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Archive for October, 2015

handwriting improves brain health copy

Do your fingers whir across the keyboard, but your brain is left in the dust? One small but effective way to improve brain health is as simple as putting a pen to paper for a little bit each day. Research shows that although keyboards make writing fast and easy, they also make for sloppier brain function compared to handwriting.

Handwriting has been phased out of everyday life and school curriculums. Studies show many people can’t remember the last time they had to write something by hand and many children don’t know how to properly hold a pen or pencil because it’s barely taught in school.

This is bad news for our brains, say experts. The reason it takes children several years to learn how to write is because writing requires so many different areas of the brain to work simultaneously, enhancing development.

Likewise, college students who take notes by hand understand the material better than computer note takers. Note taking by hand requires more focus and discernment, enhancing memory, while taking notes on a laptop note can turn into mindless transcription.

In fact, taking notes by computer actually impairs the learning process while handwriting enhances it, thanks to the motor skills involved.

Why handwriting is better for the brain

Neuroscience has discovered a variety of reasons why handwriting is better for the brain than typing.

  • It activates learning pathways in the brain.
  • It stimulates more ideas and creativity.
  • Cursive writing can help remedy dyslexia.
  • Taking notes by hand improves memory.
  • A handwritten piece has more personality than something type written, thus improving human connection.
  • Handwriting involves fine motor skills that involve more areas of the brain in the learning process.

Perhaps those missing out most on the neurological benefits of handwriting are the children who barely learn it. Cursive writing is largely no longer being taught and keyboard proficiency takes precedence over writing after first grade.

Brain scans of children learning letters through writing versus through typing showed writing activates various parts of the brain while typing hardly activates it at all. In other words, those messy first stabs at writing that gradually improve with practice are building neurological foundations that make learning easier and more enduring.

Handwriting improves overall health

Because it boosts brain function, handwriting can improve your health. You can further supercharge the benefits of handwriting based on what you write about  Using specific journaling practices will not only give you the benefits of handwriting but the content of your writing can help you better manage your health. Look what studies below show.

  • Writing down your thoughts and feelings can make your wounds heal faster.
  • Writing 20 minutes a day improves quality of life for patients with cancer.
  • People who keep a gratitude journal are more optimistic and exercise more.
  • Writing down what you’re grateful for at night can improve sleep.
  • Expressive writing has been shown to improve mental and physical well-being.

Whether you keep a gratitude journal, take class notes by hand, or commit to regularly writing an older relative handwritten letters, handwriting is a small but effective way to boost your quality of life.

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high blood sugar chronic disease copy

It’s not easy being a healthy American. We are constantly besieged by the lure of sugary, starchy treats (salted caramel latte and a scone anyone?). Yet behind the innocent disguise of these lures is the threat of chronic disease, the leading cause of death.

Heart diseasestroke  diabetes, arthritis  and Alzheimer’s are among the most common and expensive health problems in the United States. In most cases their origins spiral back around to those small daily decisions — the fries instead of a salad, the syrupy hot drink with whipped cream instead of a simple cup of coffee or tea, or the ice cream or pie for dessert instead of a little fruit (or, gasp, no dessert).

What is it about these seemingly innocuous indulgences that add up to deadly diseases? Sugar and refined carbohydrates. (Although the hydrogenated fats, lack of fiber, industrialized salt, and artificial chemicals play their roles, too.)

The standard American diet chronically spikes blood sugar, which in turn chronically spikes inflammation. Inflammation is now recognized as the common denominator among chronic disease today.

Stable blood sugar levels are vital to all processes of the body, especially those of the brain and the immune system. The body has a variety of mechanisms in place to keep blood sugar within a narrow range. Americans, however, exhaust this system with a degree of sugar consumption our bodies were not designed to handle.

Pasta, white rice, breads, pastries, soda, coffee drinks, ice cream, etc. — are examples of foods that spike blood sugar.

How sugar and insulin create the perfect storm for chronic disease

Too many sugars and processed carbs cause the body to overproduce insulin, a hormone that escorts glucose into cells and helps regulate blood sugar.

This constant over production of insulin exhausts the body’s cells. In an attempt at self-defense, they refuse entry to the insulin. This is called insulin resistance.

Now glucose is unable to enter into the cells where it’s needed to make energy. This explains why people feel sleepy after eating, especially after eating sugar, high-carb meals or overeating. Another reason is because excess sugar must be taken out of the bloodstream, so the body converts it to fat. This is an energy-demanding process that also contributes to post-meal sleepiness.

This excess sugar in the bloodstream is highly damaging, damaging blood vessels and the brain  and triggering an inflammatory response.

Research shows links between insulin resistance and many chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s. Some researchers even call Alzheimer’s type 3 diabetes because sugars are so damaging to the brain.

To make things worse, because of the damaging effects of insulin resistance and high levels of circulating glucose, people with insulin resistance often feel too tired to exercise, are prone to overeating, and have intense sugar cravings.

Symptoms that indicate you’re at increased risk of chronic disease

Symptoms of insulin resistance that can raise your risk of chronic disease include:

  • Fatigue after meals
  • General fatigue
  • Constant hunger
  • Constant craving for sweets
  • Strong desire for sweets after meals
  • Waist girth equal to or larger than hip girth
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased appetite and thirst
  • Difficulty losing weight
  • Migrating aches and pains

One of the best ways to prevent or manage chronic disease is to eat a diet that stabilizes your blood sugar. Regular exercise also increases insulin sensitivity. Certain nutritional and botanical supplements can help manage insulin resistance. Contact my office for more advice.

