Look At Me!

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

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Let’s look at congestive heart failure (CHF), chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  We all have our abbreviations and acronyms.  Every discipline does.

Now, courtesy of incredibly foolish behavior sweeping the planet we have SRT – Selfie-Related Trauma.  People around the world are being injured or even dying by doing dangerous things while trying to take “selfies” (photographs, using a cell phone, of themselves and perhaps others who may be nearby).

Most, but not all of these cases involve students.  The top three countries for SRTs are India, the United States, and Russia.  Multiple traumatic injuries most often result from falls into rivers and canyons, from falls off of cliffs or trains, and from motor vehicle accidents.  Drownings and electrocutions complete the list.

The science of photography has changed the world.  For over 150 years, people took pictures of other people, exquisite scenery, major events, and touching moments.  Now, many people can’t get through the day without taking photos of themselves engaged in the most mundane or ridiculous situations.  Look at me in the kitchen.  Look at me at work.  Look at me on vacation.  Look at me by the Statue of Liberty or the Grand Canyon.

We now have two generations, possibly three, who have been conditioned to believe a picture is incomplete without ME.  This is not only pathetic, it is dangerous.

Not long ago, a young woman at a zoo learned an important lesson about the dangers of ignoring barriers to get a selfie.  She went into an area she should not have entered and breached a barrier.  Determined to get not merely a close-up of a jaguar, but a selfie with a wild animal, she turned her back on the animal to photograph herself in front of the jaguar.  The jaguar nearly captured her.  That’s what wild animals do.  Fortunately, the woman survived to recount her foolish behavior.

Barriers and warnings exist for a reason.  They’re there to protect people.  Jaguars are spectacular animals.  They can approach speeds of 80 miles per hour and, like all cats, they are fiercely territorial.  The desire to take a photo is understandable.  The photo should be of the jaguar, not yourself with the jaguar.

There are several lessons to be learned here:

  • Never ignore barriers, roadblocks, or warning signs unless you are the EMT (emergency medical technician) responding to the situation.
  • Appreciate the beauty or wonder around us but realize that we do not enhance the beauty or wonder.
  • Never, ever turn your back on a mountainside, cliff, bridge, canyon, or a wild animal.

If people are really that enchanted with themselves, there are these things called mirrors.

Whoever Shouts The Loudest

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

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Can you tolerate watching “the news” these days?  If you’re much over the age of 40, you probably realize we scarcely have any real news programs left.  Nearly every option revolves around opinion, bias, personal and corporate agendas, and ridiculous panel discussions with people shouting over one another.

I’m willing to listen to almost anyone who can discuss the facts of a given topic in a cogent, logical manner.  Sadly, there isn’t much of that on TV or most other venues.  Somehow people have gotten the idea that whoever shouts the loudest or spews the most obnoxious sarcasm wins.

This is frustrating on TV, but it can be even more problematic at work or in social settings.  More and more people dread family gatherings for this very reason. Most of us are fond of work, family, and friends.  So with that in mind, here are a few tips on preserving such gatherings:

  • Be civil and never talk over another person. Remind yourself to disagree agreeably.
  • Always look for common ground. Most people want a safe, happy, healthy life for themselves and their loved ones.  Start with that assumption.
  • Pick your battles. If it won’t matter five years from now, it probably doesn’t matter much now.
  • Listen carefully and actively. Many people today don’t listen much at all, especially on TV.  They’re too busy planning their next snide, sarcastic retort.  Repeat what the other person has said and try to understand his or her perspective.
  • Remain calm. In a debate, the angry person almost always loses.  Very few people in our culture have ever taken a course in logic, ethics, or debate, and it shows.  Be the adult in the room.
  • Don’t aim to prove you’re right and the other person is wrong. Concentrate on the facts and explain them clearly.  Most arguments have nothing to do with facts.
  • Avoid making accusations. Insecure people become defensive very quickly.  Truly knowledgeable, accomplished, mature people have no need to be defensive or even bother with accusations.
  • Never use vulgar language or derogatory terms. Calling someone an idiot will not persuade him that your point is correct.
  • In a tense situation, let the other person blow off steam. A patient or family member receiving bad news can become emotionally volatile and angry.  Let him vent.
  • Watch your physiology. Aggressive body language and irritated facial expressions are usually the mark of an undisciplined individual.  Practice your best Mr. Spock imitation, especially when others are upset.

