fully present that you forget all sense of time and space,”
And what’s happening in your brain when you’re in flow state? “It activates several networks including relaxed reflective state, focused attention to task and sense of pleasure,” she says. Kaimal points to a 2018 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, which found that flow was characterized by increased theta wave activity in the frontal areas of the brain — and moderate alpha wave activities in the frontal and central areas.
What kind of “art” should you try?
Not into painting or knitting? There are types of art appear to yield greater health benefits than others.
CLAY: Kaimal says modeling clay, for example, is wonderful to play around with. “It engages both your hands and many parts of your brain in sensory experiences,” she says. “Your sense of touch, your sense of three-dimensional space, sight, maybe a little bit of sound — all of these are engaged in using several parts of yourself for self-expression, and likely to be more beneficial.”
COLORING: A number of studies have shown that coloring inside a shape — specifically a pre-drawn geometric mandala design — is more effective in boosting mood than coloring on a blank paper or even coloring inside a square shape.
There’s no one medium or art activity that’s “better” than another.
5. Creativity helps process your emotions
It’s important to note: if you’re going through serious mental health distress, you should seek the guidance of a professional art therapist.
However, if you’re making art to connect with your own creativity, decrease anxiety and hone your coping skills, creative expression can help. For example:
Draw or scribble lines, shapes and colors translate your emotional experience.
Focus on feelings or sensations that you feel in your body, your memories.
Pick magazine pictures that intuitively catch your attention for a collage.
“Creativity in and of itself is important for remaining healthy, remaining connected to yourself and connected to the world,” *
Read for further suggestions:
*Christianne Strang, professor of neuroscience at the University of Alabama Birmingham and the former president of the American Art Therapy Association.
Every night I say a Bahai prayer of gratitude but admit that during the day, often overcome with Chronic fatigue and Fibromyalgia body aches, I lose sight of what I’m grateful for so this paragraph caught my eye:
“The impact of practicing gratitude on physical health is considerable, according to science. To date we’ve conducted research that has demonstrated the benefits of gratitude for people with inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, and fibromyalgia,” according to Dr. Fuschia Sirois Ph.D. “Even in people with severe illnesses and low levels of social support, practicing gratitude every day lowered their risk of depression up to six months later. Notably, though, the effects were slightly lower in people living with fibromyalgia, which can be a very painful condition. “Living with fibromyalgia may make it more difficult to find things to be grateful for,” Dr. Sirois says. The impacts of gratitude may depend on the challenges in your life.”
Peggy and I were so impressed by the scientific research behind gratitude we included it in our Happiness Hacks. We explained that in 5 minutes expressing GRATITUDE could tweak our neurobiology to feel better. I knew the psychological power of gratitude goes beyond psychological self-care; it can physically change our brains. I just forget to do the very exercises we share.
“The concept of gratitude — of feeling thankful for what you have — is a very powerful one. Scientists have explored feeling grateful in detail in the past few decades, and research has found that feeling and expressing our gratitude towards others can have tangible positive effects on our physical health and psychological wellbeing. the science of gratitude says that if you practice gratitude year-round and make it a constant part of your outlook, you may glean a host of good effects:”
Shift attention to the positive when dealing with negative and stressful situations.
Spend less time focusing on your difficulties.
Look at the big picture, helps to contextualize problems and give a fresh perspective. A stressed brain looks at things through a narrow perspective, because its threat centers are activated.
Understand a broader perspective, which may help with problem-solving.
“The science of gratitude is part of a body of research known as positive psychology, which studies how certain approaches to life can affect our wellbeing. Positive psychology researchers have demonstrated that the health effects of gratitude are not to be underestimated. Studies have shown that practicing gratitude in tangible ways — by writing in a journal every day about something you’re grateful for, for instance — can reduce symptoms of depression, improve health in heart failure patients, and help people in stressful jobs sleep and eat better.”
To start practicing gratitude, take small steps like the “Three Good Things” activity: Every night write down three things you are grateful for and/or good things that happened during the day. It doesn’t take much time, and research shows you may start to see positive effects over the weeks to come.
“Gratitude may help us to feel better because it bonds us with others and helps us look after ourselves. An overview of studies on gratitude in 2010 found that it’s been shown to improve interpersonal relationships, trust and emotional support. Research published in Personality & Individual Differences in 2013 also showed that gratitude may have positive health effects indirectly because it motivates us to seek out self-care behaviors, like exercising, eating nutrient-dense foods, and going to the doctor when we’re sick.”
“Science shows that there isn’t a single gratitude center in the brain, but it can have a significant effect on brain activity. A study published in Neuroimage in 2016 found that practicing gratitude for three months physically changed brain activity. The participants in the study wrote letters expressing their gratitude, and three months later they showed “significantly greater and lasting neural sensitivity to gratitude”, according to the study. In other words, they experienced more feelings of gratitude in general, and their brains also showed a lot more activity whenever they expressed gratitude, particularly in the medial prefrontal cortex. That brain region is associated with decision-making and learning. Research in Frontiers in Psychology in 2015 also showed that gratitude causes activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, which helps us regulate our emotions.”
However, gratitude can’t change everything. “It isn’t a magic bullet,” and it can be a hard habit to cultivate, particularly if you have a serious health condition, or are experiencing severe stress. When things are simply too difficult, the pressure of gratitude can feel like another source of stress, so it’s important to be patient with yourself (judy says as a reminder to herself!).
Here’s my THREE GOOD THINGS for today:
I am grateful that MAXyourMIND reminds me to pay better attention to what I know and learn new ways of feeling and being better.
I am grateful to have Peggy, whose brain is naturally positive and grateful, as a co-blogger.
I am grateful all of you subscribe to our blogs which keeps Peggy and I blogging and learning.
“A PUDGY BLACK MOUSE snuffles around a tiny tower of Legos, turns away, then comes back to snuffle again. He’s 18 months old—a senior citizen, in rodent terms. And it’s getting tough to keep it all straight. Do these blocks seem familiar to him? Has he seen this thing before?”
“He’s a bit muddled, but that’s not his fault. Few new neurons are being born inside his itty-bitty brain. The cells that once exuberantly branched, sending lush offshoots to interweave and connect with others, are now sparse and barren.”
“This Lego test indirectly measures those physical changes by monitoring his behavior. When mice of a certain age become forgetful, they spend more time checking out little trinkets they’ve seen before—objects that should warrant only a quick “Oh yeah, that thing again” glance. Cameras and laser-based detectors mounted on the ceiling capture and quantify those pauses and vacillations.”
“Alana Horowitz, the University of California, San Francisco graduate student conducting this FaceTime lab tour, puts her phone camera right up to the mouse’s muzzle. His eyes are bleary, like an old barfly’s. He probably hasn’t groomed himself recently, she says. His coat looks shabby and worn. You’ve likely never looked an elderly mouse in the face, but if you did, all of this—the thinning fur, the dim eyes, the hesitation—would be depressingly familiar. He inspires pity. Like sands through the hourglass, little fella.”
“But in this lab, headed up by neurobiologist Saul Villeda, nobody is sighing and moping over graybeard mice. Here, aging is not a sad fate to bemoan; it’s a problem to be solved. And for mice, at least, this team has already figured out how to reverse the damage time brings.”
How to rejuvenate mice
“The secret is somewhere within those tiny veins. In a series of studies over the last 15 years, Villeda and others …..have shown that, when infused with blood from young mice, old ones heal faster, move quicker, think better, remember more. The experiments reverse almost every indicator of aging the teams have probed so far: It fixes signs of heart failure, improves bone healing, regrows pancreatic cells, and speeds spinal cord repair. “It sounds sensational, almost like pseudoscience,” says Villeda. It’s some of the most provocative aging research in decades.”
“These studies, which use a peculiar surgical method called parabiosis that turns mice into literal blood brothers, show that aging is not inevitable. It is not time’s arrow. It’s biology, and therefore something we could theoretically change. The attempt to turn back the clock in living bodies “is probably the most revolutionary experiment that biologists have done,” says Stanford professor of neurology Tony Wyss-Coray…. “It supports this notion that it is possible to reassemble and fix things that we thought are doomed to die.”’
“Benjamin Button-ing, of course, isn’t natural. But Villeda counters that getting old isn’t either: “It is the most artificial construct.” Previously, only a very few rare individuals reached 90 or 100. Now, in wealthy nations, it’s becoming downright common. With antibiotics, vaccines, public health measures, and a steady food supply, the industrialized world made the long, slow goodbye of aging commonplace—and, along with it, the consequences, such as brittle bones, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and heart failure. Young-blood research, like some gory fairy tale, whispers to us that there could one day be a magic pill that can fix it all. The plot twist: That bloody fountain of youth was inside our bodies all along.”
It is not known why this works. And it would be too dangerous to use blood itself for anti-aging treatments. What may be possible is that we find what it is in the blood that causes the rejuvenation and turn these into medicines.
Villeda’s and associates are trying to use parabiosis to help the aging brain. They are also looking the effects on the aging brain of exercise and fasting. They want to know if these affect the blood.
The bloody history
“THE IDEA THAT BLOOD can impart vigor and vitality has a long and stomach-turning history. Pliny the Elder, writing in first-century Rome, describes people with epilepsy guzzling the gore of wounded gladiators. Similar motifs reappear frequently in European lore: The sickly 15th-century pope Innocent VIII allegedly traded blood with three shepherd boys; all four died shortly thereafter.”
