More Sugar, Please.

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

By Laura Pawlak, Ph.D., R.D. (emerita)

Love sugar?  This innate desire for sweets can be traced to an ancient part of the brain — the reward circuit.  The sweet, sensory experience is recorded as a rewarding one as endorphin molecules (natural opioids) bathe the brain.  A long-lasting memory of the tasty experience is stored deep inside the brain.  There is purpose to the “feel good” experience resulting from sweetness.  You will search for, and continue to consume, the ideal fuel for your mind — the simple carbohydrates in sugar.

Nature offers fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods to satiate the need for carbohydrate — along with fiber and a wide variety of nutrients in these foods.  But nature is no competition for the added sugar in today’s super-sweet desserts, snacks, packaged foods, and beverages.  Manufacturers add some form of sugar to 74 percent of their products.

Liquid sugar, such as found in sodas, energy drinks, and sport beverages, is the leading single source of added sugar in the American diet.  The rapidly absorbed sweetened beverage is linked to sugar addiction, obesity, Type 2 diabetes (often called adult-onset diabetes), and other diseases.  Worldwide education regarding the disease risks linked to the consumption of sugary drinks has resulted in the decline of soda sales.  As summer approaches, manufacturers offer new products to quench your thirst — products called plant waters.

These beverages are made from extracts of fruits, vegetables, grains, grasses, and other plant parts, with fewer calories than sugary beverages or no calories at all.  Manufacturers of plant waters promote their products with a variety of unsubstantiated health claims.

For example:  Artichoke Water, a sugar-free, zero-calorie beverage, is claimed to be healthy because artichokes have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  Where’s the artichoke in this water?

Made with concentrated bamboo-leaf extract, Bamboo Water is stated to contain the powerful benefits of bamboo.  Is bamboo really a food source for humans?

Other beverages produced from plant sources, such as the olive, banana, cactus, barley, and maple sap are also available — all with dubious health claims and varying amounts of sugar.

Here’s a sound approach to quenching your thirst this summer.  Drink these plant waters if you like them and if you don’t mind their cost.  They lack the nutrients and fiber obtained by eating whole-plant foods, and they won’t prevent disease.  The best choice is nature’s offering:  A healthy, refreshing glass of water and some juicy, fresh fruit.  Enjoy the summer!

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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.

The Healing Power of Touch

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Seasoned politicians understand it.  Talented athletes get it.  Even newborn babies are “all in.”  Unfortunately, too many professionals in health care seem to need a reminder.  We’re slightly distracted by gadgets these days.  Actually, touching patients has become, well, “yucky.”

Savvy politicians realized long ago that patting another person’s shoulder as they shook hands elicited more support and cooperation.  Players in the National Basketball Association who engage in more high-fives, fist bumps, and “guy hugs,” are apt to play better as individuals and as a united team.  (Believe it or not, psychologists have actually studied this.)

The landmark research on positive touch dates back many decades, revealing that newborns deprived of caring, gentle, living touch resulted in failure to thrive despite adequate nutrition.

Research into the neurophysiology of touch demonstrates remarkable conditions between pleasant, soothing sensations and social connectedness.  In a nutshell, “A-beta” nerve fibers conduct impulses related to touch.  These touches are triggered by– displacement or movement of long hairs on the skin — by vibration, movement, indentation, and stretch.  “A-beta” fibers enable us to detect a wobbly table, a greasy dish slipping out of our hands, the weight of a puppy curled up against us, or the wind blowing through our hair.

Another type of fiber, “A-delta,” carries information about the movement of short hairs on our face or body.  These sensations are decidedly unpleasant like walking into a spider web or feeling a bug crawling up our arms or legs.  Assorted other fibers carry pain impulses at a very rapid rate so that we can react and hopefully survive.

However, the newest nerve fibers to be discovered are part of the emotional or affective touch system.  They are called CT or “C-tactile” afferents.  These fibers transmit impulses associated with gentle, pleasant, nurturing sensations — an affectionate pat, a warm hug, or a loving caress.  Compared to pain fibers, “C-tactile” fibers are slower to respond, perhaps encouraging the pleasant interaction to linger a little longer.

Gentle touch fosters human interactions, togetherness, and nurturing for survival.  It’s fascinating that touch is the first to develop in utero and the most highly developed one at birth.

Clinical research is underway to study the effects of gentle, pleasant touch on conditions including autism, neuropathic pain, depression, and spinal-cord damage.  Why wait?  Let’s put the gadgets aside for a minute and touch the patient.  You’ll both feel better.

References
— Denworth, L. The Social Power of Touch.  Scientific American Mind.  July-August 2015, pp. 30-39.
— Voos, A.C. Periphery, K.A., and Kaiser, M.D., Autistic Traits Are Associated with Diminished Neural Response to Affective Touch.  Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Vol. 8, No. 4, pp. 378-386, April 2013.

The Sounds of Silence

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel had a huge hit with “The Sounds of Silence” about 50 years ago.  It resonated with millions of people.  Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, excessive noise was considered a form of pollution, and that was long before anyone knew what a cell phone is.

