Mood and Food

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What you eat can affect your risk of the most common mood disorder in the United States:  depression.

Mental health begins with lifestyle:  nutritious food; regular exercise; sufficient sleep; and coping skills.

The chemical components of food impact one’s state of mind throughout the day — that is, after every meal and snack.  A long period of time without nourishment (fasting) activates survival emotions throughout the brain.  Food, or the lack of it, thus alters both feelings and thoughts.

A significant part of the treatment program for patients with depression is a brain-healthy diet prescription designed by what may be termed a nutritional psychiatrist.  Clearly, changing one’s eating habits requires more time and energy than swallowing a pill.  However, research in mental health has appeared, showing the flaws of prescribing quick-fix medications — in the absence of healthy habits.

A recent study published in BioMed Central Medicine tested the effect of prescribing both a modified Mediterranean Diet and medication to treat patients with clinical depression.  Thirty-three percent of the patients given medication plus a modified Mediterranean Diet plan achieved remission in 12 weeks.  However, eight percent of the patients prescribed medication only reached remission in the same period of time. (Study by S. Reddy, January, 2017)  This mood-enhancing cuisine is highly concentrated in brain-protective foods:  fruits; vegetables; legumes; whole grains; raw, unsalted nuts; low-fat, unsweetened dairy foods; olive oil; and fish.

The positive effects of nutrition intervention reported in this study have encouraged psychiatrists to prioritize this diet prescription for all patients diagnosed with depression.  The modified Mediterranean food plan may help prevent the incidence of depression in persons at high risk, aid patients who reject medication, and may block the progression from mild depression to serious depression.

Regardless of one’s family history, the brain can slip into an imbalanced state that alters mood and mind-power. The wise statement, “You become what you eat,” applies to everyone.  The original Mediterranean cuisine has already scored high ratings against brain atrophy, pain, and all age-related diseases.  The Mind Diet, another modified format of the Mediterranean Diet, reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Cook, eat, and share mood-enhancing meals.  It’s a challenge that delivers great rewards for the brain — sharper thinking and happier moments.
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Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

Finding Felicity in Food and Work

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“Life Is Good.” These three words have blossomed into a worldwide slogan.  Why?  You feel good just reading the words.

These days life elicits more worries than “happies.” Good times are short-lived and may be prone to addiction:  compulsive shopping with credit cards; eating comfort foods loaded with calories; drinking too much alcohol; or searching for drug dealers to soothe emotional or physical pain.  Sustainable happiness begins with the simple things:  the food you eat and the work you do.

Brain imaging has identified the pathway that produces good feelings.  Named the Reward Circuit, you experience an emotional response to foods consumed and work performed. Thus, the recommendation to “eat right and move more,” can improve both happiness and health.

Is eating right a happy experience?  It’s pretty obvious that foods high in fat, sugar, and salt light up the Reward Circuit, elevating feelings of joy.  Is it possible to eat foods that are healthy for the brain and add “happy” to your mood?

Researchers at the University of Warwick in Coventry UK say “yes!”  The staff followed 12,000 adults from Australian households for six years.  Participants kept food diaries and answered survey questions about their lives as well as their mental and emotional health.  By the end of the second year, participants who changed from eating no fruits and vegetables a day to eight portions a day reported feeling happier.  Participants who did not increase their intake of fruits and vegetables over the same period experienced a drop in happiness score.  The “happy” power of fruits and vegetables was equivalent to going from unemployment to a job. (American Journal of Public Health, August, 2016)

Consuming eight servings of fruits and vegetables each day (about four cups) provides thousands of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients that improve brain function in measurable, mood-altering ways.

What about work?  Regardless of the wording (labor, exercise, work, or toil), the brain activates, controls, and evaluates movement.  Both psychologists and neuroscientists have independently addressed the theory that work ignites positive emotions.

Psychologists investigated a unique consumer issue called “The Ikea Effect,” that is, the consequences of buyers’ assembling items purchased.  The study concluded that assembling an item boosted feelings of pride, confidence, and competence even when the end product was poorly assembled.  It appeared that work, especially with the hands, activated the Reward Circuit.

Real-time imaging of the brain, conducted by Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist, confirmed the conclusions of the Ikea study.  Dr. Lambert recruited persons with untreated depression and set up work projects, such as pottery-making, wood carving, or knitting.  She demonstrated that labor with the hands and arms activated the Reward Circuit, elevating positive emotions sufficiently to eliminate the symptoms of depression in her patients.  Dr. Lambert labeled the process as “effort-driven reward.”  Yes, work can be a happy experience.  And, when the effort is purposeful and helps others, the happiness rating is even higher. (“Lifting Depression” by Kelly Lambert, 2010)

“The groundwork for all happiness is good health.” –Leigh Hunt, English poet

Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

What is a Mild Brain Injury?