“Once British physician William Harvey mapped the circulatory system in 1628, swapping fluids became a fad. Across France and England, enterprising proto-scientists linked animals to animals and animals to people, and on and bloody on. Their hypothesis was that blood could remodel the flesh. In 1666, for instance, the legendary natural philosopher Robert Boyle proposed that introducing blood from a cowardly dog into a fierce one might temper the savage beast’s nature.”
“In 1667, London’s Royal Society hosted a public experiment in which a surgeon paid a man suffering from mental illness to be linked to a living sheep for a few moments via feather quills and silver pipes. Perhaps the gentle lamb’s essence might ease his agitation, was the thinking. Afterward the fellow indeed “found himself very well,” at least according to the surgeon, and he allegedly went on to spend his fee in the tavern. (The sheep’s feelings were not recorded.)”
However when a Frenchman died after a transfusion, these practices slowed, and an end was put to the practice by pope Innocent XI.
“A new round of transfusion science emerged in the early 19th century, this one with much more scientific rigor. These experiments helped establish the first real knowledge about how to keep injured soldiers from bleeding out or mothers from dying in labor. But it wasn’t until 1864 that a Parisian physician working on skin grafts developed true parabiosis: a sustained commingling of the blood supplies of two living creatures.”
“Knowing that the red stuff flows through every organ and tissue, scientists have used the technique ever since to study bodywide states like obesity and systemic diseases like radiation sickness. If you divert blood from a sickly animal into a healthy one, and that one also becomes ill, it suggests some soluble factor in the blood plays a role. That knowledge, in turn, helps you narrow down what causes the illness or condition. For example, in 1958, scientists linked up rats from a strain prone to tooth decay to rodents from another strain that’s naturally resistant to cavities, to test whether something in the blood might account for the differences. In this case, at least, blood swapping made no difference.”
“Heterochronic parabiosis, in which researchers pair two animals at different points in the lifespan, was first used to study aging in the 1950s. But by the 1990s, it was largely forgotten—until Stanford put it back on the map.”
Aging alters everything.
“The hair grows gray, the bones weaken, the heart falters. Inside cells, DNA replication glitches and stutters, and proteins clump up into sticky globs. Meanwhile, natural repair mechanisms like adult stem cells no longer scurry to replace dead or injured tissues. All this happens more or less in sync, as if some systemwide signal has told the whole body to go down the tubes.”
“This organized process of decrepitude was still largely an enigma in 1993, when biologist Cynthia Kenyon, then at UCSF, discovered that mutating just one gene in a roundworm doubled its lifespan. Her finding helped launch the modern study of aging, but it soon became clear that a one-gene or one-protein approach wasn’t going to work, at least not for mammals.”
“But what is it that coordinates this systemic ruin? Fellow Stanford neurologist Thomas Rando reasoned that it made sense to look in the blood, that witch’s brew of biochemical whatnot that bathes the body, pinkie toe to pointer finger. Mostly water, nutrients, and red blood cells, what runs through our veins also transports a huge variety of signaling molecules that coordinate metabolism, immune responses, fight-or-flight reactions, and myriad other activities.”
“On the theory that blood-borne factors might orchestrate the transitions of aging, Rando and two postdocs in his lab, Michael and Irina Conboy, turned to heterochronic parabiosis. In the creepy but simple procedure, the surgeon slits two anesthetized mice down their flanks, then sutures and staples them together, side by side. Because these lab animals are so inbred, their immune systems don’t attack one another. As the incisions heal, their blood vessels connect, and the two share a supply.”
“Conjoined, the Frankenmice learn to eat together, make their little nests together, and ramble around as if they’re in a three-legged race. Their bodies begin to change. The old mouse’s fur gets thicker and silkier. It scrapes together its bedding more quickly. The junior partner loses speed, becomes tentative.”
“The authors had brain data too, but it was too preliminary to be included in the paper. By 2005, the long-held dogma that adult brains cannot make new cells had softened: Research had shown that certain regions, including the hippocampus, could generate new neurons, but claims of actually restoring function still raised most eyebrows sky-high.”
Brains as well as bodies
“Villeda did the tiny surgeries and collected evidence. Soon, he could see that new brain cells were in fact surging in old mice. And they looked great.”
“When a neuron is born in an old brain, it’s [usually] scrunched up,” he says, balling up his fist. “In these old brains they looked just like the young ones, beautiful,” he continues, stretching out his fingers. Those cells eagerly extended their long tendrils to make connections—the synapses that enable learning, memory, thinking, and everything else an elderly mind often struggles with.”
” Villeda demonstrated that the access to young blood not only remodeled old nerve cells so that they looked and responded like younger neurons but also improved aged mouse learning and memory.”
Rejuvinated Mouse, by Peggy
“Wagers and others at places like Columbia Medical Center soon showed that parabiosis could improve the function of heart, bone, and other tissues. These teams worked together to establish a working definition of what really qualifies as rejuvenation, including changes in DNA modification, gene activation, or protein levels characteristic of younger bodies.”
“Villeda .. also collected plasma—blood with the cells removed—from young mice, and transfused it into older ones. The effect was the same, strongly suggesting that whatever the magic was, it was something dissolved in the fluid itself, some code or key that signaled a fresh start.”
Get SEWED to someone ?
“JUST TO GET THIS OUT OF THE WAY: Nobody’s sewing humans together. Our immune systems would wallop one another, with potentially deadly consequences …Transfusing seniors with young blood isn’t practical either; people would probably need repeat treatments, with each bringing a risk of infection, allergic reaction, and even injury to the lungs … ……….”
Heterochronic parabiosis may not lead to a longer life, it just reverses some decline.
Some are already selling the blood of others
“Of course there are those already selling the plasma of young people. There are plans to charge large amount for doing this, but no studies as yet. Since this is a treatment in use for some rare autoimmune diseases and coagulation problems, the service is legal as long as they make no claims that can’t be backed up. Companies have, however, make such claims, ad the FDA stopped it in 2019.”
“Everyone recognizes this is an incredibly important experiment,” says Eric Verdin, CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, who closely follows parabiosis. “What has been lagging is: How do you translate these discoveries?”
The path forward
“The most straightforward path would be to pinpoint a pro-aging factor in old blood,…that a drug could block. Many groups have identified such elements. Villeda and his collaborators, for instance, found that a protein called CCL11 increases in aged humans and mice and is correlated with reduced brain cell birth.”
“The other obvious tactic is to identify youthful plasma’s secret formula and optimize it. The Conboys’ research suggests the hormone oxytocin might be a candidate; Wagers has identified the protein GDF11. Combination therapies are also under consideration; the biotech company Wyss-Coray founded is exploring mixtures of hundreds of blood-borne proteins as therapies for a variety of age-related diseases. Villeda is on its board.”
“It’s also possible that the rejuvenating effects seen in experiments don’t arise from one magic ingredient, or even from some combination of a dozen or a hundred compounds, but happen simply because the procedure dilutes some unknown harmful substances that accumulate in old blood. From this perspective, there’s no particular need for young stuff: Any form of plasma replacement will do.”
“Their (the Conboys) recent experiments, published in the journal Aging, replaced half the blood of some old mice with a mix of salt water and purified albumin (the main protein in plasma), which successfully rejuvenated the rodents’ hearts, livers, and brains. They too are starting a company and are aiming for human clinical trials to determine if simply flushing out the bloodstream can help with problems like frailty and declining cognition.”
“…Villeda and others are rushing forward with a bigger project: cracking all the other codes that might be written in blood.”
” It’s well known that exercise can reduce some of the effects of aging on the brain, increasing blood flow to the organ and boosting cell birth in one of the few regions that produce new neurons. Shelly Fan, a postdoc in Villeda’s lab wanted to see whether plasma from an active animal could transmit those benefits to a sedentary one. “
“Mature mice were allowed to sprint as much as they wanted on little exercise wheels for six weeks (these critters typically like a nice, brisk jog). She then collected their plasma and delivered it to aged couch-potato equivalents. These older animals’ brains produced extra new neurons, and they aced memory tests. The paper was published in Science in summer 2020.”
“The surprise was that the effects seemed to flow through the liver, which ramped up several factors including an enzyme called GPLD1 that is also plentiful in active elderly humans. Rando and Wyss-Coray, with others…. found that serum (plasma with clotting factors and platelets removed) taken from exercising older mice restarted the systems responsible for muscle repair……..”
Soon we may all want to be vampires . . . of one sort or another . . .
Spending time with a good listener not only feels great, it may be key to keeping the brain healthy as people age.
Adults who reported having lots of access to someone who could listen to them when they needed to talk had a younger “cognitive age” then those who had fewer opportunities to share their thoughts with a friend or loved one.
“High listener availability seemed to create a protective buffer against brain shrinkage and other structural brain changes that everyone experiences to some degree with aging, researchers reported in JAMA Network Open.”
“How’s the new web?”
“The exact mechanisms for this effect aren’t clear, but one theory is that being with a good listener stimulates many parts of the brain, boosting its neuroplasticity — the ability to rewire and adapt, said Dr. Joel Salinas, an assistant professor of neurology at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and lead author of the study.”
“You’re creating conditions in your brain that function almost like Miracle-Gro, where you have many brain cells connecting with each other and creating spares,” Salinas told TODAY.
“So even if you do develop any kind of brain injury or disease, you have lots of spare pathways and the information still gets to where it needs to get to.”
Another possible explanation is that being with a good listener helps people manage the effects of chronic stress such as systemic inflammation and heart disease.
“For every unit of decline in brain volume, people in their 40s and 50s who had someone to listen to them had cognitive functioning that was four years younger than their peers who had little access to a good listener, the study found. That means possibly delaying symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias that show up later in life for millions of Americans.”