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addicted to unhappiness copy

Notice how easy it is to hang on to anger, shame, guilt, worry, and other negative emotions? Are these emotions so horribly delectable you just can’t let go?

You’re not alone. However, you could be worsening your health by giving in. Scientists have discovered negative emotions have an addictive quality that trigger the reward centers in the brain. In other words, you feel like you’re rewarding yourself when you succumb to negative emotions.

Worry activates areas of the brain that trick you into feeling soothed. Pride and its shadow twins of shame and guilt are the most powerful triggers of the brain’s reward centers. On some twisted level, these yucky emotions feel good.

As with many addictions, negative emotions are fine in moderation (and even beneficial , but toxic when indulged in regularly  They raise stress and inflammation, our two biggest foes when battling autoimmune disease and chronic illness.

Four scientific tips to boost happiness

Happiness is effortless for some people. Good for them. The rest of us have to work at positivity the same way we do at diet and exercise.

If you’re a pro at managing your autoimmune disease through diet and lifestyle, don’t overlook how influential feelings and attitude are on your health.

Here are some tips from a neuroscientist to wean yourself off an unhappiness addiction:

1. Activate the reward center of the brain with gratitude instead of negativity. Shame, guilt, and worry trigger the same brain chemicals gratitude does. Except gratitude doesn’t make you sick; it improves health.

Don’t have anything to be grateful for (c’mon…)? Doesn’t matter. It’s the searching for gratitude that elicits positive benefits.

2. Label negative feelings. Labeling your negative feeling in a few words activates different areas of the brain that lighten the negativity load. Practicing mindfulness is healthier than suppressing emotions.

3. Make a decision when overcome with worry and anxiety. When you’re besieged by worry, create an intention, set a goal, take action — just do something. This boosts the reward center of the brain and takes it off that exhausting hamster wheel. Don’t trap yourself with making the best decision or the one you should make. Instead, shoot for a “good enough” decision that you make for you.

4. Socialize and touch. Appropriately, of course. As far as the brain is concerned, social exclusion is an injury while healthy socialization is an elixir. Even little touches — handshakes, pat on the back, tap on the arm, a hug — amplify the health benefits of socialization. Got no one to touch? Get a massage. And don’t rely solely on texting or the Internet for your socialization. Research shows they don’t impart the same benefits “in-real-life” human company does.

Basically, working towards positivity exercises your brain and helps pull it out of destructive, self-perpetuating loops that raise stress hormones and drive inflammation. Brain exercises aren’t just about crossword puzzles and Sudoku — you also need to exercise the brain’s positivity centers. Ask my office for more information on brain health.

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5 little known autoimmune triggers copy

If you are managing your autoimmune disease through diet and lifestyle, then you probably know about the autoimmune diet  supplements, non-toxic home and body products, and getting enough rest.

But are you aware of hidden sources of stress that may be triggering autoimmune flares?

Common autoimmune diseases today include Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and pernicious anemia. However, there are many more.

Research increasingly shows the connection between autoimmune disease and food sensitivities (such as to gluten) and environmental toxins. Indeed, many people have successfully sent their autoimmunity into remission by following an autoimmune diet and “going green” with the products they use.

We also know stress is inflammatory and can trigger autoimmunity. But what many people may miss is the hidden sources of this inflammation-triggering stress.

Little known triggers of autoimmune disease

Following are little known sources of stress that could be triggering autoimmune disease flare-ups:

Stressful TV shows: Turning on the flat screen to relax could backfire if you’re watching people always on the run from zombies. Research shows watching others stress out can raise our own stress hormones  On top of that, many people feel like failures after they watch TV, which is stressful. Try a productively calming hobby, like practicing an instrument or working with your hands while listening to music to calm your nerves … and your immune system.

Social media: Research shows social media users are more stressed out than non-users. Facebook and Twitter can make us feel like we always have to put on a happy face and that we’re not as successful as our friends. The addictive nature of social media is also stressful. As with all good things, practice moderation. And go see your friends in real life — socialization is a well-known stress buster and health booster that can help you better manage your autoimmune disease.

A bad relationship: We get so used to some relationships we don’t even realize they’re unhealthy. For instance, researchers have shown bad marriages are linked with more stress and inflammation. Bad bosses have also been shown to be hard on your health. Although it’s not so easy to just pop out of a bad relationship, being aware that it can trigger your autoimmune symptoms can help you start moving in a healthier direction.

A difficult childhood: Research shows links between a history of childhood adversities (neglect, disruption, trauma, abuse) and autoimmune disease. Chronic stress while the brain and central nervous system are still developing can create ongoing inflammation and set the stage for autoimmune disease to more easily trigger later in life.

Lack of self-love: How well you love and respect yourself influences your choice in relationships, your career, and how you handle problems. Do you talk to and treat yourself with the same kindness you would an adored child? Do you care for your needs the same way you do a pampered pet? If you bully yourself, you’re unwittingly triggering your autoimmunity. After all, autoimmune disease is the body attacking itself. Don’t foster that with self-attacking thoughts and behaviors. Commit to practicing small acts of self-love throughout your days.

When you look at issues like a bad childhood, a toxic relationship, or lack of self-love, it makes changing your diet and switching to natural body products look easy.

But that’s not the whole picture. Autoimmune disease is a flag from the body that certain aspects of your life may need evaluating and evolving.

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