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By Michael Howard, Ph.D.

The Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) Working Group of the CDC (Center for Disease Control) in Atlanta has defined MTBI as an injury to the head resulting from blunt trauma or acceleration or deceleration forces with one or more of the following conditions:

  • transient confusion, disorientation, or impaired consciousness.
  • dysfunction of memory around the time of injury.
  • loss of consciousness lasting less than 30 minutes.

Mild traumatic brain injury is also called concussion.  Traumatic brain injury results when the neurons inside the brain are damaged from acceleration-deceleration forces during impact.  When the head is struck or moved violently, the gel-like brain is rapidly displaced or concussed back and forth within the skull.  The brain is distorted in shape and the fragile, thread-like neuron cells inside the brain can be stretched, torn, or traumatized by the mechanical forces.

Typically, the long axon of the neuron is most susceptible to injury.  The phenomenon is called axonal shearing.  This type of traumatic injury can result in the neuron’s death or temporary loss of function.  When, by head trauma, a number of neurons is disabled in such a manner, disruption or alteration of brain functions can occur.  This is the major mechanism behind MTBI.

Traumatic brain injury can result in the skull being broken or fractured (penetrating head injury) or the skull remaining intact (closed head injury).  In MTBI, closed-head injuries are by far the most common.  It is not necessary for the head to be physically struck to result in mild traumatic brain injury.  Violent back-and-forth movement of the head, called whiplash, can also result in neuronal damage.  The MTBI that is due to proximity to a blast explosion that many soldiers and others in Iraq have sustained is another example of an MTBI occurring without the head being physically struck.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF A MILD BRAIN INJURY?

It is common for individuals to have immediate symptoms of brain impairment after a mild traumatic brain injury.  These symptoms can be physical, cognitive, and behavioral in nature and can occur in any combination. They typically last up to a few weeks.  Although there is no “typical” MTBI patient, headaches, dizziness, insomnia, and intermittent confusion are commonly seen in the first days or weeks after the injury.  These symptoms are most severe immediately after the injury.

Over the few days or weeks following the injury, the symptoms should diminish in number and intensity.  Whether or not an individual will have symptoms persisting beyond the first few weeks or months is very difficult to predict and may depend on a number of factors, including the presence of co-existing conditions like depression, anxiety, chronic pain, prior head traumas, or involvement in personal-injury litigation.

Influenza

Posted on Posted in Continuing Education, Elder Care, Homestudy, Nutrition, Seminars, Webinars

By Raj Hullon, M.D., J.D.

The flu is a contagious infection that affects the nose, throat, and lungs.  Onset is more abrupt compared to the common cold.  Symptoms can range from mild to severe, even leading to life-threatening complications.  Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are more common in children than in adults.  Other flu symptoms include:

  • fever (usually high).
  • extreme fatigue.
  • dry cough.
  • sore throat.
  • nasal congestion or runny nose.
  • muscle aches.
  • impaired sense of taste and smell.
  • loss of appetite.

Although flu-related morbidity and mortality vary from year to year, the CDC estimates that between five and 20 percent of Americans contract flu in a given year and that 200,000 people are hospitalized for treatment of flu-related complications.  Approximately 36,000 deaths a year result from flu-related causes in the United States (cdc.gov).

Seasonal flu refers to any of the combinations of influenza viruses that circulate throughout the world each year.  The flu season in the United States can begin as early as October and run through March.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) tracks circulating flu viruses and related disease activity all year and, between October and May, provides weekly influenza updates at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/fluactivitysurv.htm.   Pandemic flu refers to a global outbreak of flu that can overwhelm the health care system.  The cause is most likely a strain of influenza virus that is new or that has not circulated recently enough for large portions of affected populations to have built up gradual immunity to it.  Therefore, healthy individuals are at risk for complications following infection during a pandemic flu outbreak.  Seasonal flu, however, usually leads to fewer complications in healthy adults.  During the 1918 pandemic, for example, the estimated deaths from the disease and disease-related complications reached 20 to 40 million individuals globally. Fortunately, pandemic flu outbreaks are rare.  There were only three pandemic outbreaks in the 20th century while seasonal flu is annual and peaks in January or February.

Cold Symptoms and Prevention

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flu-1006045_640Cold symptoms generally emerge between one and three days after a cold virus enters the body.  The symptoms resolve in a week — with or without medication. One cold in four lasts up to 14 days; this most often occurs in children, the elderly, and people who are in poor health. Smokers often have more severe, extended cold symptoms than nonsmokers.

