Author Archives: Dr. Paul Nussbaum

Harmony Between Limbic System and Frontal Lobe

We all know that feeling when things seem in sync, in harmony, and we are at peace. You may have heard the phrase “I am one with the world” that humans use to describe such inner balance. What a great feeling that is.

Unfortunately, we tend to live a fair amount of our lives out of balance as we chase the next, often small priority, task in our day. We live our lives with a sense of worry and chronic anxiety. Our bodies communicate such worry to us in the form of migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep disorder, irritability, ulcer and mood disorder.

The brain has two distinct, but integrated systems that facilitate such balance or imbalance. The first is known as the limbic system that provides our emotional being and serves as a type of “hot area of the brain.” This part of our brain can cause that inner sense of doom and gloom and set off the “fight or flight” reaction. It is called hot because of its emotionality that can also be impulsive and get us into some trouble in daily life.

The other brain region is the frontal lobe thought by some to be the cold analytic part of our being. This is the part of our being that helps to keep us socially graceful, rule abiding, and capable of conforming to civil order.

The goal in life is to balance these two regions, the hot limbic system with the cold analytic frontal lobe. Sometimes we are able to accomplish such a balance and integration and when this occurs we feel that inner sense of “oneness.” Crisis can integrate these regions quickly, which is why we tend to immediately prioritize those things that are most important in our lives and live in the moment during crisis. The goal needs to be to get to such integration without the crisis.

Some steps to consider include: (1) try to be in the moment and develop a consciousness about your inner balance; (2) are you approaching your day too emotional or too “hot” or are you “too cold” and overly analytic; (3) remind yourself of what is really important and what is not; (4) make an attempt to release those things that are not worthy of your energy or attention; (5) free up space and time in your life; (6) give things away; (7) be forgiving; (8) pray and meditate daily; (9) work on what your role and purpose is in life; (10) rely on love as the primary emotion and behavior.

These steps will set you on a path towards inner balance and to getting your limbic system happily integrated with your frontal lobe!

Latest on Omega-3 Supplements

You may have read or heard about the recent study and news that Omega-3 supplements have no significant effect on reducing cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease. Findings were published in the September 12 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A meta-analysis pooled from 20 randomized studies including more than 68,000 patients concluded that supplementation did not reduce the risks of all-cause mortality, cardiac death, sudden death, myocardial infarction or stroke.  The authors opined that the findings do not justify the use of Omega-3s as a structured intervention in everyday clinical practice or guidelines supporting daily Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid administration.

Authors and clinicians suggest that even though supplements may not reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, there is evidence they help reduce triglyceride cholesterol levels. Clinicians also indicate it is important we maintain a plant-based diet with Omega-3 rich fatty fish as part of a heart-healthy Mediterranean-like dietary strategy that hold benefits most likely beyond individual supplements.

It is important to differentiate disease prevention from health promotion. Because something does not prevent a disease does not mean it is not healthy. Omega-3s in the form of food consumption remains health promoting. Even supplements continue to help with unhealthy cholesterol reduction. We should engage in health promoting behaviors including diet, exercise, and stress reduction even if such behaviors do not prevent disease.

Dental Floss and My Memory

I had read reports from the past about the role of dental health and a relationship to cognition and brain health. The primary mechanism seemed to involve inflammation. Inflammation can occur throughout the body and if one area of the body incurs inflammation that tends to indicate a similar response in other areas of the body.

Inflammation of the gums is a relatively common sign that many of us have been educated about by our dentists. It is probably fair to say that we never considered our brain when our dentists talked to us about our dental health and gum inflammation.

A recent study by researchers at the University of California found that persons who brushed their teeth less than once daily were 65% more likely to develop dementia than those who brushed daily. It may be that your oral health habits influence your brain health. The study that followed nearly 5,500 elderly over an 18 year-period was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The authors of the study pointed to inflammation from gum disease-related bacteria as a factor in a host of conditions including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It appears dementia can be added to the list. Some studies have found people with Alzheimer’s disease have more gum disease-related bacteria in their brains than those without Alzheimer’s.