If you’re young enough and charming enough, and you master these principles, you just might get your own talk show on TV.  I’ll be rooting for you.

Not for Party People

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

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Another year is drawing to an end.  All across the country, folks are stocking up on beer and bubbly for their New Year’s celebrations.  Parties and parades, festivities and football will steal the limelight for a few short days.  But before long, the frivolity will fade and people will settle into their dreary routines.  New Year’s resolutions will be broken as quickly as they were born.  Soon another year will slip silently into oblivion.

All of this can get downright depressing if you really stop to think about it.  I mean — have you ever taken time at New Year’s to evaluate your life?  Are you accomplishing your goals and living your dreams?  Do you even remember what your goals and dreams are?  What wonderful things did you accomplish this year?  Are you a better person than you were 12 months ago?

I take these questions very seriously.  But then, I’m not a party person.  New Year’s has always been my time for taking a personal inventory, a self-assessment of growth and progress.  Having worked with older patients for decades, I’m convinced this exercise is not in vain.  People don’t stay in neutral long.  They either move forward, or they slide into reverse.  But the laws of physics hold fast.  Going in reverse is no problem.  It’s easy and requires no effort.  Going forward requires thrust or energy.  And each one of us must supply our own.

Conducting an annual self-assessment will not appeal to whiners and wimps.  And it’s probably not for party people.  It demands integrity, self-discipline, and drive.  After all, the whole point of this exercise is propelling oneself toward some pretty lofty goals.  Blaming others or the culture for one’s own faults and failures defeats the purpose.

Each of us has different challenges, circumstances, and goals.  My self-assessment questions have served me well over the years.  You may need to amend them, but see if they don’t get you thinking:

  1.  How many books have I read this year?  Did they really sharpen my thinking?
  2.  What are the most important lessons I learned?  Have I put them into practice?
  3.  Did I take good care of my body and health?
  4.  Did I give my family the time and attention it needed?
  5.  Have I learned a new skill or expanded my fund of knowledge?
  6.  Have I further developed a talent I already have?
  7.  Did I devote enough time to my spiritual life?
  8.  Did I try to make life better for others?
  9.  What did I do to invest in my future?
  10.  When I reap what I’ve sown, will I be happy with the results?

This New Year’s review may not be as scintillating as champagne or as fun as football.  But its effects will last a lot longer, and you won’t wind up with a headache!

An Old-Fashioned, Counter-Cultural Approach

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

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Are you already worn out from holiday activities?  There is Thanksgiving travel, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and reports of morning, noon, and night sales hitting record levels.  The cold and flu season is well underway, and millions of Americans are totally tuckered out.  They will, nonetheless, try to sustain this frenetic activity for another month.  There is an alternative, old-fashioned, counter-cultural approach.  It’s called Advent.

Long, long ago, before people had electronic devices surgically implanted into the palms of their hands, they observed a quiet, disciplined period of waiting for Christmas.  The word, “Advent,” is from the Latin word “adventus,” referring to the arrival of a significant person, time, or event.  Over the centuries, Christians developed the practice of spending the four weeks before Christmas in prayer, fasting, and giving alms to the poor.  It was a way to discipline themselves, physically and spiritually.

Many of our grandparents were very serious about this tradition.  They waited to put up a tree and decorate it until Christmas Eve.  The 12 days of Christmas were actually celebrated from Christmas Day to January 6th, the Epiphany, or arrival of the three Wisemen.  Today, Christmas-in-July sales have us in major shopping mode for half the year.  Many people are tired of Christmas long before it arrives.  By the time credit card bills arrive in late December, very few people are ready for any sort of Epiphany, spiritual, or otherwise.

There are some healthy, helpful things any of us can do in the spirit of Advent.  Most folks want to find meaning in their lives that extends beyond acquiring money, stuff, and titles.  Nonstop, frantic striving can only distract us for so long.

