Archive for the ‘Brain’ Category

My Quest To Get A Younger Brain – Or At Least Slow Its Deterioration!

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

I was born and raised by a Father and a Mother who loved each other. They were a solid couple who enjoyed life, had good values, and did their best to raise two children.  After their children, my sister and me, left for college and life beyond the homeland of Green Bay, they continued their life and marriage.  They had good friends and had a lot of fun, especially during the Lombardi era.  My Dad was one of the Packers Directors and was good friends with Vince.  He and my Mom had a wonderful life until … my Dad’s brain began to deteriorate and his behavior became erratic.  After a period of continued uncharacteristic antics he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease – at the age of fifty five!

My Mother’s love and devotion rose to the occasion and she took care of him until he died at the age of sixty seven.  She was heroic in her continuing caretaking of him, especially with little support since their good “friends” tended to fall by the wayside – not willing or capable of being supportive.

To watch a handsome intelligent outgoing man with a wonderful personality deteriorate into a state of existence that no person should have to go through was heart wrenching – especially for my Mother. Some of the best potential years of her life, sharing it with the man she loved, were taken away from her by this insidious disease. She has endured and still lived a zestful life since his death. She  cultivated a new group of special friends and has been a loving and generous Mother, Grandmother, and Great Grandmother.  She is now ninety three with an incredibly sharp brain. She reads, plays bridge, does crossword puzzles, and plays Scrabble and various card games on her computer. Recently she has moved in to live with Sherry and me. She continues to beat us at gin rummy and rummikub!

More personally, it is my hope that my brain genetics come more from my Mother than my Father! Whatever they are I am doing my best to continue to create new brain cells and slow down the decay of other brain matter. There are a number of things that I do to effectuate that goal.  Some of the things that I do have recently been published in a Prevention magazine article.  I share the seven recommendations cited in the article.

  1. Use internet search engines: When you search the internet you engage key centers in your brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning. Such searching activity uses neural circuitry not activated by reading.
  2. Exercise: Researchers have demonstrated that aerobic exercise boosts not only speed and sharpness of thought but also the volume of brain tissue.  The brain can grow!
  3. Brush and floss: Gingivitis and periodontal disease are associated with worse cognitive function throughout adult life. I doubt many people know that!
  4. Drink moderately (if you can handle it). Too much alcohol reduces brain volume.
  5. Eat blueberries: They promote increased cell growth in the hippocampus region of the brain. They contain chemicals that may cross the blood-brain barrier and lodge in regions that govern learning and memory.
  6. Do puzzles: A University of Alabama study of nearly 3000 men and women using brain booster exercises like puzzles found that their brains performed like those people more than ten years younger.
  7. Meditate: Meditation is more than a stress reducer. Research has shown that meditators have experienced growth in the cortex, an area of the brain that controls memory, language, and sensory processing.  One of my favorite books in this area documenting the various benefits of certain types of meditation is THE RELAXATION RESPONSE by Herbert Benson, M.D., a prominent cardiologist and researcher at Harvard University.

Another thing that I do to take care of my brain is to focus on the positive. Positive thoughts and feelings create brain cells. Negative thoughts and feelings destroy brain cells. I have trained my brain to be aware of whenever I have a negative thought, I “change the channel” to something positive. It is a better way to live and, hopefully, a way of living longer with a healthy brain!

May this writing and the insights expressed further motivate you to make every effort possible to enhance your brain functioning.  Seeing my Father in his final day has been a constant reminder to follow the above recommendations in addition to other brain training that I do.  Give it your best shot!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”    Socrates

Are You Doing All You Can To Stop Brain Drain?

Monday, November 4th, 2013

The brain is a living organ.  Just like every other organ in your body it has a certain life span.  For those among you who take pride in your health may the following suggestions be already in your repertoire of health maintenance. If not read on.  Those of you who may not be so diligent in taking care of your health needs please come on board and focus on the engine in your head that drives every other facet of your being.