Fewer than five percent of colds lead to such complications as bronchitis, middle ear infection, or sinusitis accompanied by a prolonged cough, but between 5 and 15 percent of children who have colds develop acute ear infection when bacteria or viruses infiltrate the space behind the eardrum. A cold can produce wheezing, even in children who do not have asthma, and symptoms of asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema can be exacerbated for many weeks. Symptoms that persist for more than two weeks or that recur might be more allergy than infection-related.

Post-infectious cough, which usually produces phlegm, may disrupt sleep and persist for weeks or months following a cold. This complication has been associated with asthma-like symptoms and can be treated with asthma medications prescribed by a physician.  Medical attention is indicated if symptoms progress to:

  • ear pain.
  • high fever.
  • a cough that worsens as other symptoms abate.
  • a flare-up of asthma or of another chronic lung problem.
  • significantly swollen glands.
  • strep throat.

Babies can have between five to seven colds during their first two years of life. This enhanced susceptibility results both from immature immune systems and from exposure to older children who are often careless abut washing their hands or covering coughs and sneezes. Nasal congestion and runny nose are the most common symptoms of colds in babies. Treatment consists of breathing moist air and drinking plenty of fluids. Medical attention is indicated at the first sign of a cold in infants less than three months of age because of a heightened risk for pneumonia, coup, and other complications.

Physician evaluation is also necessary if a baby of any age:

  • has an uncomplicated cold, the symptoms of which last for more than seven days.
  • does not wet a diaper properly.
  • refuses to nurse or accept fluids.
  • coughs up blood-tinged sputum or coughs hard enough to cause vomiting or changes in skin color.
  • has trouble breathing.
  • has bluish-tinted lips or mouth.
  • has a temperature higher than 102°F for one day.
  • has a temperature higher than 101°F for more than three days.
  • shows signs of having ear pain.
  • has reddened eyes or yellow eye discharge.
  • has a cough or thick green nasal discharge for more than a week
  • has any other symptoms that concern parents and/or caregivers

Prevention

Common sense plays an important part in preventing the common cold. Absolute avoidance of cold viruses is virtually impossible to achieve, but experts advise keeping a healthy distance from anyone who is ill. The actions the human body takes to clear infection are the same actions that spread the infection to others. Sneezing, for example, is a response to irritation of the nose and mouth. Sneezing as well as a runny nose is the body’s attempt to expel cold viruses before they can invade the nasal passages more deeply. Unfortunately, a sneeze sends infectious particles hurtling through the air at a speed of more than 100 miles an hour.

Simply being in the company of someone who has a cold can contaminate the hands of another person. Touching one’s eyes, nose, or mouth can transfer the infection. It is imperative to wash hands thoroughly after touching someone who has a cold or something that has been touched by someone who has a cold. Playthings touched by a child who has a cold should be washed before being put away. Cleaning surfaces with antiviral disinfectant may help prevent the spread of infection, and increasing interior humidity can reduce susceptibility.

 By Ben Hayes, MD, PhD, FAAD

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Celebrate the Brain

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fondue-709713_640Thanksgiving and the many holidays that follow are joyful times to be with family and friends.  Holiday cheer, a positive emotion, can also provide the brain with healthful hormones and neurochemicals that improve brain function.

Family traditions boost enjoyment of holiday gatherings.  In a recent series of studies in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, subjects described the customs they followed — along with those of their families — during holidays.  These activities were rated as enjoyable, personal experiences that enhanced bondings with family members.  In fact, simply recalling past traditions can put a warm glow on holiday gatherings and support creative thinking.

Memories of childhood or lost loved ones often surface at celebrations.  The bittersweet feeling of nostalgia can elevate mood and mental outlook.  A recent study published in the journal, Emotion, reported that nostalgia boosts a sense of connection to the past, creating a social web that extends across people and time.  This “self-continuity” energizes the brain.  So, pull out an old photo album and spend some time revisiting your past this season.

When listing New Year’s resolutions, resolve to keep friendships alive throughout the year.  The benefits of supportive relationships are numerous.  Research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (2016), stated that individuals who have greater levels of social support enjoy better psychological health and mental functioning.  The reduction of chronic stress and the stimulation associated with meaningful social interaction are strongly linked to improved resilience and reduced risk of anxiety and depression.  There is also a lower likelihood of cognitive decline.

