Mind over Matter

When I present my keynote address on Brain Health I try to provide the audience with a glimpse of how complicated and miraculous the human brain really is. I typically make a statement that one day the human brain will be able to fix the maladies of the human body and that one day the human brain will communicate with other brains without opening the mouth.

While this may sound a bit science fiction I believe it to be true. A recent report provides yet more support for where our planet is heading. The automaker Honda has been funding research and development into the ability of the human brain via thoughts to relay commands to a robot that will alter the function of the car. If one wants the air conditioner turned on he or she can complete this by simply thinking the wish and the brain signals will trigger a robot mechanism to make the command happen.

In the near or distant future we will be able to conduct our basic daily functions from mental energies that will enable a much more efficient use of time and energy. It represents a true technological advancement based from the brain. Ultimately, this use of energy will be from brain to brain.

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) on the rise

The Alzheimer’s Association just released a report indicating an estimated 5.1 million Americans over age 65 now have AD. The cases of this progressive dementia are expected to rise to 7.7 million by 2030 and to an even more overwhelming 11-16 million by 2050. This is of course presuming a medical breakthrough for stopping the disease does not occur by then.

Health care costs for those suffering AD and other forms of dementia are nearly three times higher than costs for older adults not affected with dementia. Nearly every 70 seconds someone new in the US develops AD which destroys a person’s cognitive and functional abilities.

At present, nearly 2.7 million Americans over age 85 have the disease. However, it is estimated that with the first wave of baby boomers reaching 85 in 2031 3.5 million will have AD. It is presently the sixth leading cause of death for citizens of the US and the fifth leading cause in those over age 85. Indeed, death attributed to AD has increased by 47% between 2000 and 2006.

This is an enormous social issue as we must secure more funding for the treatment and care of those with AD. Lifestyle factors must be taken more seriously and financial and other incentives should be used to promote proactive brain health lifestyles. At present, the United States is not prepared to manage the disease given the demographic shift.

..more about Brain Nutrition/Lifestyle

What Exactly is Moderate Exercise?

We all are told to engage in moderate exercise, but I wonder if you have ever wondered what is meant by “moderate?” Fortunately, a new study published in May’s American Journal of Preventive Medicine addresses this very issue.

National guidelines encourage all Americans to engage in “moderate physical activity” at least 2.5 hours a week. This new study defines moderate as a brisk walk or about 1,000 steps every 10 minutes. 58 women and 39 men with a mean age of 32 walked on treadmills while a machine measured their energy allocation. Results indicated moderate exercise resulted in 92 to 102 steps a minute for men and 91 to 115 steps a minute for women. The authors of this study asked us to “imagine you are late for a bus, you are in a hurry, and note that you are not in a leisurely stroll. You are actually in a brisk walk!

So we all need to get the heart pumping because the brain is a very demanding system.

God and the Human Brain

It is very hard not to appreciate the necessity of a higher being to the creation and existence of the human brain. Scientists have recently increased study of the relationship between a higher being, God, and the human brain. Why do patients with temporal lobe epilepsy or schizophrenia sometimes report hyper-religiosity, delusions of grandeur, and belief that they are God? Is there something about the Temporal Lobe and appreciation of God?

New research (see March Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) suggests that our own belief systems regarding God trigger different parts of the human brain. It appears that we use our cortex and higher order processing systems to think about God’s thoughts or emotions or even the metaphorical aspects of God or religion.

Of interest is the field of Neurotheology that studies the relationship between our belief systems and brain function. We most likely need to pay more attention to how religious beliefs and practices may help to promote quality of life and then integrate such practices into our standard prescribed health care therapies. For example, even in a brain ravaged with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) the person can sit still and appropriately for nearly 30 minutes to hear a religious service or mass, to sing religious hymns, and to pray. This activity soothes the agitated brain in ways some, if not most, medications do not.

Meditation Slows AIDS Progression

A recent study found that meditation may slow the progression of AIDS in just a few weeks. Researchers believe that meditation may help boost the immune system in combating the progression of the disease. This finding needs replication in a larger sample of patients, but it could offer a cost effective and relatively pleasant method to help people battle the terrible and progressive fatal condition. The stress lowering program known as “mindfulness meditation” was used. This type of meditation employs an open and receptive awareness of the present moment, avoiding thinking of the past or worrying about the future.

Researchers found the more often the patients meditated the higher their CD4-T Cell counts, a standard measure of how well the immune system is fighting the AIDS virus. The CD4 counts were measured before and after the two-month program. Researchers point out that this is the first study to indicate mindfulness meditation stress management training can have a direct impact on slowing HIV disease progression.

A larger issue here is that we are beginning to explore how the brain itself can begin to change the physiology of the body. Indeed I have speculated for some time that the brain has the ability to fix the body, we simply need to learn how. Perhaps we are on the right path!