Random Acts Of Coolness

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

by Mary O’Brien, M.D.

I live in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  In the dead of winter, I’m grateful for that.  Right now (during mid-summer), however, it’s the dead of “awful.”  The temperature has been in the mid to high nineties for several weeks, and I suspect there may be lower humidity in a steam shower.  For that added touch, traffic is terrible.  Tourists are tripping over one another, and everyone is cranky.  I’ve thought about moving to Alaska.

Yesterday, on the way home from the grocery store, I drove by a utility crew digging a huge ditch.  For a split second, I caught the glance of a very large, burly man crawling out of a hole.  He was covered with dirt and sweat.  I thought he was about to collapse.  In a heartbeat, the “do something” physician-part of me began to debate with the shy, introverted, aging woman part of me:

“This man is on the verge of heat exhaustion.  I should stop and offer help.  But with what?   A trunk full of cereal, paper towels, and cat food?  It’s really none of my business.  This is their job.  Besides, it’s probably not safe to pull over. Blah, blah, blah…”  Perhaps you know the routine.  I can debate myself for hours.

A mile down the road, I turned into my driveway — still conflicted.  Then it dawned on me. “I am an idiot.  This is not a difficult decision.”  I dumped my groceries in the kitchen and grabbed what I could from the fridge:  bottles of water; Coke; lemonade; and Hawaiian Punch.  I know, I know — I have the taste buds of a ten-year old.  Then, I raided my stash of ice cream bars from the freezer and headed back out.  As I pulled up to the work site and got out, the crew looked baffled.  I suspect the crew thought some fussy woman was about to start complaining about the mess or the congestion.  It happens.

I explained I had driven by ten minutes earlier and was worried about them.  When I pulled out the cold drinks and ice cream bars, their jaws dropped.  They still looked as if they were about to fall over, but this time it was from shock.  By the way, I’m not the only one with the taste buds of a ten-year old.

If you’re ever in a similar situation and you feel conflicted, choose the “random act of coolness.”  You’ll feel better about everything all day long.

Anxiety

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

By Barbara Sternberg, Ph.D.

A basic human emotion, anxiety is the sensation of worry, fear, apprehension, panic, tension, or unease that occurs in response to situations that seem overwhelming, dangerous, threatening, or distressing.  Manifesting in such forms as worry prior to a major test, nervous anticipation of a social occasion or business event, or heightened alertness in the face of apparent peril, anxiety is an intuitive recognition that action of some kind should be taken.

Anxiety that prompts appropriate action is a normal, adaptive response to temporary stress or uncertainty.  Detrimental anxiety overwhelms the individual experiencing it, preventing appropriate action or producing counterproductive responses.  Prolonged, intense, or inappropriate worry that interferes with normal function or that is a source of significant emotional or physical distress may signal the presence of an anxiety disorder.  Free-floating anxiety that occurs in the absence of an external threat and is pronounced enough to impair daily function may also be symptomatic of an anxiety disorder.

An estimated 40 million Americans over 18 years of age — about 18 percent of the adult population of the United States — experience anxiety disorders.  In contrast to relatively mild transient anxiety induced by a stressful event like public speaking or a first date, anxiety disorders persist for six months or longer and can worsen without treatment (NIMH). According to the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, overall lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorders in the U.S. is 28.8 percent, meaning that more than one out of every four adults experiences at least one anxiety disorder during his or her lifetime. Anxiety disorders are approximately twice as common in women as in men. Most people who are affected by anxiety disorder have more than one, and nearly 75 percent of those who have an anxiety disorder experience their first episode by the time they reach 21.5 years of age.

Although anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only about one third of those with these disorders receive treatment.

Coping with Anxiety

Although evidence indicates that early treatment of anxiety disorders can prevent such complications as depression and severe phobic avoidance, only about one victim in four ever seeks medical help. Recommended self-help strategies for anxiety management include:

  • maintaining perspective.
  • being informed.
  • having a positive outlook.
  • building resilience.
  • creating a social network.
  • seeking help when necessary.

When personal anxiety management proves ineffective, a family physician can help determine if symptoms are caused by an anxiety disorder, another medical condition, or combined factors.  Coexisting medical conditions may have to be treated or brought under control before the anxiety disorder can be addressed, by a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, or counselor. Some people with anxiety disorders must try several treatments or combinations of treatments before finding one that relieves their distress.  Medications do not cure anxiety disorders, but antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and beta-blockers may control some physical symptoms while the patient receives psychotherapy.