“As somebody who does Alzheimer’s research, that four years can make a big difference in terms of having time to spend with your friends and family, to continue your work, to be able to enjoy the things that really make your life meaningful,” Salinas noted.”
“If having a better listener who’s available to you confers some potential kind of protective effect, that’s something that is relatively inexpensive. Any of us can either cultivate it in our lives or actually be that good listener for other people in our life that we care about.”
“The data is based on 2,171 adults who were 45 years old or older and took part in the Framingham Study — one of the largest and longest-running cohorts in the U.S. Each person underwent a brain MRI and cognitive testing. They also shared information about their social support.”
“The researchers found having a good listener readily available in life was associated with greater cognitive resilience compared to being more isolated. That listener access was a more important factor than receiving advice, affection or emotional support from the other person, the study found.”
“People who reported high listener availability sustained their brain’s “raw horsepower” over time regardless of its structural changes — performing better than might be expected based on their brain scans,” Salinas said.
“He encouraged all adults to take the time to cultivate an available pool of good listeners in their lives and be a good listener for others.”
“Similar to other factors that improve brain health — such as physical activity and a healthy diet — the earlier people get started, the more likely they are to accumulate benefits over time. It’s also important to pay attention to loneliness, Salinas said.”
“Loneliness is really a symptom of us feeling that we’re not getting the amount of social support that we want or need,” he noted. “Being able to create an environment where you can have people who you can reach out to when you need it can begin to offset some of these negative effects.”
I met some remarkable people working as a therapist in a hospital psychiatric ward. One of the most memorable was a Vietnam veteran who flew into rages. He’d lost his lower left leg in battle. But the war or being severely injured were not what made him rageful. He had always raged, even as a child. His father raged as well.
His wife was the main target of his rages. He would become uncontrollably angry at the smallest of things like forgetting where she left her keys, or spilling a beverage . . . until he learned the “1/4 second secret” to controlling unwanted anger.
To understand the 1/4 of a second secret you need to understand the fight or flight reaction.
We have an ever vigilant watchdog, a small almond shaped organ in our midbrain called the amygdala (amygdala from the Greek word for almond) that looks out for us 24/7 and alerts us to any POSSIBLE threat.
When our brain receives a threat-cue, sounds, sights, smells, touches or even our imagination, our brain wants FAST action. No waiting around for a sign of safety, no thinking things through just FLEE or stay and FIGHT (there is also a “freeze” response but that’s another post).
Our amygdala floods the cells in our body with neurochemical signals to increase blood pressure, raise heart rate, send blood away from major organs to your muscles, constrict capillaries near the skin, increase breathing, and tamper down anything that isn’t crucial to fight or flee for survival.
Unfortunately, our brain doesn’t discriminate between real threats, imagined threats, conditioned or potential threats. That’s why things that are, in reality, not threatening can become threat-cues.
Luckily, many people tend to go with flight more easily than fight. But for those whose brain directs them to fight here’s the “1/4 second secret” that stopped the vet’s rages:
The thinking part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, can STOP the fight or flight response. We have 1/4 of a second to interrupt the signal from the threatening stimuli (sounds, sights, smells, touches or our imagination). In that 1/4 split second tell the amygdala “Stop” or “I’m safe” and take a deep breath.
If we don’t “catch it” in 1/4 of a second a neurochemical cascade will flood our cells. Once the cells are flooded it takes 15 – 20 minutes for the neurochemicals to metabolize out of our body (provided no new information saying the threat continues to exist is received).
This is what the vet learned to do:
First, he identified the triggers that sent him into a rage.
Second, when he anticipated a trigger he used his pre-frontal cortex to say “stop” to the amygdala.
Third, if he failed to anticipate the trigger and felt the stress response building he would take a 20 minute walk to speed up metabolizing out the stress response.
I admired his remarkable determination. It took him 1/4 of a minute at a time to stop his rage response, change his marriage and improve his life.
Do you have a “secret technique” to control your stress response?
“If music gives you goosebumps, according to scientists at the University of Southern California, you might have a “higher-order cognition” than your peers, and you might even be able to feel emotions greater, and with more intensity.”
The implication from the study* is that “emotional and social processing brain areas**explain individual differences in reward sensitivity to music.”
“The study consisted of 20 students, 10 of which were self-ascribed music fans, 10 of which were not. The students’ brains were scanned to confirm that those who identified as fans of music experienced goosebumps when listening to a song of their choice.”
Judging by brain scans:
The self-ascribed music fan students had brains that reacted in a “heightened manner” to the music.
As the volume increased, these students had an increase of activity in “neurological fibers linking their auditory cortex to the part of the brain that processes emotions.”
This is known by scholars as “frisson.
“The phenomenon of frisson has been highly researched, but laymen might not exactly know what it means. The word frisson is known generally as a synonym for a “thrill,” however in neuroscience, it has a more particular meaning. Frisson is the physiological and psychological sensation that one experiences when one feels extremely connected to music. Some researchers even call frisson a “skin orgasm,” because the neural pathways activated are so similar.”
“These ”transcendent, psychophysiological moments of musical experiences” were tracked by researchers at McGill University, and linked to “brain regions thought to be involved in reward/motivation, emotion, and arousal.” (These regions include the “ventral striatum, midbrain, amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventral medial prefrontal cortex,” which span the topography of the entire brain.)”
“These areas of the brain are also activated when humans are experiencing a rush of pleasure, such as with food, sex, or substance use – things that humans find motivating, arousing, and emotional.Frisson additionally provides autonomic nervous system arousal of all the motor skills we can’t control, like breathing and heart rate. The McGill study reports that frisson causes feelings like “increased heart rate, SCR, and respiratory depth,” the three primary pillars of Autonomic Nervous System arousal.”
How does this make you special?
“As for how this makes some more special than others, it’s less about what frisson is, and more about who experiences frisson.Dr. Matthew Sachs, co-author of the 2016 USC research study on frisson, and the 2019 Presidential Scholar in Neuroscience at Columbia University believes that this study proves that those who experience frisson also feel emotions stronger in general. Because of the participants’ reactivity to “aesthetic stimuli,” their emotional reactivity was judged to be more intense and more frequent.”
“Some believe that this is due to the sensitivity of someone’s neural pathways and that someone can be hard-wired to experience frisson. Another theory is that these pathways are more often used, as the individual might generally be a more emotional person, so the neurons fire at a more rapid rate.” “If the second theory is true, one can then train themselves to experience frisson if they don’t feel it naturally, just by granting themselves deeper access to their own emotions.”
It’s true that in order to live our purpose in this world, we’ve got to have a vision and a plan for achieving our dreams. We must be tenacious in working toward our goals, and we might occasionally have to sacrifice a little sleep for that dream.
The stress, exhaustion and decision fatigue caused by “hustling” can lead to mood swings. Our logical processes literally shut down, opening up irritability, frustration, anger and sadness. It’s that the primitive part of your brain (controlled by emotion) takes over and dictates behaviors, while higher-level thinking is put on pause.
Although the stigma remains that break-takers are lazy or unmotivated, this belief is unfounded. Breakthroughs in neuroscience research unveil proof that goes against everything we thought we knew about achievement.
Periods of intentional rest are now known to boost our:
Napping has been shown to enhance alertness and attention even better than caffeine. Brief periods of rest also counteract the sluggish effects of not getting enough quality sleep at night. Napping even makes us better problem solvers.
Falling asleep is not necessary in order to feel the restorative benefits of midday rest. Try these three faux nap ideas to enhance creativity and productivity and access intuitive solutions through your subconscious mind.
1. Close your eyes
You can tap into the unconscious processes that help connect with innovative ideas and solve problems more efficiently simply by decreasing visual input.
More than 50 percent of the surface of the brain is devoted to processing visual information. Closing your eyes frees up the energy associated with that 50 percent, allowing your brain needed recovery.
First action step:
Create a cozy nap environment without the expectation of falling asleep. Taking that pressure off goes a long way toward relaxation.
Consider playing some soothing music to help drown out any distracting noises.
Allow your eyelids to close, and notice any thoughts that arise.
As a child, were you ever scolded for gazing dreamily out the window? Parents and teachers often presum that a wandering mind was a hindrance, but neuroscience researchers find that daydreamers actually score higher on creativity scales.
Making time for free-flowing thought allows for almost effortless disentanglement of the jumbled information in our minds. Just as our muscles gain flexibility through gentle stretching, new insights are more likely to surface when we’re relaxed. For best results, approach your daydreaming session with intention: You must be able to notice when you are in this state and pull yourself out at will. This requires some practice.
Second action step:
Choose a photo or work of art that feels relaxing to look at: a calm ocean scene or flowers, a bright blue sky. (Note: Blue is calming; orange stimulates creativity.)
Set a timer for five minutes.
Sit comfortably and gaze at the picture. Allow your mind to wander while keeping the focus on the feeling you get from the image, and keep a pen and notepad nearby to jot down any flashes of inspiration.
The adult brain, a mere two percent of body weight, is responsible for around 20 percent of oxygen consumption. This means oxygen is one fuel our brains heavily rely on for planning, decision-making and higher-order thinking.
Simple focused breathing gives us a mental energy boost. It also helps you relax into your unconscious mental processes, supporting creativity and productivity by activating your parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for both mental and physiological relaxation).
Third action step:
Practice diaphragmatic breathing — drawing the air into your belly instead of your upper chest. Place one hand over your heart and the other over your abdomen while inhaling. When your lower hand rises during inhalation and your upper hand does not, you know you’re bringing the air fully into your diaphragm.