  • Before the holiday craziness consumes any more of your mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual energy, consider a slightly different approach to December: “Fast” from all electronics for one hour a day (while you’re actually awake).  This will reveal volumes about where you are in life.
  • Practice the old-fashioned discipline of giving up candy, sweets, desserts, etc. The first bite of your favorite holiday treat will taste heavenly.  Chances are good that you’ll drop a few pounds in the process.
  • Avoid spending money on fancy coffee, eating out, alcohol, and other little indulgences; give the money you save to help a family devastated by the recent natural disasters.
  • Do something nice for someone else — anonymously.
  • Do something nice for someone you really can’t stand.
  • Invest 15–25 minutes each day in prayer, meditation, contemplation, or spiritual reading to focus on what matters most to you.
  • Make a serious effort to replace cynicism and sarcasm with gratitude and gentleness.

If all of us did even half of these things for a few weeks, the ripple effect would be immense.  Advent.  It’s an old-fashioned, counter-cultural approach.

A Little Extra Thoughtfulness

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

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

It’s coming.  The busiest travel time of the year is nearly here.  Thanksgiving is next week, and we’ll be bracing for impact.  Tens of millions of people will go somewhere they don’t really want to go and will do things they don’t really want to do — in some cases with people they may not even like.

Painful delays at airports, agonizing congestion on highways, bad weather, stress, and exhaustion will give a green light to viruses everywhere. Welcome to the cold and flu season.  It might be prudent to rethink a few things.

Despite a strong economy, this has been a very tough year for many people.  Historic flooding, catastrophic hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, and hellish wildfires have inflicted untold suffering and loss.  Mass shootings, violent threats, angry mobs, and generally vicious behavior have overshadowed civility and decorum.  Many decent people across the country feel overwhelmed and demoralized.  I don’t think anyone needs more stress, certainly not at the Thanksgiving table.

But all is not lost.  Difficult situations bring out the worst in some people but the very best in many others.  Heroic acts of courage and compassion abound whenever disaster strikes.  Few of us will ever have to save someone from a raging flood or fire, but we can all be a bit more thoughtful and understanding.  This year, consider a few ideas that might make Thanksgiving less stressful and more pleasant for everyone:

  • Don’t put pressure on loved ones to travel. People only have so much time, energy, and money to spare.  Controlling relatives is not helpful here.
  • Include someone who might otherwise be alone.  Chances are good such folks are all around you.
  • Don’t be a perfectionist in the kitchen. Thanksgiving is not a competitive event.
  • Offer to help or bring a dish, but don’t force your brussels sprouts casserole on the host. Some people don’t know when to cease and desist.
  • Resist the temptation to talk politics. Now is not the time to upset people.
  • Put a ban on phones, television, and assorted other devices. Through your church, synagogue, or club, sponsor a Thanksgiving dinner for a family in need.
  • Show interest in other people at dinner. Good conversation starts with sincere questions about the other person and really listening to that person.
  • Don’t inflict yourself on others if you’re sick. Someone will almost certainly be happy to bring you some wonderful leftovers.
  • Be genuinely grateful for all the blessings you do have. Let people know that you appreciate them.

Thanksgiving is a lovely holiday with charming traditions.  With a little extra thoughtfulness, we can make it better than ever for everyone.

The Holidays: A Time for Comfort Food

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

By Dr. Laura Pawlak

The term comfort food can be traced back to 1966, when the Palm Beach Post used the term in a story:  “Adults, when under severe emotional stress, turn to what could be called ‘comfort foods.’  These foods are associated with the security of childhood, the relief of stress, and euphoric feelings.”

Although the identification of particular items as comfort foods may be unique to an individual, patterns are detectable.  In a study of American food choices, males preferred warm, hearty, meal-related comfort foods, such as steak, casseroles, and soup.   Females consumed snacks as comfort foods, such as chocolate chip cookies and ice cream. Young or middle-age people, under 55 years of age, overwhelmingly chose snack-related, comfort foods.

As the holidays approach, families and friends gather to share an array of comfort foods that provide nostalgic or cultural value.  These foods are often characterized by their high caloric nature, rich in (1) carbohydrate and fat or (2) fat and salt.

Consuming energy-dense food awakens a group of brain structures wired together into a reward system.  This brain circuitry elicits emotions based on the sensory experience of the food.  Comfort foods trigger pleasurable feelings — moments of joy.

