Meditation is best known as part of the Buddhist and Indian Yoga traditions. It has now migrated and become more integrated into western civilization including the United States. Research has supported a relationship between meditation practice and positive health outcomes.
A recent study suggests that mindfulness meditation can promote health and cognitive function. The study, published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science indicates benefits for improved immune function, reduced blood pressure, and enhanced cognitive function. The authors also explain the way mindfulness helps with our health.
Four key factors of mindfulness are proposed as important to our health: (1) attention regulation; (2) body awareness; (3) emotion regulation; (4) and sense of self. When integrated, these four factors may help with alleviation of stress.
Socialization and mental stimulation are two of the five major components of my brain health lifestyle ® (see www.paulnussbaum.com). One practical tip I have advocated is having one meal a day with the family, friends, or even with new people. I believe this activity is not only social, it promotes story telling, communication, listening to music, use of utensils to consume healthy foods, and slowing down. One activity provides socialization, mental stimulation, nutrition, and even spirituality. Four of the five major components of my brain health lifestyle ® are accomplished with one 45 to 60 minute activity!
It was with great enthusiasm that I read an article in my local newspaper yesterday that outlined a new study detailing the benefits of eating a daily meal with the family. The benefits were particularly important to the emotional and cognitive health of children. The study was published in the American Journal of Pediatrics and supports the health benefits of a non-medical behavioral ritual of our society. The critical point is that we need to work to create and to respect the daily meal and to not let our “busy lives” interfere with this important and necessary daily tradition.
Do you know what it means to truly be fit? Heart disease now is the number 2 cause of death for children under the age of 16. Suicide rates have doubled for children from the ages of 5-14 over the past twenty years. This generation will be the first generation that will not outlive their parents.
How do you know if your children are what is defined as fit?
Some people may think being fit is defined as:
1. Being free of disease and other health problems.
2. Others may define it as having a lot of energy, a muscular or thin body or the ability to finish a vigorous exercise or activity.
However, fitness refers to your own optimal health and overall well-being. Fitness is a combination of wellness of the mind, body and spirit. In fact, all of these things are interconnected.
Fitness is your health at its very best. A child that is fit is not just physically fit, but he or she should have a great emotional and mental well-being as well.
Smart eating and active living are both instrumental to all three. Therefore, a parent should provide a combination of healthy meals and stimulating opportunities for physical activity every day for your children to remain at an optimal fitness level.
There are 5 major roles in determining how your body can react and handle stress:
1. Immune System
4. Mineral and Vitamin balance
According to the Fibro and Fatigue Inc (2008), a baseline analysis is a critical component to understanding your body’s metabolic balance. Research shows that nutritional imbalances may manifest themselves with a number of symptoms, exacerbate existing conditions or led to chronic conditions/disease.
Recent research on monkeys indicates one brain cell may have the power to restore voluntary movement of paralyzed muscles. Nearly every neuron tested by scientists demonstrated the ability to activate muscles immobilized by drugs in monkeys.
Some suggest that if a monkey can learn how to harness the power of a single neuron to activate muscles that have paralysis, the effect should be even more powerful in humans. This research finding has significant implications for the hundreds of thousands of people with spinal cord injuries annually.
It is thought that some types of spinal cord injuries result in paralysis in which the person is fully conscious inside a body that does not respond to commands. While the brain activity that would normally result in voluntary movement is still present, the directions for such movement do not reach the muscle.
The current research on monkey brain cells suggests a potential therapeutic mechanism by bypassing the type of nerve damage that can result in such paralysis. The brain can learn to control new cells and use them to generate movements quickly. Creating electrical stimulation from new neuronal activation in muscles that are paralyzed represents a future oriented treatment direction for those who suffer paralysis.