Next, breathing only through your nose, inhale for a count of four… hold for a count of four… exhale for a count of four… and hold again for a count of four.
Repeat this sequence for anywhere from two to 10 minutes.
When you give yourself the space to relax, you actually empower your mind to align with tour dreams. WHO KNEW??
“…the signature expression of joy: a full-body jumping gesture, arms stretched overhead, chest open, and gaze lifted, as if you had just thrown confetti into the air.”
“The Joy of Movement” by Kelly McGoniga was a good read, helping me better understand why I (Peggy) love to hike, dance and row. Here are some of my main insights:
Exercise increasesthe number of receptorsfor endocanniboids*. (Yes, you guessed it, endocanniboids are your very own internal “cannabis factory”.)
A natural high, runners high is the most well talked about but you don’t have to be a runner to get a release of endocanniboids. All you need to do is persist at movement that is moderately difficult to release endocanniboids and create a “persistence high” which also:
Makes you more social
Decreases anxiety and stress
Increases pain tolerance.
Persisting at movement that is moderately difficultworked so well that research participants who suffered from panic attacks were not able to induce a panic attack in situations that would usually do so.
Music & Movement
Your brain responds to music you like by increasing dopamine, adrenaline and endorphins. These brain transmitters serve to give you more energy and decrease pain. Throughout history music, songs or chants have been used to make work less taxing. Think of medieval rowers who chanted in unison as do modern kayak racers. When singing/chanting/listening to music the release of endorphins makes movement easier as well as helps create a bond with fellow participants. Combine “music” with movement and you get a double power “high”.
McGonigal calls songs used by some athletes to energize them “power” songs. Power songs usually have a tempo of 120-140 beats per minute, and also have strong associations to positive emotions, often from the lyrics or culture or personal associations (think of the theme from Rocky).
Music lyrics aren’t just for athletes as they can help all of us work harder, even reduce pain and fatigue. Popular workout songs actually have lyrics that are about perseverance and determination (like Eminems “”Till I Collapse”).
Kelly McGonigal “The Joy of Movement”
*The endogenous cannabinoid system—named for the plant that led to its discovery—is one of the most important physiologic systems involved in establishing and maintaining human health. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. With its complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and virtually all of the body’s organs, the endocannabinoids are literally a bridge between body and mind. By understanding this system, we begin to see a mechanism that could connect brain activity and states of physical health and disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3997295/
Oxytocin rocks! It’s the neurotransmitter most often associated with reward and bonding. (when it doesn’t rock it can create addictions . . . but that’s another story)
We’re sharing Loretta Breuning’s* short-cuts to oxytoxin, the feel-good drug, you don’t have to buy, smuggle or steal.
NOTE: This post focuses on just some short-cuts and is NOT Breuning’s main point in her book. She emphasizes that taking shortcuts instead of developing trusted relationships with people is not good for the long run. Short-cuts are short-lived, often addictive, sometimes negative and do not sustain us in the healthiest way. Read her book:
“14 Days to Sustainable Happiness, A workbook for every brain”.
Research shows when we are involved and connected to others – family, friends, social networks, business partners, team sports – our oxytocin is increased. Deep connection to others often takes time and/or energy to build and maintain. However there are oxytocin shortcuts everywhere.
We enjoy a large “herd” because we evolved to seek safety in numbers. That’s why we seek “herds” to feel bonded with hundreds or thousands of people for our oxytocin “fix”:
Attend a sports game and root for a common team
Attend a concert and cheer for an entertainer
Affiliate with a political party or politician
Become involved in charity work
Volunteer to work in a non-profit organization
Join a synagogue, church, temple
Play on a sports team, and feel a bond with thousands of people.
These shortcuts to oxytocin are real but temporary and often leaving us wanting more of that good stuff. The best way to bond is with people who are permanent or constant in our life. With trusted family and friends we are assured of getting the connections and support that are meaningful and loving. No need to spend money on tickets!
Pets are another popular shortcut. Research shows pets stimulate oxytocin, lower our blood pressure and theirs too. Animals have a unique connection to us but do have their limitations. Don’t give up on humans for your extra dose of oxytocin and support.
Another popular oxytocin shortcut is bonding with politics or politicians because it meets our mammalian need for support. Politics focuses on common enemies, which builds instant oxytocin bonding among everyone on “our side.” It’s not necessarily a good loop because to keep the neurotransmitters flowing we have to continually fear our antagonists.
The benefits of oxytocin from “belonging” has to be weighed against the release of stress cortisol when focus is on a perceived “enemy”.
Spending money is another well-known oxytocin shortcut – money goes out, and oxytocin flows in. That’s why we can become addicted to shopping, whether it’s in a store or on-line.
An interesting research finding is we actually get a better dopamine boost when we gift others than when we purchase for ourself.
Contribute to charities.
Tithe to religious institutions and causes
Buy small gifts for friends
Drop money in Santa Claus’ bucket
Purchase from free trade sites
Support National Public Radio and TV stations
Buy from industries that promote reducing our carbon footprint
*Loretta Breuning, PhD, “14 Days to Sustainable Happiness, A workbook for every brain”.
Wemustadmit,wehavepridedourselvesinbeingcomfortableaskingfordirections,deridingviolenceand being emotional.Theconclusionreachedbyneuroscientists’analysisof 30 years of researchonhuman brain sex differences is a bit unsettling. Toprotectoursterlingreputationforbeing“relatively”unbiased wesharethisin its entirety:
“Everyoneknowsthedifferencebetweenmaleandfemalebrains.One is chatty and a littlenervous, butneverforgetsandtakesgoodcareofothers. Theotheriscalmer,albeitmoreimpulsive,butcantuneoutgossip to getthejobdone.”
“Theseare stereotypes,of course,but they hold surprising sway over the way actual brain science is designed and interpreted. Since the dawn of MRI, neuroscientists have worked ceaselessly to find differences between men’s and women’s brains. This research attracts lots of attention because it’s just so easy to try to link any particular brain finding to some gender difference in behavior”
“But as a neuroscientist long experienced in the field, I recently completed a painstaking analysis of 30 years of research on human brain sex differences. And what I found, with the help of excellent collaborators, is that virtually none of these claims has proven reliable.”
“Except for the simple difference in size, there are no meaningful differences between men’s and women’s brain structure or activity that hold up across diverse populations. Nor do any of the alleged brain differences actually explain the familiar but modest differences in personality and abilities between men and women.”
“More alike than not My colleagues and I titled our study “Dump the Dimorphism” to debunk the idea that human brains are “sexually dimorphic.” That’s a very science-y term biologists use to describe a structure that comes in two distinct forms in males and females, such as antlers on deer or the genitalia of men and women.”
“When it comes to the brain, some animals do indeed exhibit sexual dimorphism, such as certain birds whose brains contain a song-control nucleus that is six times larger in males and is responsible for male-only courtship singing. But as we demonstrate in our exhaustive survey, nothing in human brains comes remotely close to this.”
The Early Bird Pets the Worm
“Yes, men’s overall brain size is about 11% bigger than women’s, but unlike some songbirds, no specific brain areas are disproportionately larger in men or women. Brain size is proportional to body size, and the brain difference between sexes is actually smaller than other internal organs, such as the heart, lungs and kidneys, which range from 17% to 25% larger in men”
“When overall size is properly controlled, no individual brain region varies by more than about 1% between men and women, and even these tiny differences are not found consistently across geographically or ethnically diverse populations.”
“Other highly touted brain sex differences are also a product of size, not sex. These include the ratio of gray matter to white matter and the ratio of connections between, versus within, the two hemispheres of the brain. Both of these ratios are larger in people with smaller brains, whether male or female”
“What’s more, recent research has utterly rejected the idea that the tiny difference in connectivity between left and right hemispheres actually explains any behavioral difference between men and women.”
“Still, “sexual dimorphism” won’t die. It’s a zombie concept, with the latest revival using artificial intelligence to predict whether a given brain scan comes from a man or woman.”
“Computers can do this with 80% to 90% accuracy except, once again, this accuracy falls to 60% (or not much better than a coin flip) when you properly control for head size. More troublesome is that these algorithms don’t translate across populations, such as European versus Chinese. Such inconsistency shows there are no universal features that discriminate male and female brains in humans – unlike those deer antlers.”
“Neuroscientists have long held out hope that bigger studies and better methods would finally uncover the “real” or species-wide sex differences in the brain. But the truth is, as studies have gotten bigger, the sex effects have gotten smaller.”
“This collapse is a telltale sign of a problem known as publication bias. Small, early studies which found a significant sex difference were likelier to get published than research finding no male-female brain difference.”
“We must be doing something right, because our challenge to the dogma of brain sex has received pushback from both ends of the academic spectrum. Some have labeled us as science “deniers” and deride us for political correctness. On the other extreme, we are dismissed by women’s health advocates, who believe research has overlooked women’s brains – and that neuroscientists should intensify our search for sex differences to better treat female-dominant disorders, such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease.”
“But there’s no denying the decades of actual data, which show that brain sex differences are tiny and swamped by the much greater variance in individuals’ brain measures across the population. And the same is true for most behavioral measures.”
“About a decade ago, teachers were urged to separate boys and girls for math and English classes based on the sexes’ alleged learning differences. Fortunately, many refused, arguing the range of ability is always much greater among boys or among girls than between each gender as a group.”