Little Charlie

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

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Do you know what “Mitochondrial Deficiency Syndrome” is?  Most people don’t.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop them from weighing in on the case of little Charlie Gard.  Charlie is an 11-month old baby with a rare and devastating genetic disorder that precludes normal functioning of mitochondria.  Mitochondria are intracellular organelles that generate ATP (adenosine triphosphate).  In essence, ATP represents energy at the cellular level.  Without ATP, cells, especially brain and muscle cells, cannot function.  The most sensitive and vulnerable cells in the body are those of the cerebral cortex.  Little Charlie cannot see or hear or move or swallow or vocalize or think.  No one can know with absolute certainty, but he probably cannot “feel” anything at this point.  The word tragic is utterly inadequate.

The global media frenzy surrounding this heartbreaking situation is revealing and deeply disturbing.  Controversy sells, and unfortunately, the less people know, the more adamant and emotional they often become.  Those of us who have dealt with life and death situations for decades can help by elevating the level of conversation.  Some timeless principles are useful:

  • Embrace humility.  Never be afraid to say “I don’t know enough about this situation to have a well-informed opinion.” That would be refreshing.
  • Exercise the intellectual discipline to learn the facts involved.  In medicine, every patient is unique.  Arguments for or against life support or experimental treatments are pointless absent actual knowledge.
  • Resist the temptation to become emotional.  Unbridled emotions cause far more problems than they solve.  Try to be the voice of reason.
  • Try not to confuse or conflate the issues.  People in nearly every media outlet have tried to make the case about socialized medicine, cost control, parental rights, the British court system, the European Union, or theology.  The case of Charles Gard is about medical ethics.
  • Focus on principles, not personalities.  There is a colossal difference between saving life and prolonging death.  Remember, there is never a moral imperative to render futile care.

Primum non nocere.  (First, do no harm.)  There’s a reason that Solomon prayed for wisdom.

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Minimizing Summertime Maladies

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

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Triple-digit temperatures.  Devastating storms.  Disease-carrying insects.  Rip currents.  Shark attacks.  Jelly fish stings.  Fireworks accidents.  Food poisoning.

This list of problems only scratches the surface of serious summertime challenges.  But an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.  With that in mind, let’s consider some tips for minimizing summertime maladies:

  • Never leave an infant, child, adult, or pet in an unattended car.  Temperatures can soar past 120 F within minutes, even with the windows cracked.  Within 20 minutes, temperatures can exceed 140 F.  Every summer, mere carelessness leads to terrible tragedies. Please educate the people around you.
  • If a storm is close enough for you to hear thunder, it is close enough for you to be struck by lightning. Get inside a car or building.  Do not seek shelter under a tree that could turn you into a veritable lightning rod.
  • Most hurricane-related deaths occur as a result of drowning. People who are out and about can face dangerous flash floods.  Never attempt to drive through standing water.  It takes only six inches of water to move a vehicle.  Unless you are a first responder, please stay put in the immediate aftermath of a severe storm.
  • These days, mosquitoes are more than a nuisance. The West Nile virus is already active in many states and the Zika virus remains a threat to pregnant women in particular.  Eliminating standing water such as bird baths, planters, or backed up gutters where mosquitoes can breed can help.  Avoiding outside activity at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are out in full force would also help.  Spraying protocols and insect zappers or traps may be worthwhile.
  • Be prudent at the beach. Warnings about rip currents, sharks, jellyfish, contaminants, or other dangers are not issued to ruin everyone’s fun.  Every summer, needless tragedies occur because people do foolish things.  Be the voice of reason for younger people around you.
  • Drink alcohol sparingly, if at all.  The vast majority of fatal boating accidents involve alcohol.  Even on shore, alcohol and high temperatures can be a disastrous combination.
  • Let professionals handle the fireworks. No one ever imagines they could be horribly burned or blinded by an accident with a firecracker.  Sadly, that is not rare.
  • Keep any meats or side dishes made with mayonnaise at proper temperatures — hot or cold. Food poisoning can have consequences far beyond an upset stomach.  When in doubt, throw it out.

Summertime is supposed to be fun.  With a little prudence and common sense, it can be precisely that.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

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

By Barbara Sternberg, Ph.D.

Occurring in men and women with comparable frequency, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects about 2.2 million Americans 18 years or age and older — one percent of the adult population of the United States.  Initial symptoms usually manifest themselves in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood, and median symptom onset is 19 years of age.  One third of adults with OCD experience their first symptoms as children.