The Baby Boomer generation continues to be one that “wants it all” and generally does what it takes to live life with gusto. If you are of that generation, are you living out that stereotype?  Others of you who are conscious of your brain’s well being, what might you be doing to maximize brain functioning?

You may be aware that your brain is not as sharp as it used to be. You may have memory, information processing, or other brain related issues. What can be done?  Research on the brain is going on at an accelerated pace due to new information, brain imaging, and other insights.  I would like to share some of the resulting recommendations with you.

  1. Lower stress: You have heard the expression “Stress kills” have you not.  Well it is true. Stress, hypertension, kills off brain cells.  Find various stress reducing methods for yourself.
  2. Stimulate your intellect: Research is clear that people with higher education and/or a life style that involves complex brain activity have lower incidence of dementia.
  3. Socialize: Having an active social life appears to have a positive effect on mood and cognitive skills. Try to hang out with positive people.
  4. Learn brain training exercises: You might be surprised how much you can train your brain which then in fact controls your life. One of these is consistently thinking positive thoughts, while eliminating the negative. Focus on being grateful.
  5. Exercise: Regular exercise creates new neural connections in the brain.
  6. Healthy diet and weight: the food we eat affects brain health and weight management.  My favorite food blogger is a woman named Brittany.  Her inspirational ideas, complete with salivating pictures, is “ahealthysliceoflife.com”.  Check it out.
  7. Have meaning, purpose, excitement, and stimulation in your life.
  8. Orgasm regularly: Stress is lowered, pleasurable feelings are experienced.
  9. Enjoy music: Mood will be uplifted.
  10. Consult an appropriate medical or psychological specialist for regular check ups regarding your physical, mental, emotional, and relational well being.

There are other things you can do.  You may want to exercise your brain by researching on the internet for such elucidation.  I welcome any further insights you glean because I can assure you that by having a Father facing Alzheimer’s disease at age fifty five, I am motivated to do all I can to keep my brain functioning to the best of its ability!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”     Socrates

Are You Smart Enough To Train Your Brain and Slow Down Its Deteriorization?

Friday, July 5th, 2013

Fair warning, this is a “cerebral” writing.  If you are “stupid”, lazy, or topic disinterested, do not read any further. This article is for bright people who want to maximize their brain efficiency and slow its neurological deterioration. The brain is the driving force of everything you feel, think, and do. The brain is more malleable than you may think.  Neuroplasticity, the ability to modify and change the brain, is a reality.

To change the brain a number of factors are needed. I will focus on four of these:

Consciousness, Capacity, Knowledge, Techniques.  Each is important.

Consciousness, according to Dr. Dean Ornish, is a form of energy that goes far beyond what the brain actually does. This energy of consciousness routinely is aware of what is going on in our body and environment and is structured within the concept of time. Dr. Joe Despenza elaborates on this by saying that a person can mentally do certain exercises that raise one’s consciousness further to such a degree that the body and environmental factors are no longer attended to.  The person is this graduated state is only aware of thoughts. This ability mastered allows a person to begin to re-wire the brain.

(Other noteworthy authors addressing Consciousness would be Drs. David Hawkins and Eckhart Tolle)

Capacity to do this varies greatly among peoples and cultures. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs reminds us that unless certain basic needs are met a person is not able to rise to a greater capacity of experience.  There are physical and psychological pre-requisites that must be present in order to reach a capacity that would enable you to begin to re-wire the brain.

Knowledge of brain functioning is important in order to learn how to “train your brain”. An important principle, developed by Dr. Hebb, is that brain “nerve cells that fire together, wire together”.  The more one thinks a particular thought the stronger the neurological connection is made within the brain. This has significant memory ramifications. It is desirable to be able to “delete” painful memories and reinforce those that are positive.