The chemicals responsible for feeling good are two-fold:  endorphins, nature’s opioids; and endocannabinoids, the feel-good chemicals found in marijuana.  Sugary foods activate the release of endorphins.  Pizza, cheese casseroles, and other fatty foods spur the production of endocannabinoids.

When fat and sugar are combined, as in desserts, an explosion of both endorphins and endocannabinoids floods the brain, causing elation beyond nature’s offerings.  The temptation to overeat may be overwhelming, especially when a fond memory is linked to the food.

Enjoying holiday celebrations, without consuming excessive amounts of comfort foods, requires forethought.  A plan is helpful!  For example, set aside the day before the event as a time to eat fewer calories.  Drink water, coffee, and/or tea. Have two light meals — perhaps a fruit salad and a green salad.

On the day of the celebration, eat a healthy breakfast and add a salad if you feel hungry before attending the festivity.  At the party, take a deep breath between bites of your favorite foods.  Notice the positive memories that surface as you eat slowly.

Lastly, don’t take goodies home.  Holiday gatherings are meaningful times with friends, not just food.  Savor the season!


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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A Circle of Prayer

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Elder Care, Homestudy, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars
Credit: National Review

They knelt in prayer and grief.  A dozen brave, dedicated, selfless firefighters and rescue personnel in Wilmington, NC were heartbroken on sight.  A mother and her 8-month old baby girl were killed when a tree crashed through their house during Hurricane Florence.  The father was severely injured and rushed to the hospital.  Upon completion of their agonizing task, the first responders were captured in a photo kneeling in a circle of prayer.  Within hours, the image went viral and millions felt their anguish.

Suffering and heartache are rampant here in the Carolinas now.  It will take many months and even years for people to recover from the devastation.  This part of the country has been my home for many years and my heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in need.  I know that everyone at INR joins me in that circle of prayer.  To all our customers and colleagues who have worked with us for so long, we wish you Godspeed in your recovery.

A Wonderful Ritual

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

It has started.  Across the country, kids from kindergarten to college are heading back to school.

I miss that back-to-school ritual.  Shopping for new clothes (even uniforms), textbooks, pens, folders, notebooks, and lunch boxes made me happy.  Spending a day with my mom and sister focused on a bright, new beginning.  It was a wonderful ritual.  We would always be excited to show our dad all the new treasures.  He would heartily approve of our purchases and remind us to use them to get good grades.

I could be wrong, but I get the feeling that much of that ritual and tradition is fading away.  Online shopping, frantic last-minute errands, and people doing “their own thing” seems to be replacing planned family outings.  Maintaining some structure, routine, and ritual is more and more challenging.

But the “whatever” approach to life is not very fulfilling.  Human beings, whether they are in a newborn nursery or a nursing home, do best when they have a healthy routine.  If you have school-age kids, it may help to consider a few time-tested principles.  Establishing these “rules” is a lot easier at the start of the school year than it is after a month or two of foundering and fiascos.

  • Preserve and protect bedtime — few factors influence performance at school (or work) more than sleep. And most kids need a lot more of it.  Unfortunately, when kids stay up until 10, 11, or 12 at night during the summer and then try to go sleep at 8:30 or 9, things don’t go well.  Begin to ease everyone into school-day bedtimes and wake-up schedules a week before school starts.  Only the strongest and wisest of parents will even attempt this.
  • Get everyone up early enough to have a decent breakfast and avoid morning rush and chaos. Some people never learn this principle, but most successful people get up long before they “have to.”
  • Teach kids to prepare as much as possible the night before — homework, projects, clothes, permission slips, etc. This is another principle of success in life and does wonders for easing stress and anxiety.
  • Limit TV and screen time, especially on school nights. Bullying and generalized nastiness abound on social media.  Kids will always complain about rules and boundaries, but deep down every child wants to feel safe, secure, and loved.  It helps if mom and dad set a good example here.
  • Create a home environment that’s conducive to calming down. Overstimulation and overextending are epidemic in our culture and disastrous for concentration or restorative sleep.
  • Establish and maintain a family dinner hour without devices. Kids must be taught how to have a conversation and actually be attentive to others.  There are 50-somethings out there who haven’t learned this.

People will always insist they don’t have time for lots of things.  But we all get 24 hours of time each day.  The question is, which activities will really make a difference down the road?  Establishing a healthy back-to-school routine can be the foundation for a happy, successful life.