“In other words, sex is a very imprecise indicator of what kind of brain a person will have. Another way to think about it is every individual brain is a mosaic of circuits that control the many dimensions of masculinity and femininity, such as emotional expressiveness, interpersonal style, verbal and analytic reasoning, sexuality and gender identity itself.” Or, to use a computer analogy, gendered behavior comes from running different software on the same basic hardware.”
“The absence of binary brain sex features also resonates with the increasing numbers of people who identify as nonbinary, queer, nonconforming or transgender. Whatever influence biological sex exerts directly on human brain circuitry is clearly not sufficient to explain the multidimensional behaviors we lump under the complex phenomenon of gender.”
“Rather than “dimorphic,” the human brain is a sexually monomorphic organ – much more like the heart, kidneys and lungs. As you may have noticed, these can be transplanted between women and men with great success.”
Lise Eliot, Professor of Neuroscience, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science April 22, 2021
“Scientists in recent years have begun to establish the neural coordinates for complex emotional concepts such as “hate.” Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is giving researchers an understanding of the way these intense emotions begin to emerge in the brain.”
“In 2008, Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist at University College London’s Laboratory of Neurobiology, conducted a study last year that performed fMRIs on 17 adults as they looked at images of people whom they hated. Certain areas in the right putamen, medial frontal gyrus, medial insula, and the premotor cortex were activated.”
“The scientists noted that components of this “hate circuit” are also involved in commencing aggressive behavior,However, hatred exhibits different brain patterns than do the feelings of aggression itself, as well as fear, anger, and danger.The researchers postulated that activity in these areas indicate that the brain is primed for violence.”
“Hate can come from positive emotions, such as romantic love, as in the case of a jilted lover. Not surprisingly, love appears to deactivate areas associated with judgment, whereas hatred activates areas in the frontal cortex that are thought to be involved in evaluating another person and anticipate his or her behavior.”
“According to the authors of the study, there are striking similarities between love and hate. The regions of the putamen and insula that are “switched on” by hate are also the same as those for romantic love. “This linkage may account for why love and hate are so closely linked to each other in life.”’
“Psychologically speaking, hatred and violence against another classification of people is an extension and distortion of our natural human tendency to classify “us” from “them.”
From an evolutionary standpoint, group membership or “tribalism” was necessary for human survival.
‘“In-group/out-group” categorizations are made within milliseconds in the brain, and, when coupled with negative stereotypes, can result in feelings of fear, revulsion, and dehumanization.”
“Scientific studies have demonstrated that viewing pictures of people from a different race or culture activates the amygdala, which is an area of the brain linked with creating fear. Seeing or thinking about an out-group like the homeless or people who use drugs can also attenuate activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area associated with social cognition and empathy. This decreased activity gives rise to feelings of dehumanization. In other words, seeing the other group as less than human, which creates an increased risk for violence.”
“Rebecca Saxe, a professor of cognitive neuroscience, and associate department head at the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, stated that violence between groups can occur when resources are considered to be limited.In those scenarios, protecting one’s own group and its resources at the expense of another group, even through the use of physical force, is deemed imperative. Even when the resources at stake are not commodities but “existential ideals and fundamental values,” feelings of hate for the opposing group can develop.”‘
“In a lecture given at Harvard in 2019, Saxe said: “If we think that the survival, autonomy, and dignity of our ideals is a scarce resource in a zero-sum conflict with the survival, autonomy, and dignity of another group, then it could be my obligation to destroy the other group.”’
“Saxe further stated: “Hate is a mixing of both intense dislike with moral contempt and disgust. The moral motive of extreme violence in which the other must be destroyed [is] to make a better, more just world for that which I hold most dear.” She has concluded that hate and violence are not caused by sociopathic tendencies but “the extreme culmination of perceiving an existential threat to one’s in-group.”
“Listening to hate speech can increase prejudice toward an out-group and even prime the brain for violent actions. According to Arizona State University psychologist Arthur Glenberg,“Words themselves are enough to trigger simulations in motor, perceptual and emotional neural systems. Your brain creates a sense of being there: The motor system is primed for action and the emotional system motivates those actions.”’
“How is it possible to control hate if the drive to hate is located in a primitive and unconscious part of the brain? The higher-order brain structures, like the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), among others, allow us to choose anger and hatred or to let it go.”
All of you, like us, couldn’t possibly have any bad habits . . . just in case you want to help “a friend” change their habits here’s what Alex Korb, a neuroscientist has to say:
Your brain does not separate good habit and bad habits.All habits are helpful, even if just for a short time. Habits are a way of making something automatic and easy to do, and habits are familiar and comfortable. The distinction between “good & bad” is identifying habits which are beneficial in the long run, not just the short run.
There are many kinds of habits: behaviors, thought patterns, acting on emotional responses . . . “Bad habits” can range from eating too many sweets, to always discounting your own problems because others have it worse, or getting angry when feeling hurt.
Want to know how to fix bad habits? Here are Dr. Korb’s key steps:
Step 1: Acknowledge your habits. (The first step to ALL change is AWARENESS)
Step 2: Be compassionate to yourself (or at least go back to step 1 and acknowledge your habit of self-criticism)
Step 3: Since all habits are triggered by something, figure out what triggers your specific habit and alter or eliminate it. (Imagine if you had some malicious software on your computer, if you don’t click on it, your computer won’t be compromised. If your habit is eating too many sweets, don’t walk down the cookie aisle in the market. It’s easier to AVOID temptation than it is to resist it.)
Step 4: Make it easier to do good habits by making a specific, easily-achievable, action plan. (When you have a sweet craving: eat fruit, change your surroundings and go for a walk, set a reminder, and involve other people.)
Step 5.Reward yourself for creating good habits. (just like training a puppy, punishment will just make it get scared and pee on the rug. And NO, not cookie rewards!)
Two things to watch for:
1. When you are stressed, your ability to think things out is reduced, and reverting to old habits becomes more likely. Breathing exercises is one of the easiest, quickest ways to bring the stress response down.
2. Korb also notes that if you think about positive qualities you possess, it will be easier to change those bad habits. Ask yourself what others appreciate about yourself – qualities and behaviors you do not want to change. Write them down so you can quickly remind yourself of your positive traits.
If there’s something that has helped you (or your friend) create a “good habit” let us know.
Alex Korb, neuroscientist, author of “The Upward Spiral”
Peggy (my co-blogger) are so fascinated by neuroscience we have an entire blog MaxyourMIND devoted to brain research and how it impacts our physical, emotional and mental well-being. My other fascination, and may I say “devotion”, is spirituality and sometimes neuroscience and spirituality intersect. A study* shows through functional MRI scans that such religious and spiritual experiences can be rewarding to your brain.
Religious and spiritual experiences activate the same reward systems between your ears as do feelings of love, being moved by music and even doing drugs.
“Billions of people make important decisions in life based on spiritual and religious feelings and experiences. It’s one of the most powerful influences on our social behavior,” he said. “Yet we know so little about what actually happens in the brain during these experiences. It’s just a critical question that needs more study.”
The Study: Mulling over Mormon MRIs
For the study, 19 devout young adult Mormons had their brains scanned in fMRI machines while they completed various tasks.
The tasks included:
Resting for six minutes
Watching a six-minute church announcement about membership and financial reports
Reading quotations from religious leaders for eight minutes
Engaging in prayer for six minutes
Reading scripture for eight minutes
Watching videos of religious speeches, renderings of biblical scenes and church member testimonials.
During the tasks, participants were asked to indicate when they were experiencing spiritual feelings.
As the researchers analyzed the fMRI scans taken of the participants, they took a close look at the degree of spiritual feelings each person reported and then which brain regions were simultaneously activated.
The researchers found that certain brain regions consistently lit up when the participants reported spiritual feelings.
“The brain regions included:
the nucleus accumbens, which is associated with reward
frontal attentional, which is associated with focused attention
ventromedial prefrontal cortical loci, associated with moral reasoning
“I appreciated how they went about trying to ascertain the degree of spiritual experience that a person has. Of course, there is always a subjective component to it, but they seemed to capture it relatively well,” said Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neurotheologian and professor of emergency medicine and radiology at Thomas Jefferson Universitywho was not involved in the study.”
“He added that the new study further supports previous research that has associated spiritual and religious experiences with complex neural networks.”
“Since the study results were seen only in Mormons, more research is needed to determine whether similar findings could be replicated in people of other faiths, such as Catholics, Muslims Protestants, Bahai’s, and Christian Evangelicals.
“These are areas of the brain that seem like they should be involved in religious and spiritual experience. But yet, religious neuroscience is such a young field — and there are very few studies — and ours was the first study that showed activation of the nucleus accumbens, an area of the brain that processes reward,” said Dr. Jeffrey Anderson, a neuroradiologist at the University of Utah and lead author of the study.
“It also corroborates our prior studies of various prayer and meditation practices that found changes in the attentional areas of the brain and also the striatum,” a part of the brain associated with the reward system.
*Social Neuroscience Journal Courtesy of the University of Utah Health Sciences
“In the 19th Century, serious physicists believed that the Universe was filled with an imaginary substance called luminiferous ether.”
“Doctors believed that illnesses were caused by smelly vapours called miasmas. Both of these scientific myths survived for over one hundred years until, eventually, they were vanquished by evidence.”
“The field of neuroscience likewise has a stable full of myths about the brain that have slowly been eroded by accumulating data. Some survive today, mainly in the media and some popular science books and articles. Neuroscientist David Linden refers to them as “neurobullsh*t.” They are maintained not by evidence, but by repetition and belief.