60 Minutes ran a segment about the health benefits of red wine, specifically the apparent powers of resveratrol, a polyphenol that is found in the skin of grapes and is thought to prevent illness and promote longevity (the Brain Fitness Blog reported on this a few months ago). Resveratrol is said to have a role in preventing clots and is believed to inhibit the production of LDL cholesterol. The 60 Minutes episode highlighted the work of Dr. Christoph Westphal and Harvard biochemist David Sinclair, whose research suggests that resveratrol can delay the aging process and prevent many gerontological diseases. A few years ago, scientists reported that resveratrol may discourage the onset of one such illness, Alzheimer’s. It is also claimed that this antioxidant can boost stamina, reduce lung inflammation stemming from chronic pulmonary disease, and help stave off cancer. Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts, also say that they’ve isolated the chemical and given it to mice. The mice given high doses of Resveratrol were able to run farther, didn’t gain as much weight, and lived 20% longer.
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!
A recent report indicates aspirin and non-steroidal antinflammatory drugs seem to have the positive and perhaps unexpected benefit, of cutting a person’s risk of developing AD.
Researchers at John’s Hopkins reviewed data from 13,499 cases to measure the protective effect from these commonly used drugs on AD risk. Over the course of the studies 820 people developed AD. However, those who used the non-steroidal drugs including aspirin, Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and other brands) and Naproxen together had a 23% lower risk for AD than those who did not use such medications.
Researchers stated that while the different types of medications have different properties, they seemed to deliver the same level of protection. This study and others in the past underscore the probable contribution of an inflammatory process related to AD.
This study and the others do not suggest everyone should start taking these medications, but it might be a good topic to discuss with your doctor.
A recent article in the USA Today discussed “the placebo effect” and the debate surrounding it. According to the American Medical Association “a placebo is a substance provided to a patient that the physician believes has no specific pharmacological effect upon the condition being treated.” Perhaps more important to the understanding of the placebo effect is the belief of the patient.
According to a national (USA) survey in 2008 as many as 50% of physicians prescribe placebos at least once a month. The interaction of mind and body that underlies the placebo effect has been known for many years. Tension exists regarding the placebo as some believe it is unethical for doctors to deceive patients by not telling them about the placebo intervention. However, 1 in 20 doctors who prescribed placebos explicitly described them as such to patients. The question is do placebos actually make patients feel better and does this outweigh the responsibility to inform patients about their use.
Across studies with different medical conditions results suggest there is an active treatment effect of placebo and in some cases this may be significant. Factors such as warmth, empathy, duration of doctor-patient interaction and communication of positive expectation might play an important role in healthy outcomes. If these factors are indeed important and contributory to a positive outcome for a patient, the need to deceive is removed.
Perhaps placebo reflects the long held belief that our brains can have an impact on the condition of our body. Perhaps a message delivered by a person that the patient perceives as knowing and within a context the brain perceives as credible can lead to our own body helping to solve the medical issue. Further, given the rather consistent positive impact of “placebos” on patient outcomes it seems time to begin rethinking the therapeutic effect of mind over matter and to integrate such care into the standard regimen of our “health care system.”
As most of us get into middle age we might take special notice of our body’s ability to keep a few extra pounds around the waist. Most of us understand the importance of eating healthy and the disease risk associated with extra weight around the belly.
Recent research suggests the brain’s ability to sense gratification may be critical to overeating behavior. We may have a gene that assists us with knowing when we are filled after eating. Research now indicates that a brain that does not express satiation will lead to continued eating and increased risk of obesity.
We know that a healthy diet and regular exercise are very important for maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding obesity. However, genetics also plays a role in which an important neurochemical, Dopamine, may play a critical role. Dopamine is the primary neurochemical that regulates our pleasure sensation.
Eating temporarily boosts dopamine levels, but obesity may be associated with fewer Dopamine receptors which lead to less sensation of pleasure with eating. Research now suggests that the brain regions important to Dopamine expression when eating treats such as a milkshake does not get activated in those who are obese.
Interestingly, Dopamine has been studied as a primary mechanism for addiction and impulsive behavior including eating. Attempts are underway to try and understand how Dopamine might be triggered even in obesity to reduce impulsive eating so as to reduce gaining more weight. To read more about Dopamine, click here