Pearls of Wisdom

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

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

He was a disciplined thinker, a real-life Mr. Spock, in a world where so many worship emotion.  Dr. Charles Krauthammer died on June 21, 2018, after a battle with cancer and 46 years of paralysis from a diving accident.  He finished medical school at Harvard and trained as a psychiatrist before turning to political journalism.  Early in his career he won a Pulitzer Prize.  The rest is history.

Dr. Krauthammer was an intellectual force of nature.  Facts, reality, logic, and truth served as his compass.  He had an unusually inquisitive mind and was open-minded enough to allow his thinking to evolve.  This stood in stark contrast to so many in the media who idolize notions and emotions.

Always patient and respectful in debate, Dr. Krauthammer was kind, thoughtful, gracious, and dignified.  But those qualities never suppressed a laser-like wit and genuine sense of fun.  He knew what there was to know about baseball and chess. People loved being around him because they always learned something and had a good laugh.  Being confined to a wheelchair did not prevent him from enjoying life.

Most people will remember Dr. Krauthammer for his political analysis and writing.  But as a physician who struggles with multiple illnesses, I have a slightly different focus.  Here are just a few pearls of wisdom I learned from his remarkable example:

  • Resist the temptation to feel sorry for yourself. Bitterness and victimhood will not solve anything.
  • Think about death every day. This is not morbid.  Charles Krauthammer was a wonderfully cheerful, funny man.  Confronting death allows one to appreciate life fully.
  • Keep your focus on others. We live in an age of malignant narcissism.  Krauthammer rarely talked about himself and kept his focus on the needs, problems, hopes, and dreams of other people.
  • Be courageous enough to say what you think but always be measured and civil. Hatred and nastiness abound today. There’s nothing constructive or healthy about it.  Civility, patience, gentleness, and humility will always be the mark of true wisdom.

Dr. Charles Krauthammer could have given up on everything at the bottom of that swimming pool when he was 22 years old.  He chose to fight back, and I’m one of millions who is grateful that he did.

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More Healthy Bread, Maybe Not!

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

By Dr. Laura Pawlak (PhD)

The vast variety of breads available in supermarkets and bakeries reflects the unquenchable appetite of Americans for this grain-based food.  Breads labeled as “whole grain” appear to be a smart way to add fiber to your diet.

Whole grains improve regularity, slow digestion, reduce appetite, improve cholesterol, and prevent spikes in blood sugar — a major driver of obesity, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes.

A whole grain bread uses the entire grain seed:  the bran (an outer layer with fiber, antioxidants, and B-vitamins); the endosperm (the middle layer of starchy carbohydrates); and the germ (the inner core, which has vitamins, minerals, some protein, and a drop of oil).

Commercial whole grain breads differ in the relative amount of whole grain content in the product.  A simple calculation, called the “10 to 1 Rule,” can guide you in choosing healthy whole grain breads:  Using the nutrition facts on the label, identify the grams of total carbohydrate and fiber.  Divide the total grams of carbs by 10.  Is there at least that much fiber stated on the label?  If so, it is considered a healthy bread.

But wait, there’s something more to consider before purchasing a whole grain bread.  Andrew Weil, M.D., an expert in Integrative Medicine, states:  “A true whole grain food retains all three parts of the seed intact.  A recent government study linked the fiber found specifically in intact whole grains to a longer, healthy life, that is, a lower risk of death at any age from conditions such as cardiovascular, respiratory and infectious diseases and possibly some cancers.”

To make bread, the intact whole grain is ground into flour.  Some of the physical properties that promote good health are less effective when whole grain seeds are processed into flour.

There are many tasty, intact whole grains available, including: amaranth; barley; brown rice; buckwheat; bulgur; cracked wheat; farro; kamut; kasha; millet; oats; quinoa; rye; wheat berries; and wild rice.  Use intact whole grains as side dishes or stuffing, in soups, stews, and salads — and as a hot, breakfast porridge.

Despite research reporting some differences in the positive effects of intact whole grains as compared to processed (ground) whole grain flour, here’s the most important message:  Aim for at least three servings of whole grains every day, including cooked, intact whole grains, whole grain cereals, and whole grain breads.  Enjoy!