 OCD is characterized by repetitive, intrusive, unwanted, and disturbing thoughts known as obsessions and by the performance of rituals known as compulsions — in an urgent attempt to control the anxiety that the obsessions generate.

Fear of social embarrassment, for example, could prompt someone with OCD to comb his or her hair so compulsively that the individual becomes unable to look away from the mirror.  Thoughts of engaging in violence, bringing harm to loved ones, and having a persistent preoccupation with performing distasteful sexual acts or violating one’s religious beliefs are common obsessions.  Common rituals include repeated hand-washing, counting, or touching objects (especially in a particular sequence).

People who have OCD may be preoccupied with order and symmetry, have trouble discarding things, and accumulate or hoard things they don’t need.  Healthy people perform such rituals as repeatedly making sure the stove is off before leaving the house.  People with OCD perform rituals that distress them, interfere with daily life, and provide no more than a temporary respite from their obsession-induced anxiety.  Most people who have OCD are eventually enslaved by their own compulsions. 

Research indicates that OCD may be a familial disorder.  Many adults who have OCD recognize the futility of their actions, but children and some adults who have OCD are unaware that their behavior is unusual.  The course of OCD can vary.  Symptoms may emerge and disappear, ease or intensify, or prevent the individual from carrying out his or her responsibilities.  Many people with OCD try to control their disorder by avoiding circumstances that trigger their obsessions or by self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.

 

Mood and Food

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

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.

Celebrate the Brain

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

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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Binge Eating Disorder

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

fat-foods-binge-eatingBy Nikita Katz, MD, PhD

Binge eating disorder is an illness that resembles bulimia nervosa.  Like bulimia, the disorder is characterized by episodes of uncontrolled eating or binging—occurring, on average, at least once a week for three months, according to DSM-5.  However, binge eating disorder differs from bulimia because its sufferers do not purge their bodies of excess food.

Individuals with binge eating disorder feel that they lose control of themselves when eating. While they commonly eat fewer meals than people without eating disorders.  When they do eat, they eat rapidly, consuming large quantities of food and do not stop until they are uncomfortably full.  When binging, they typically do so alone because they feel embarrassed by how much they are eating, and they tend to feel disgusted with themselves, depressed, or very guilty afterward.  Usually, they have more difficulty losing weight and keeping it off than do people with other serious weight problems. Most people with the disorder are obese and have a history of weight fluctuations.

Binge eating disorder is found in about two percent of the general population—more often in women than men.  Recent research shows that binge eating disorder occurs in about 30 percent of people participating in medically supervised weight-control programs.

Because people with binge eating disorder are usually overweight, they are prone to the serious medical problems associated with obesity, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Obese individuals also have a higher risk for gallbladder disease, heart disease, and some types of cancer. Research at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere has shown that individuals with binge eating disorder have high rates of co-occurring psychiatric illnesses, especially depression.

Cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy are the treatments found to produce the greatest degree of remission in patients with binge eating disorder.  Also, there can be improvements in specific eating-disorder psychopathology, associated psychiatric problems such as depression and psychosocial functioning.

Epidemiology of Eating Disorders

Estimates of the incidence or prevalence of eating disorders vary depending on the sampling and assessment methods.

  • Eating disorders have generally been recognized as affecting a narrow population of Caucasian adolescent or adult young women from developed Western countries.  In recent years, data are steadily accumulating to document that:
  • The prevalence of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa in children and younger adolescents is unknown.
  • Approximately 0.5–1 percent of adolescents suffer from anorexia nervosa and 1–5 percent suffer from bulimia nervosa. Female college students are at highest risk of the latter.
  • An estimated 85 percent of eating disorders have their onset during adolescence.
  • Estimates of the lifetime prevalence of bulimia nervosa among women have ranged from 1.1 to 4.2 percent. Some studies suggest that the prevalence of bulimia nervosa in the United States may have decreased slightly in recent years.
  • The reported lifetime prevalence of anorexia nervosa among women has ranged from 0.5 percent for narrowly defined to 4 percent for more broadly defined anorexia nervosa.
  • Estimates of the male-female prevalence ratio range from 1:5 to 1:10 (although 19-30 percent of younger patient populations with anorexia nervosa are male).
  • An estimated five million Americans suffer from eating disorders at any given time, including approximately 5 percent of women and <1 percent of men with either anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder.
    • eating disorders have become more common in pre-pubertal children and women in middle and late adulthood in such countries
    • ethnic and racial minority groups in these countries are vulnerable to eating disorders, and
    • there is nothing uniquely “Western” about eating disorders, which are a global health problem.