Today, the scourge of excessive noise defies description.  Unfortunately, it has metastasized, with some devastating consequences, into every nook and cranny of health care.

People in medical and dental practices, hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes, and every other patient-care area are bombarded by incessant noise.  Blaring TV’s, radios, “ patient-education” videos, cell-phone conversations, and shrill chatters continuously assault people who are sick and in pain.  Some are them are even patients.

What exactly are the consequences of noise pollution in healthcare?  For starters, staff members become increasingly edgy, irritable, and distracted.  Burnout is rarely far behind.  Patients and family members are often restless and annoyed.  Patients in hospitals and nursing homes cannot rest or sleep.  The resulting physiologic cascade can be staggering:  1) blood pressure and pulse increase; 2) glucose levels rise; 3) adrenaline, noradrenalin, insulin, and cortisol levels rise; 4) lymphocyte counts fall;  5) pain thresholds drop; and 6) tempers flare.  Rarely, however, does anyone make the connection.  What should we do?  Let’s take better care of ourselves in order to take better care of our patients.  Turn the sound down, or, better yet, turn it off (at least for a little while).  The sounds of silence are long overdue.

Diet and Alzheimer’s Disease

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Elder Care, Homestudy, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

What weighs a mere four pounds and has a workload that demands 20 percent of all the oxygen inhaled?  Answer:  the human brain.

As technology opens the door to the unique metabolic functions of the brain, scientists are investigating the nutrients required to keep mentally sharp over the decades.

With dementia rising at an alarming rate — along with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments — let’s eat with purpose, using sound, nutrition-related science applicable to the brain and the rest of the body.

Starting with the belief that what we eat plays a significant role in determining who gets dementia, Martha Clare Morris, Ph.D. and colleagues developed the MIND Diet as an intervention against the most common cause of neurodegeneration:  Alzheimer’s disease.

The work of Morris and her colleagues is based on research completed at Rush Medical University in Chicago, Illinois.  The term “MIND” is an acronym for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.

The DASH diet plan is based on research sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.  The plan was developed to lower blood pressure without the use of medication.

The Mediterranean and DASH diets are models of healthy eating for the body.  The Morris team chose foods that improve brain function significantly and also added to overall body wellness.

Adherence to the MIND diet may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53%, offering more protection for the brain than any other dietary regimen.

The MIND cuisine lists 10 brain-healthy food groups (green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine).  The plan limits consumption of five brain-unhealthy food groups (red meats, butter/stick margarine, cheese, pastries/sweets, and fried or fast food).

The plan suggests a minimum of three servings of whole grains, a salad, and one other vegetable every day — along with a glass of wine.  For snacks, add a variety of nuts.  Berries are the only fruits recommended.

Specifically, blueberries are noted as the powerful protectors of the brain.  Strawberries are a second choice for good cognitive function.

Use Google and enter the term “MIND Diet” for daily guidelines and recipes of a cuisine designed to maximize brain function while providing healthy foods for the rest of the body as well.

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

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Nutrition, Seminars, Webinars

“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?

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

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

Posted on Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Seminars, Webinars

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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Arthritis and Diet

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older-black-woman-rubbing-her-hands-arthritisThere are more than 100 different types of arthritis, and, therefore, no single diet will work for every person with arthritis.  However, studies have found that green tea, green leafy vegetables, dried plums, and kiwi fruit are all vitamin-rich and have powerful antioxidant properties.  Diets which include large quantities of fruits and cruciferous vegetables have been shown to have a beneficial effect on preventing the development of rheumatoid arthritis.  In addition, it is clear that carrying extra weight can put significant stress on the joints, and even a small reduction in weight can have an effect on the severity of arthritis symptoms.  Studies have shown that losing weight can significantly ameliorate the effects of osteoarthritis.  Significant weight gain prior to age 35 — as well as excessive alcohol consumption — has been linked to the development of gout.

Other contributing factors are certain foods and nutritional supplements (vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids) which may play a role in preventing and reducing symptoms in some types of arthritis, such as gout, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and reactive arthritis.  Fish oil, particularly when ingested in conjunction with a diet low in arachidonic acid, reduces inflammation in some patients with rheumatoid arthritis.   Regular intake of fish has been shown to have a beneficial effect.  Consumption of excessive dietary fat, however, appears to exacerbate arthritis symptoms.

WEIGHT LOSS AND THE ARTHRITIS PATIENT

Weight loss for overweight arthritis patients is very important for several reasons.  First, as mentioned previously, loss of even a few pounds can significantly reduce stress on weight-bearing joints.   Research demonstrates that exercise and combined weight loss — as well as exercise regimens — result in decreased pain and disability and increased performance levels in patients with osteoarthritis.  Biomechanical data suggest that exercise in combination with diet may also result in improved gait when compared with exercise alone. Secondly, patients of all ages who have arthritis are much healthier, have an improved sense of well-being, and are less likely to suffer arthritis-related depression when they follow a nutritious, well-balanced diet.  The Arthritis Foundation recommends following a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruit, vegetables, and whole-grain products, while limiting consumption of sugar, salt, and saturated fat (i.e., a diet low in fat, high in fiber, and low in sugar).

By Mary O’Brien, MD

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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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