Here are a few favorites:”
Myth #1: You have a lizard in your head
“Have you ever heard that your smouldering passions lie deep in ancient parts of your brain, which you supposedly inherited from prehistoric reptiles? Or that your “rational brain”, which sits atop your “lizard brain”, tries to cage your desires to keep them in check? This intuitive story of your inner reptile, safely wrapped in a cloak of rationality, seemingly explains what it means to be a moral, healthy person. It is also one of the most successful errors in all of science. To quote the neuroscientist Barbara Finlay, “Your brain is not a lizard in drag.”’
“The idea that your mind is a battleground between passion and reason goes all the way back to Ancient Greece. It became a popular lens for charting brain evolution in the mid-20th Century, as scientists tried to understand brain function by comparing human brains to other animal brains by eye. More recent neuroscience clearly shows, however, that brains don’t evolve in layers like adding icing to an already-baked cake. Instead, the brains of all mammals, and possibly all vertebrates, follow a single manufacturing plan. The only animal with a lizard brain is a lizard.”
Myth #2: The left side of your brain is logical and the right side is creative
“In general, no part of your brain is exclusively dedicated to artistic endeavours, mathematical reasoning, or any other psychological function. Pretty much every action you take and every experience you have is computed by neurons distributed across your whole brain.”
“One part of your brain — the cerebral cortex — indeed consists of two halves or hemispheres, but both are intricately connected to many subcortical bits that make up the rest of your brain. So it’s simply not the case that some neurons in the left hemisphere create a computer engineer and some on the right create a poet. A few functions seem to take place mostly in one hemisphere, such as language ability on the left, but this lateralisation develops gradually and in most, but not every, individual.”
Myth #3: Cortisol is a stress hormone, and serotonin is a happiness hormone
“It’s a common belief that your brain screams “ I’m stressed ” by having cortisol gush through your arteries, and neurons shower serotonin on each other to create a joyful, happy feeling. In reality, no hormone has just one specific psychological purpose (that we know of), and all the chemicals that help to create your mind work in concert.”
“Cortisol, for example, boosts the amount of glucose in your bloodstream to provide a quick burst of energy for your cells when your brain predicts the need, whether you feel stressed or not. Your brain tells your adrenal glands to let loose some cortisol right before you exercise or awaken in the morning to drag yourself out of bed. Cortisol may be released during stress but it is not a “stress hormone.”’
“Likewise, serotonin is not a “happiness hormone.” It has many functions. In your body, for example, serotonin regulates how much fat is made. In your brain, serotonin helps keep track of the energy you spend and gain. It allows you to spend energy even if there’s no immediate reward for doing so, which enables you to explore, forage, and be curious. Serotonin also helps other neurons pass information back and forth as they create your thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and actions.”
Myth #4: Your eyes see, your ears hear, and your skin feels
“Think about the last time you washed your face. Your skin felt the soothing, warm water. Or did it? Your skin actually has no sensors for wetness. So what’s happening here? Your brain is secretly combining several sources of information, including touch, temperature, and your knowledge from past experience, to construct a feeling of being wet.”
“All of your sensations, in fact, are computed in your brain, not simply detected in the world by your sense organs. You don’t see with your eyes — you see with your brain, based on a combination of what’s in your head and the sense data coming from your retinas.”
“Likewise, you hear with your brain as it constructs sounds based only in part on the sense data from your ears.Your experiences of smell, taste, and touch are similarly constructions. So is the feeling of your heart beating in your chest when you run up the stairs and your lungs expanding as you take a deep breath.”
Myth #5: Your brain reacts to events in the world
“As you go through your day, it may seem like your brain is constantly reacting to events around you. You see a cute puppy and you smile. A friend makes an embarrassing remark and you blush. You’re pricked by a vaccine needle and you feel a twinge of pain. But under the hood, your brain’s neurons do not sit idle until the world turns them on, like some cartoonish chain reaction.”
“Instead, your brain is constantly guessing what might happen in the next moment, and comparing its guesses to the sense data that it receives from the outside world and inside your body. These guesses are the seeds that give rise to your actions and your experiences.”
“In fact, your brain begins to conjure your actions and experience before receiving sense data from your eyes, ears, nose and so on. Your brain is not reacting to the world — it is forever predicting, like a fortune teller,imagining what your world will be like, how you will act, and who you will be. The information streaming in from your senses can confirm those predictions; or it can adjust them, a process you might know as “learning.” You can’t feel this predictive drama happening. It’s so quick and effortless that you feel like you’re reacting.”
Myth #6: Mirror neurons are special cells that create empathy
“Several decades ago, some scientists observed neurons that seemed to have a particular kind of symmetry. They increase their activity when you take a particular action, such as waving your hand, and also when you watch others performing a similar action. These neurons were dubbed “mirror neurons” for this seemingly unique behaviour. But in reality, they are just everyday neurons engaged in ordinary, miraculous prediction.”
“In every moment, your brain’s predictions begin as silent commands to move parts of your body, like adjusting your heart rate, contracting your intestines, gushing some hormones, or raising your arm. Copies of these commands are sent to your sensory systems to become predictions of what you’ll see, hear, and feel if you move.”
“These commands are sometimes executed and sometimes not, but they turn out to be a critical part of your ability to perceive anything at all, including the actions of other people. So, the same neurons that help you wave hello to a friend enable you to see someone else wiggle their fingers in their air and to understand it as a greeting. It’s not “mirroring,” it’s a normal part of your brain’s predictive process.”
Myth #7: Your brain stores memories
“A brain doesn’t store memories like a computer stores files, to be retrieved whole when needed. Your brain reconstructs your memories on demand with electricity and swirling chemicals. We call this process “remembering” but it’s really more like “assembling.” And each time a memory is assembled, it might be built with some different neurons. It’s also influenced by your current situation, so each occurrence may differ in its details.”
“This is one reason why eyewitness testimony in legal trials can be unreliable. Memories are highly vulnerable to reshaping. In one study of convictions that were later overturned by DNA evidence, 70 per cent of the accused were convicted based on eyewitness testimony.”
Myth #7½: You can’t grow new brain cells
“This myth is partly true (so it’s just half a myth). Most areas of the human brain cannot grow new brain cells, but some parts can.One such part is the hippocampus, which is important for learning, remembering, regulating how much you eat, and other biological functions.”
“Interestingly, many other animals can regrow neurons throughout much of their brains. Why can’t we? Some scientists wonder if it’s a price we pay for living long lives. A long life requires a dependable memory. Your brain needs a way to reassemble past experiences not just from days or weeks ago, but across the span of years. New neurons, like the ones that sprout in your hippocampus, may be for learning new things and making new memories, rather than remembering (reassembling) the past. In a sense, new neurons enable your brain to cultivate your past as a way of charting your future.”
My brain likes to chew on things. And like a hard bone it particularly favors gnawing long and hard on problems. Years past I had a “guy problem.” It was an important relationship and needing to figure everything out I went over and over and over and over the same thoughts trying to solve it like a puzzle. I got nowhere, and made myself miserable as an added bonus. Coincidently, I read an article – Rumination and the Brain. Ruminating! That was what I had been doing. No matter how much I thought about my “guy problem” I made no progress, found no solutions.
Thinking is good but ruminating wasn’t helpful. So I set out to figure out how to stop “chewing”.
Tired of being miserable I wanted to stop ruminating about my “guy problem” . . . JUST STOP THINKING ABOUT IT I told myself. My puppy dog brain had other ideas. It was like taking a puppy for a walk: The puppy wants to sniff, I want to walk; The puppy wants to run, I want to walk; The puppy wants to chase lizards, I want to walk. Each time my brain wandered back to my “guy problem” I had to pull on a leash and focus on something else. Sometimes when my thoughts wandered I instantly noticed. Other times my brain had been ruminating for a while before I was aware of it. I had to refocus on anything other than my “guy problem” over and over. Slowly, very slowly, I ruminated less and less.
It took a lot of determination to retrain my brain and stop it from ruminating. What helped the most was that I stopped thinking I was “working on” a problem and reminded myself I was spinning my wheels, wasting time and not solving anything. I had already thought of all my available possibilities, and had already done what I could.
Take a look at the article that helped me begin training my puppy dog brain
Rumination and the Brain
The brains of people with major depression ruminate differently
“Rumination: We’ve all done it before. It’s that pattern of recurring thinking where you focus on your negative mood as well as the causes and consequences of it.”
“For people diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD), rumination is often a big player in their disease. Rumination has been shown to prolong episodes of depression and to increase peoples’ risk of developing new depressive episodes.”
“Because of this link between rumination and depression, scientists have been very interested in how the brains of people diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) operate when they ruminate and how this compares to the brains of people without a depression diagnosis. The hope is that by understanding the neural correlates of rumination, we can arm clinicians with the best tools to diagnose and treat depression. We might also learn something about rumination and the brain in general.”
“Researchers at Stanford University invited people diagnosed with MDD and people who were free of any clinical diagnosis (control participants) to have their brains scanned using fMRI while they performed a number of tasks designed to induce rumination. Unlike some cognitive process (e.g., moving your attention from one side of a computer screen to another), rumination is not easily observed or assessed, so the scientists had to be a bit creative in how they got people to ruminate.”
“While in the fMRI scanner, people were asked to do several different tasks. The first was designed to induce rumination. People were asked to “think about what people notice about your personality.” Two other tasks served as control tasks, so that the scientists could pit brain activation during rumination against these tasks to see differences in neural activation between ruminative thinking and other types of thinking. In these control tasks, sometimes folks were asked to “think about what contributes to team spirit” and, other times, to “think about a row of shampoo bottles on display.” The researchers reasoned that these latter two thought tasks would capture the types of abstract and concrete thinking that occur during rumination, but would be relatively free of rumination itself.”