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Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

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

pumpkin-pie-520655_640Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, more mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, cherry pie, triple chocolate cheesecake, cookies, fudge, fruitcake. Okay, pass on the fruitcake. Is it any wonder why the vast majority of exercise equipment is sold in the month of January? This year, with a little foresight and planning, things could be different.

Prevention has always been preferable to cure. A few weeks of “preventive dieting” is not a bad way to avoid the shock and horror of stepping on the scale in January. It need not be as stringent as clear liquids and lettuce from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. That would be cruel and unusual punishment. However, a few, simple, common sense measures really can make a significant difference:

  • Have a healthy breakfast with some protein and whole grains. People who routinely eat breakfast (not a crème-filled doughnut) consume an average of two hundred calories less per day than people who skip breakfast.
  • Try not to drink calories. Avoid sugary beverages such as sodas, sweetened tea, lemonade, juice drinks. Diet sodas may be tempting, but they can actually cause an increase in appetite.
  • Cut back on alcohol for several weeks. Save the wine or cocktails for the really special meals. Alcohol consumption generally increases significantly from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. Unfortunately, alcohol is loaded with empty calories and can slow metabolic rate. It also disrupts normal sleep architecture.
  • Preserve and protect sleep. Multiple studies now confirm that sleep deprivation in both children and adults is associated with weight gain. There is no mystery. Even one night of inadequate sleep can adversely affect numerous hormones, including cortisol, thyroid, growth hormone, leptin, and ghrelin. Metabolic rate can drop and appetite increases. The result is weight gain. Ease up on the late nights and parties.
  • Aim for 30 minutes of exercise every day. There’s no need to wait for January 2. The benefits of exercise are legion. Apart from the improvement in conditioning, strength, and flexibility, exercise is a terrific way to cope with holiday stress, improve sleep quality, and possibly escape annoying relatives for a while.
  • Have a light, high-protein snack before heading off to a party. Working all day, skipping dinner, and arriving at a party in a state of semi-starvation is a recipe for overindulgence. Some yogurt, a little cottage cheese, or a small bowl of cereal before leaving the house can boost self-control in the face of tempting treats.
  • Downsize plates, bowls, glasses, and mugs. Most people will eat whatever food is presented on a plate, whether it’s 10 inches or 6 inches. Use small luncheon plates or salad plates at home for every meal. This is a great strategy for year-round weight control.
  • Split dessert with a friend even at the “big event” meals. TUMS will not be required as the after-dinner mint.

Avoiding holiday weight gain is not the impossible dream. It’s entirely possible with a little planning and discipline. Besides, no one will really miss all that fruitcake.

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Managing Holiday Stress

Posted on Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Psychology

They’re coming: Thanksgiving; Hanukkah; Christmas; and New Year. Weeks of potential, nonstop stress are right around the corner. And, all of that is followed by seemingly endless bills, three or four months of miserable weather, and tax season. What could be better? Medically speaking, all of this can lead to a perfect storm of illness. Too much stress and too little sleep can set the stage for everything from colds, flu, and pneumonia, to hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes out of control. The discussion about holiday stress aggravating anxiety and depression could fill a book.

The reality is difficult to deny. During this wonderful but weird time, millions of people will go places they really don’t want to go. They will do things they really don’t want to do. And, in many cases, they will visit people they don’t even like. This is not necessary. Too many activities, too much chaos, noise, and stress, not to mention too many calories and too little sleep, combine to create a physiologic disaster. Before the madness begins, a few principles of prevention may help:

  • Minimize caffeine and alcohol. Alcohol is loaded with empty calories and will disrupt normal sleep architecture.
  • Avoid holiday exhaustion. It’s okay to decline invitations. Try not to go out two nights in a row and schedule some quiet time instead.
  • Make time for exercise. It will help dissipate stress, boost energy, and facilitate better sleep.
  • Avoid unrealistic expectations. Don’t try to recreate a Norman Rockwell scene. It puts too much pressure on everyone.
  •  Aim for a few lovely memories—not a credit card extravaganza. Overspending is a major contributor to holiday stress.
  • Be prepared to overlook a lot. Everyone has annoying relatives. We can’t control what they say or do, but we can control our response to it. Don’t let a thoughtless remark ruin the day for everyone.

In short, managing holiday stress involves a healthy dose of common sense. Don’t overeat, overindulge, overreact, or overspend. Do try to have a healthy routine with a little less food, a lot less chaos, and for more rest. That’s a good plan for any time of the year.webinarsSeminars-CTA