The highlight of any holiday is food, often deeply entwined with tradition, but possibly devoid of brain-healthy choices.  Compromises that allow both brain-healthy and traditionally-happy fare, including desserts, can solve this dilemma.  First, shift the spotlight from rich food to lighter fare by serving salad as the first course.  Go heavy on the greens, colored veggies, and crunchy bits of apples or pears.  Second, make a healthy vegetable side dish the co-star of the main course.  Third, regarding the turkey, think outside the bread box with offerings such as wild-rice stuffing, augmented with vegetables and dried cranberries.  Lastly, the first bite of dessert, thoughtfully consumed, always gets rated as the best.

Enjoy the fabulous taste of that bite!  Then, empower your mind with oxygen — by taking a mindful walk — to complete the celebration of your brain.


Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

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And The Winner Is…….The Grape!

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Nature introduced our ancestors to the first sampling of wine about 10 million years ago. As fruit ripened and fell to the earth, a natural process of decomposition occurred.

Microbes in the soil turned fruit sugar into a simpler component, ethyl alcohol.  Some curious, hungry ancestor, eating the decaying fruit, probably rejected the taste, but loved the altered state of mind.  A sophisticated version of nature’s process, called fermentation, was perfected, producing wines that delight the palate as well as the mind.

My  grandmother lived in rural Manitoba, Canada, and made her own wine from wild berries picked in late summer.  Her doctor recommended a glass of wine each night for good sleep and longevity.  In her generation, that glass was small, holding a mere four ounces.  Although today’s wine goblet may be enormous in size, the recommended intake of wine remains 4-6 ounces per day.  At high doses, the alcoholic content of wine may be both addictive and toxic to the brain.  An alternative choice is nonalcoholic wine.

Fermentation of the grape produces any array of chemical changes.  In addition to the conversion of sugar to alcohol, compounds in the grape’s skin and pulp are released, creating more than color, aroma, and a distinctive taste.  Vitamins, minerals, and an array of other nutrients are released into the liquid brew.  One of the heart-healthy plant chemicals concentrated in wine is the antioxidant resveratrol.  How does the content of resveratrol in wine compare with that in grapes or grape juice?

Resveratrol contributes color to grapes.  Red, purple, and black grapes are better sources of the chemical than white or green grapes.  Secondly, there is more resveratrol in the skin of the grape than in the pulp.  Fermentation releases the resveratrol from the grape’s skin into the liquid.  Thus, for the same weight or volume, red wine generally has more resveratrol than dark grapes or its juice.  Keep in mind that the fresh grape is an excellent choice, perhaps better than grape juice or wine.  For variety, peanuts, pistachios, cocoa, blueberries, and cranberries are good sources of resveratrol.

If you want more resveratrol in your diet, get it from food or wine, not from pills. Whole food or a glass of your favorite wine contains nutrients that work with this super antioxidant (resveratrol) for more healthful years.

Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

Belly Fat and Movement

Posted on Posted in Continuing Education, Nutrition, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

Today, unlike any time in U.S. history, body fat is accumulating pointedly in the belly.  In addition to calorie restriction, what practice is required to decrease belly fat?  Move about.

Losing the unwanted pounds gained during the holidays is a struggle for everyone. Keeping it off is even more difficult.  What’s the best way to maintain a lower weight, once achieved?  Move about.

Scientist study the brain, searching for ways to keep it vital over the extra decades we now live. What is considered the most important lifestyle factor to retain cognition throughout life?  Move about.

More Americans are diagnosed with depression and anxiety than anywhere else in the world.  What habit can aid in balancing mood?  Move about.

Researchers agree that the most important natural way to bring about good health is movement.  During activity, muscles release anti-inflammatory proteins that act as a natural protection against disease.  In spite of the proof that moving is as vital as sleep, food, or water, less than 25 percent of the nation exercises.

Perhaps part of the problem lies in the mistaken vision of exercise as fitness training, often too tough for most mortals. Boutique gyms continue to augment the difficulty of their programs to retain the hardiest of their hard-core members.  While a few exercisers may enjoy the endorphin “high” produced by the physical demand of these classes, the average member is soon discouraged and disappears in about three months.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the typical worksite, where the employee exercise program might be limited to moving one’s fingers on a computer all day. Scientific evidence clearly shows that sitting for long periods of time heightens the risk of dementia, diabetes, depression, and, of course, obesity.

Now imagine that your workplace offers a program that can lift your mood and combat lethargy without reducing focus or attention — and even dull hunger and cravings.  What’s the strategy?  Stand up and walk for five minutes every hour during the workday.  Whether you are hired, fired, or retired, this movement schedule is a healthy approach to limiting sedentary behavior every day.