“When the researchers peered inside everyone’s heads to see how people’s brains operated during these thinking tasks, they found some pretty interesting differences between the MDD individuals and their control counterparts. Specifically, the MDDs had greater activation than controls during the rumination task in a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex. Thought to be involved in mood regulation, the anterior cingulate cortex may be infusing more emotion into the depressed individuals’ ruminations than controls. Depressed individuals also had greater activation in the amygdala, that almond shaped region deep in the brain that is a major player in negative emotional reactions.Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, MDDs showed greater activation in the prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) . . . . our working memory (a.k.a., cognitive horsepower) is housed. If depressed individuals spend a lot more of this neural real estate trying to regulate their thinking, they may have less brainpower left over to do other important thinking and reasoning tasks. This may explain the cognitive deficits depressed individuals sometimes show.”
“It’s no secret that depressed individuals report greater ruminative tendencies than their non-depressed counterparts. But, rumination isn’t limited to those diagnosed with depression.That’s why, understanding differences in how MDDs and non-depressed individuals’ brains operate during rumination may be a key to helping stave off the negative consequences of a major depressive disorder. When they ruminate, people diagnosed with MDD tend to recruit, more so than non-depressed individuals, emotion centers of the brain and also important parts of prefrontal cortex that we need to think and function at our best. Armed with knowledge about how rumination in seeded in brain, the hope is that we can moving closer to alleviating it.”
Bad news about your brain: A college degree can do wonders for your career, but it won’t help prevent your brain from shrinking with age.
Good news: You can fight the brain’s aging process. A study involved 2,000 European adults ranging from 26 to 91. The researchers used MRI scans to examine brain tissue volume to find out if there is a correlation between higher education and a healthier brain during old age, along with seeing how genetic and environmental lifelong factors change the brain over time.
What the study found
The findings, in Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences, “suggest that education does not seem to have any causal protective impact in how the brain changes with age,”*
Researchers found an insufficient amount of evidence, disproving that there is a connection between higher education and greater brain tissue volume size after examining the cortex and the hippocampus, two areas that often reduce in size as people age.
But for many neuroscientists, there is still a widely held belief that higher degrees can contribute to a healthier brain (even if it does shrink). A degree could help form a “cognitive reserve,” meaning you can retain more mental activity as you age, and help you weather the effects of aging, but this will not outright prevent dementia.
More Good News: Dementia is on the decline
In the past, many researchers suggested that higher education can fight against our aging brains. Over the years, as higher education rates have been rising, dementia rates have been on the decline, but the connection between higher education and a stronger brain may not be the reason.
Younger individuals perform better on the cognitive test as well, studies show, but it is still a mystery what causes this underlying increase in performance.
Dementia rates could be falling—almost 15% every decade—due to healthier lifestyles and better cardiovascular health. The decline of smoking cigarettes is a big factor in this.
“We know that recent decades have seen a radical decline in smoking rates for men. While many people may have been persuaded to stop smoking due to an increased risk of cancer or heart disease, it is also a key risk factor for dementia.”
What you can do to fight dementia
Dementia is hard to prevent, but for those who have dementia caused by a stroke, living a healthier lifestyle—and therefore doing their part to prevent heart disease or another stroke—is the best course of action. Eating healthy, getting plenty of exercise, and not smoking all contribute to a healthier and happier life.
While dementia is still a mysterious beast, it is reassuring to know that living a healthier lifestyle is proven to help in fighting against dementia. So, rather than hitting those books, it might be time to go hit theto go hit the walking trail.
Depending on my mood I always have two books available to read – one that’s scientific and the other a mystery. My science book was “The Dorrito Effect”. Its main focus is how both artificial and NATURAL food flavorsfool us into thinking we are getting certain nutrients that are NOT there. (Peggy)
Here’s a taste of what I gleaned from the book. (puns intended).
Flavor and nutrients have gone hand in hand (maybe hand in mouth?) since the beginning of time. Both humans and animals developed an amazing ability, through flavor, to know what to eat to get the nutrients bodies need. A simple example is when we need potassium, bananas which are high in potassium look more appealing or when depleted of iron we might crave red meat. Dorritos are an example in the book as they were one of the first to heavily use artificial flavors.
Natural foods, have a lot of what is called secondary compounds and minerals. With processed food we get more water and carbs and fewer minerals. What the flavor industry does is mimic flavor, say strawberry, without using strawberries. Strawberry ice cream is tasty but most doesn’t contain the secondary compounds and minerals found in real strawberries. Orange flavor might contain not only orange extract, but also extracts from bark and grass.
“Pick up any packaged, processed food, and there’s a decent chance that one of its listed ingredients will be “natural flavor.” Anything labeled “natural” sounds good, particularly in contrast to “artificial flavor” but what exactly does “natural flavor” mean?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines “natural flavor” as oils, resins or other extracts derived from natural sources like plants, meat or seafood. Processes like heating or fermentation are used to extract the flavor. The function of these products is flavoring, not adding any nutritional content.
Experts say that ultimately, natural and artificial flavors are not that different. While chemists make natural flavors by extracting chemicals from natural ingredients, artificial flavors are made by creating the same chemicals synthetically.
“The reason companies bother to label “natural” flavors rather than artificial flavors is simple: marketing.”
“Consumers may believe products with natural flavors are healthier, though they’re nutritionally no different from those with artificial flavors.”
“Nor are ingredients extracted from nature necessarily safer than something artificially made.” *
Many deadly toxins are produced in nature.
In some cases, natural flavors may have more detrimental environmental consequences than artificial flavors. (Because natural flavors must come from resources in nature, they may involve more forest clear-cutting and carbon emissions from transport than flavors created from scratch in the lab.)
“If you like something, and it gives you the flavoring you want, you should buy it. Don’t buy it because it says ‘natural flavor.’ Buy it because you like it.”*
“A team of researchers from UCLA and the University of Adelaide studied 35 non-demented adults who were from 45 to 75 years old. They gave each study participant the International Physical Activity Questionnaire to determine how many hours on average they spent sitting and how much physical activity they got each day. Each study participant also underwent a high-resolution MRI scans of his or her brain.”
The researchers found that the more hours the subjects sat the thinner the medial temporal lobes of their brains tended to be. (Each hour of additional sitting correlated with a medial temporal lobe that’s 2% thinner.) This was regardless of how much physical activity they engaged in when not sitting.
Some of the possibilities of how sitting impacts your brain include:
Your blood may not be circulating as much throughout your body and therefore your brain. This could mean that your brain is not getting as much oxygen or the waste products in your brain aren’t being cleared out as effectively.
You don’t burn as many calories, which could lead to weight issues, which then alter a wide variety of mechanisms in your body.
Your body’s metabolic machinery and hormones may be impacted so that your brain is not getting as many nutrients or is being exposed to other conditions such as higher blood sugar.
More recuperation by Peggy
Correlations and associations do not mean cause-and-effect.
A study with only 35 people has many limitations and does not prove that sitting will make part of your brain thinner. “Maybe in this study, the people who were more likely to sit more each day also were more likely to be less active socially, have less stimulating jobs, or have other circumstances that could be affecting their brains. Alternatively, could thinning medial temporal lobes somehow be affecting their behaviors so that they sat more? More studies are needed to figure out what is actually happening.”
*The medial temporal lobe is part of the brain responsible for forming longer term memories. It tends to thin as you age to begin with!
“Nonetheless, this study does add to the concern that “sitting is the new smoking”, which by the way nothing to do with “cigarette butts.” Other studies have associated regularly sitting for lengthy periods of time with increased risks of obesity, diabetes, muscle and back problems, cancer, and other health problems.”
(Apologies in advance to our male readers* – we don’t want to alienate you . . . . . . with the truth.)
“There may never be an acceptable excuse for why men typically find more humor in their own passing of gas and burping than women, but the science points to a difference in the way our brains develop.”
(Turns out that “being mature” IS all in your head.)
A 2013 study published in Cerebral Cortex offers a scientific explanation behind the common notion that men take longer to “act their age” than women do. According to the study, it’s rooted in the fact that the female brain establishes connections and “prunes” itself faster than the male brain.
“It seems that the process starts a few years after birth and continues to occur until around 40 years old (when everything else starts deteriorating – coincidence? I think not) “
The human brain undergoes major changes anatomically and functionally as we age, and these changes make the connections in our brain more efficient. Notably, research found that this process tends to happen at an earlier age for women than men, which may explain why some (SOME?) women seem to mature faster than men.
For the first few years of life, there’s an “initial overabundance of neurons, connections, folding of the brain surface. After that, a ‘pruning’ process occurs for refinement, to make the brain network more economic and efficient.” (It’s unfair that my body expands and my brain condenses . . . even if it helps to explain this particular maturation effect.)
The Study:“The researchers recruited 121 people between the ages of 4 and 40 and used an imaging tool to estimate how different regions of the brain might be communicating, specifically looking at fiber tracts that connect brain cells to one another. As the fiber tracts get reorganized, the brain gets rid of some of the tracts between cells that are already close to each other, but keeps the ones that connect brain-cells that are far away.”
The science: “At birth, men and women have about the same number of brain fibers. These fibers create a network that helps us to learn and develop. As we get older, the brain finds a faster way to communicate messages from one region to another. Think of it like having a face-to-face conversation with someone instead of shouting to them across a loud and crowded room. Instead of potentially losing your message in a noisy room, your message is more likely to be received correctly, in a more direct message. When the amount of fibers gets streamlined, they are relaying more focused information directly to the region of the brain they need to target.”