It is thought that gum disease bacteria may infiltrate the human brain causing inflammation and brain damage. The authors are quick to point out that the results of their study are correlational and not causal. The findings do raise important questions regarding the role of inflammation on our general health and how one area of the body can certainly affect another area.

One thing is for sure, it certainly does not hurt to brush our teeth daily and maintain good oral health.

Caregiver Guilt

Over 20 years of clinical practice has taught me that caregivers experience a full range of emotions in their new role. We really do not have a manual or guide on how “how to be a great caregiver” growing up so the role of caregiver is often learned as we go. This can be difficult and challenging for many of us.

One of the primary emotions experienced by most caregivers is a sense of guilt. Guilt probably stems from the feeling that “I should be doing more and I should be able to take care of mom or dad in my home.” The emotion is typically confronted by the reality that a caregiver may also have a full time job, several kids, a family, and no room at home to provide such care.

Simultaneously, and particularly in the case of parents, the caregiver realizes that the parent cared for him or her and deserves the same in return. These really represent the core issues and thoughts the breed guilt. The feeling of guilt is universal and quite normal. It reflects love and compassion for a family member. It can also cause the caregiver many sleepless nights, depression, anger, etc.

In my practice, I try to provide the caregiver a chance to talk about what he or she is experiencing. I always let the caregiver know how normal guilt is and that the most important decision for care of an older person is safety. So often, a parent may be in need of 24-7 supervision, increased structure, socialization opportunities, and clinical attention. Most children cannot meet these needs, particularly on a 24-7 basis.

Time is helpful to the caregiver guilt, as children will see that most settings provide excellent and compassionate care within a safe environment. It is important for the caregiver to find time for him or herself and to not let guilt drive their decisions such as how often to visit. I will make recommendations to caregivers to not visit so often when I believe the behavior is causing more problems.

A decision to place a loved one such as a parent into assisted living or long-term care is very difficult. All caregivers can know that guilt is a primary and normal emotion with such decisions. Safety needs to be the most important factor in the decision-making process and time will help to heal the feelings of guilt. Caregivers need to create their own time for respite and to monitor their emotional health throughout.

Words Sculpt the Brain

Neuroscience has underscored the importance of neural plasticity and this has unleashed an entire new way of thinking about the human brain. Indeed, we now know more about the brain than ever in our civilization, and most of the knowledge has been accrued in the past twenty years.

Plasticity enables a brain to be shaped by environmental input and it presumes a constantly reorganizing and malleable system. The brain is constantly being shaped, some for the positive and some for the negative. The good news is we have plenty of opportunity to make good decisions regarding how we want our brains to be shaped.

My brain health lifestyle ® promotes five major components to shaping the brain. These include physical activity, mental stimulation, nutrition, socialization, and spirituality. I have promoted an enriched environment filled with novel and complex stimuli as one that can shape the brain for the health.

I believe another major source of shaping or sculpting our brains is language. The spoken language and words themselves. Words are processed by the brain and interpreted for meaning. Such processing creates or leads to thought, emotion, and movement. I have written and spoken about the long-term effects words can have on a human brain and human being.

Consider for a moment some of the most important and wise statements or pieces of advice you have been given or you have read in your life. The very words made a lasting impression, perhaps emotional or cognitive, and literally sculpted your brain in a positive way. This is all neurophysiological and structural in nature, but it results in a behavioral or functional outcome. You might also recall an insult or a negative piece of feedback that affected you in a negative manner. The sculpting here is no less significant and carries with it the same potential for long-term effects.

Grandmother was correct and wise when she instructed to “not open our mouths unless we had something good to say”!

The messages we deliver in the form of words can carry a significant and long lasting effect. We can start and stop wars, start and stop relationships, help others succeed in life, and make others feel good about themselves.

Words, a pretty cool medicine indeed!