Techniques are needed to accomplish this goal to “train the brain”. There are certain available techniques to move the brain through states of activity. These four states of brain activity are Beta, Alpha, Theta, and Delta. Each one of these brain wave states is important and necessary for a rested, healthy, and creative mind. An example of brain manipulation or change from one brain wave state to another are certain methods of meditation.

I could elaborate on all of the above and the importance of each for effective brain training.  I am aware (conscious) that most of you have either put this article down already, glazed over, or fallen asleep (Delta state). For those of higher capacity and tenacity to comprehend and get excited about the personal opportunity to “train your brain”, I salute you and encourage you to investigate further the practice of brain training and re-wiring the brain. To the extent that you are able to do this you will create new brain cells and postpone the aging process of brain deterioration.  That would appear to be sufficient motivation for those so inclined.

Bottom line here is that I want you to know that brain neuroplasticity is real and there are opportunities available to learn how to do this.

“The unexamined life is not worth living”     Socrates

What Do Chocolate, Spirituality, Sex, Cocaine, Music, and Gambling Have in Common?

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

Dopamine. It is not pronounced “dope is mine” or “dope I am”! Dopamine is a chemical that greatly affects the brain and, ultimately, behavior. It is the “feel good” pleasure chemical in the brain.

The Journal of Nature Neuroscience recently published a study, and there have been many of them correlating dopamine action in the brain, showing how listening to music affected a person. Their study documented the flow of dopamine in the brain and related changes in the body such as temperature, heart rate, and breathing. In this particular study dopamine levels rose from nine to twenty one per cent in the participants as they listened to music. Dopamine flow brought forth pleasure.  In other reported studies cocaine jumped dopamine levels up to twenty two per cent and pleasurable food about six per cent.

Other studies have demonstrated that certain spiritual practices stimulate the brain to release dopamine which helps to regulate depression and anxiety. These studies further indicate that those who frequently meditate, pray, and have meaningful relationships have higher levels of dopamine, which is associated with increased energy, motor function, and happiness. Personally, I have found that meditation is one of my best methods of having a transcendent connection of pleasure.

In an article on gambling based on his research, Jonah Lehrer wrote that “whenever we experience something pleasurable, such as winning a hand of blackjack or eating a piece of chocolate cake, our dopamine neurons are excited.” The more a person gets into gambling, perhaps to the extent of addiction, the higher the flow of dopamine into the brain.  Since that is so pleasurable so too is the greater draw to do it more.  It feeds upon itself, thus addiction may result.

Walter Last wrote an article on the neurochemistry of sex. His words in part, “The main players are dopamine, the reward hormone; prolactin, the hormone of satiation; oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, and levels of androgen receptors. … Additionally the stimulant phenylethylamine (PEA) is involved, which is also present in cocoa and chocolate and elevates energy, mood, and attention.”

I could go on and on citing articles and brain scan results that demonstrate how various behaviors lead to increased dopamine in the brain. Pleasure is good. However, as you try to have more pleasure by increasing your brain dopamine, how do you stop being a hedonist or addict?  Some dopamine pleasure choices lead to deterioration of your mind, body, spirit, productivity, and relationships. This is where your striving for optimal health, your goals and values, come into play. Moderation and good choices need to present here.

Respected Reader, what are your choices to get that dopamine infusion?  Are they healthy? In moderation? Could you stop if unhealthy or are you addicted?

As part of my regimen to try and live optimally, I devote time and energy into training my brain in various ways. The brain is the “computer” that directs all behavior. I try to be conscious of those thoughts and actions that bring positive feelings and those which elicit negativity. A focused infusion of dopamine is an important part of that brain training. It is working for me and the joyful life I live.  I invite you to learn more about how you can train your brain by using dopamine healthfully and other methods that make your life happier and more productive.

(Related to the title of this article regarding choosing the best dopamine infusers: Meditate or say a prayer, eat some chocolate, turn on beautiful music and have sex. Do that and you will avoid addictive destructive choices!)