“This selective pruning process, which is called preferential detachment, ( I prefer to selectively prune celulite and wrinkles) preserves core properties of the brain network that are crucial for information processing and cognitive development.”
“This process seems to occur earlier in females than in males and could explain why cognitively, women tend to be ahead of the curve in terms of maturity. The brains of females are further along in the reorganization process and, for at least a few years ( a FEW years?), may be working more efficiently than a male’s.”
So how different are men and women? Maturity is in the brain of the beholder — but because female brains get pruned faster than males ones, it takes a little longer to show up in men.
“Understanding how our brain wires itself is key to understanding how mental illnesses and conditions develop. By uncovering our brain’s pruning system, this study takes us a bit closer to that goal. It also adds to the growing body of research that looks into gender differences when it comes to the brain. Since everything in the body is connected in some way, the next step would be for scientists to connect this difference to other effects around the body. (like cellulite and wrinkles)
Goggle “emotional sensitivity” and you’ll find tons (well maybe not tons, but a lot) of articles, books, survival guides on how to overcome “being so sensitive”.
About 1 in 5 fit the HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) profile. I currently rate a 12 1/2 out of 16 traits below. When I was younger it was 16 out of 16. (Interestingly, artists and therapists seem to fit this profile in larger numbers than the general population . . . hmmm)
Fragile Fleur by judy
It’s baaaaaaaad: I cry at dog food commercials and can’t tolerate anything that has a hint of violence.
My husband prefers “blow’em up – shoot ’em dead – stab ’em hard” for his watching pleasure. He reminds me that it’s “not real” as I lock him in his room so I can’t see or hear what he’s watching. I watch HGTV House Hunters International, preferring my suspense and intrigue to trying to guess which house the couple will buy.
However, rather than label myself as a “Highly Sensitive Person”, I prefer to think of myself as a fragile flower . . . so much more feminine.
Here are 16 HSP traits. If you want to read more about each click here
They feel more deeply.
They’re more emotionally reactive.
They’re probably used to hearing, “Don’t take things so personally” and “Why are you so sensitive?”
They prefer to exercise solo.
It takes longer for them to make decisions.
They are more upset if they make a “bad” or “wrong” decision.
They notice details.
Not all highly sensitive people are introverts.
They work well in team environments.
They’re more prone to anxiety or depression (but only if they’ve had a lot of past negative experiences).
That annoying sound is probably significantly more annoying to a highly sensitive person.
Violent movies are the worst.
They cry more easily.
They have above-average manners.
The effects of criticism are especially amplified in highly sensitive people.
They prefer solo work environments.
The good news! I no longer have to read up on how to overcome, minimize, explain or justify my emotional sensitivity because I must have a ADRA2b gene.
(Now I can blame my mother for my sensitivity – aren’t mothers always the ones who get the credit for how we turn out . . . or the blame?)
“Your genes may influence how sensitive you are to emotional information, according to new research by a UBC neuroscientist. The study, recently published in The Journal of Neuroscience, found that carriers of a certain genetic variation perceived positive and negative images more vividly, and had heightened activity in certain brain regions.”
“People really do see the world differently,” says lead author Rebecca Todd, a professor in UBC’s Department of Psychology. “For people with this gene variation, the emotionally relevant things in the world stand out much more.”
“The gene in question is ADRA2b, which influences the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. Previous research by Todd found that carriers of a deletion variant of this gene showed greater attention to negative words. Her latest research is the first to use brain imaging to find out how the gene affects how vividly people perceive the world around them, and the results were startling.”
“Fragile flower? HSP? . . . I think she’s just plain melodramatic. . “
I mastered in the art of procrastination. I began to perfect how to procrastinate in the 5th grade when I took violin lessons. I HATED to practice. The teacher only gave fingering exercises to do – it wasn’t “music”, no melody, and I HATED doing it over and over and over. Instead of being well-practiced in violin playing I became well practiced in procrastination. I remember feeling very guilty knowing my parents were paying for lessons they could ill afford. Guilt however, did not stop the procrastination.
According to traditional thinking procrastinators have a time management problem. With better scheduling and a better grip on time, so the logic goes, we will stop procrastinating and get on with the task at hand. Ha! Judy
“Increasingly, however, psychologists are realizing this is wrong. Experts like Tim Pychyl at Carleton University in Canada and his collaborator Fuschia Sirois at the University of Sheffield in the UK have proposed that procrastination is an issue with managing our emotions, not our time.”
Why procrastination is about managing emotions, not time.*
“The task we’re putting off is making us feel bad – perhaps it’s boring, too difficult or we’re worried about failing – and to make ourselves feel better in the moment, we start doing something else, anything else.”
Chronic procrastination is linked with mental and physical health costs, from depression and anxiety to cardiovascular disease
“This fresh perspective on procrastination is beginning to open up exciting new approaches to reducing the habit; it could even help you improve your own approach to work. “Self-change of any of sort is not a simple thing, and it typically follows the old adage of two steps forward and one step back,” says Pychyl. “All of this said, I am confident that anyone can learn to stop procrastinating.”
One of the first investigations to inspire the emotional view of procrastination was published in the early 2000s by researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. They first prompted people to feel bad (by asking them to read sad stories) and showed that this increased their inclination to procrastinate by doing puzzles or playing video games instead of preparing for the intelligence test they knew was coming.Subsequent studies by the same team showed low mood only increases procrastination if enjoyable activities are available as a distraction, and only if people believe they can change their moods.
The emotional regulation theory of procrastination makes intuitive sense.
Short-term mood lifters
Procrastination – while effectively distracting in the short-term – can lead to guilt, which ultimately compounds the initial stress.
“The emotional regulation view of procrastination also helps explain some strange modern phenomena, like the fad for watching online cat videos which have attracted billions of views on YouTube. A survey of thousands of people by Jessica Myrick at the Media School at Indiana University confirmed procrastination as a common motive for viewing the cat videos and that watching them led to a boost in positive mood. It’s not that people hadn’t adequately scheduled time for watching the videos; often they were only watching the clips to make themselves feel better when they should be doing something else less fun.”
“Myrick’s research also highlighted another emotional aspect to procrastination. Many of those surveyed felt guilty after watching the cat videos. This speaks to how procrastination is a misguided emotional regulation strategy. While it might bring short-term relief, it only stores up problems for later. (In my own case, decades later, I still remember by delaying my violin practice I ended up feeling even more stressed, not to mention the guilt and frustration.)”
It’s perhaps little wonder that research by Fuschia Sirois has shown chronic procrastination – that is, being inclined to procrastinate on a regular, long-term basis – is associated with a host of adverse mental and physical health consequences, including anxiety and depression, poor health such as colds and flu, and even more serious conditions like cardiovascular disease.
Researchers say procrastinating helps us feel better when certain tasks fill us with negative emotions – if they are too difficult or boring,
Sirois believes procrastination has these adverse consequences through two routes –
First, it’s stressful to keep putting off important tasks and failing to fulfill your goals.
Second, the procrastination can involve delaying important health behaviors, such as taking up exercise or visiting the doctor.
“Over time high stress and poor health behaviors are well known to have a synergistic and cumulative effect on health that can increase risk for a number of serious and chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and even cancer,” she says.
All of this means that overcoming procrastination could have a major positive impact on your life. Sirois says her research suggests that “decreasing a tendency to chronically procrastinate by one point [on a five-point procrastination scale] would also potentially mean that your risk for having poor heart health would reduce by 63%”.
‘Just get started’ ACT
“On a positive note, if procrastination is an emotional regulation issue, this offers important clues for how to address it most effectively. An approach based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ‘ACT’, an off-shoot of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, seems especially apt.”
“ACT teaches the benefits of ‘psychological flexibility’ – that is, being able to tolerate uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, staying in the present moment in spite of them, and prioritising choices and actions that help you get closer to what you most value in life.”
“Relevant here is cutting edge research that’s shown students who procrastinate more tend to score higher on psychological inflexibility. That is, they’re dominated by their psychological reactions, like frustration and worry, at the expense of their life values; high scorers agree with statements like ‘I’m afraid of my feelings’ and ‘My painful experiences and memories make it difficult for me to live a life that I would value’. Those who procrastinate more also score lower on ‘committed action’, which describes how much a person persists with actions and behaviours in pursuit of their goals. Low scorers tend to agree with statements like ‘If I feel distressed or discouraged, I let my commitments slide’.”
“Research shows that once the first step is made towards a task, following through becomes easier”
“ACT trains people both to increase their psychological flexibility (for example, through mindfulness) and their committed action (for example, by finding creative ways to pursue goals that serve their values – what matters most to them in life), and preliminary research involving students has been promising, with ACT proving more effective than CBT in one trial over the longer-term.”
“Of course, most of us probably won’t have the option of signing up to an ACT course any time soon – and in any case we’re bound to keep putting off looking for one – so how can we go about applying these principles today? “When someone finally recognises that procrastination isn’t a time management problem but is instead an emotion regulation problem, then they are ready to embrace my favourite tip,” says Pychyl.”
‘What’s the next action – IF – a simple next step –
“The next time you’re tempted to procrastinate, “make your focus as simple as: ‘What’s the next action I would take on this task if I were to get started on it now?’”.
“Doing this, he says, takes your mind off your feelings and onto easily achievable action. “Our research and lived experience show very clearly that once we get started, we’re typically able to keep going. Getting started is everything.”’
If only I had known all this in the 5th grade I would have been a violin concert virtuoso instead of a blogger. judy