Does a simple sit/walk program eliminate the need for strength training, stretching, and near-daily moderate exercise?  No, but it’s wise to begin an active lifestyle with the easiest step.  Devote five minutes of every sedentary hour to walking.

By Dr. Laura Pawlak

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What Is Gluten?

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Gluten is the general name given to the proteins found in certain grain products — including wheat and its derivatives (wheat berries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, faro, graham, and einkorn wheat), rye, barley, triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye), malt, brewer’s yeast, and wheat starch (Celiac Disease Foundation, 2014).  Apparently, the hybridization that led to the production of modern bread wheat enabled the creation of a product with high amounts of the gluten complex, making modern bread wheat the worst gluten offender.

Gluten plays a significant role in nourishing plant embryos during germination.  In addition, as the name implies, “glu-ten” acts as a type of glue that holds food together, affects the elasticity of dough made from these grains, and gives shape and a chewy texture to products (such as bread) that are made from the dough.  It is also used as an additive in foods that have low-protein levels or no protein at all.  When it is used in vegetarian recipes (lacking any animal products), it helps to increase the firmness of the texture of the finished product in order to replicate that found in meats and other animal foods.

Gluten is actually made up of two different proteins, gliadin (prolamin) and glutelin, which are attached to starch in the endosperm of the grain.  Because the starch is water-soluble but the gluten isn’t, gluten can be obtained by dissolving away the starch with cold water.  (Salty cold water works best).  When gluten enters the digestive system, the proteins are broken down into smaller units called peptide chains, which are made up of amino acids.  Apparently, these peptide chains are the source of gluten sensitivity in some people, resulting in an array of symptoms, potentially contributing to more serious conditions such as celiac disease.  Whereas glutelin is water-soluble, gliadin is alcohol-soluble.  Gliadin is considered the most toxic.  Among the problematic disorders related to gluten, approximately six percent may be due to non-celiac gluten sensitivity, 10 percent may be the result of wheat allergy, and only one percent would be celiac disease.  However, despite its lower occurrence, celiac disease is considered the most serious of the bunch.

By Annell St. Charles, Ph.D., R.D.

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Neck Pain: An Introduction

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Rear view of a young man holding her neck in pain, isolated on white background, monochrome photo with red as a symbol for the hardening

Almost everyone has experienced neck pain of some sort during his or her lifetime — and for good reason.  One of the most common causes of such pain is poor posture.  Simple activities such as reading, especially in bed — or sleeping on a pillow that may either be too low or too high — can cause neck pain.  Other activities that can cause neck pain include bending over a desk for hours, maintaining poor posture while watching TV, and positioning a computer monitor either too high or too low.  The key is always to maintain the neck as close to a neutral position as possible.

The best medical care, however, begins with a crucial question:  What is the most serious problem this could be?  Neck pain can be referred from multiple anatomical structures as a result of developmental processes in the embryonic stage.  Serious cardiovascular, neurologic, infectious, or neoplastic etiologies must be considered before attention is focused on common musculoskeletal disorders.

Chronic neck pain is prevalent in Western societies, with about 15 percent of women and 10 percent of men suffering from it at any given time.  People with physically demanding jobs requiring neck flexion and awkward lifting are at high risk of developing chronic neck pain.  It is also common among health care professionals, particularly affecting nurses who are constantly involved in handling tasks that involve reaching, lifting, and pulling.  Dental professionals who work long hours bending over their patients also suffer from neck pain because of postural demands.

The pain is often muscular or ligamentous in origin and is usually self-limited although the pain can be persistent.  Pain is transmitted through nerve endings in the various ligaments and muscles of the neck, vertebral joints, and the outer layer of the intervertebral discs.  When these structures are irritated, strained, or inflamed, pain is felt in the back of the neck, may spread toward the shoulders, and is commonly felt between the shoulder blades.

The natural healing processes result in improvement in almost all cases.  In fact, the pain from serious neck injuries such as fractures, dislocations, and most cervical spine surgeries often resolves after a few weeks or months.  There is usually little if any correlation between neck pain and the degenerative changes that are commonly seen on X-rays.

Neck strain or sprain is the most common type of injury to motor vehicle occupants treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments.  Whiplash injuries can be serious in certain situations.  Severe damage to the spinal cord can be fatal.

Sports and athletics are also common sources of injury to the neck region and should be a particular concern for the younger adult population.

Another common offender is carrying unbalanced loads, such as a heavy briefcase, luggage, or a shopping bag. A careful history is often required to identify such factors as playing a role in neck and shoulder pain.

By Rajinder Hullon, MD

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