Sunday, December 31, 2006

Brain and Body

I learned something today.

After yesterday's mental and physical work to keep my body in those ski boots and on the snow, attempting to follow instructions, I experienced that accumulation of signals. Brain and body clicked.

Jim, the director of the learning center at Tahoe Donner ski area, took me on the slopes for a couple of runs, and I came out a skier. That second time we went on the lift back to the top of the little hill, I thought, "ho boy, here I go, my legs are wobbly and I don't know how to do this." Jim is an accomplished skier and instructor, and his deftness was all my benefit. Encouraging down and down and down the slope, every turn and stop was information on a massive scale. After we finished, I continued a little way further down the slope on my own, and had the phenomenal rush of "AHA!" as gravity, my skis, and my body merged into the smooth movements of downhill skiing. For at least ten seconds.

Jim explained all the things I didn't know, and did it with metaphors I understood: Driving a car - reach for the steering wheel. Pedaling a bike, push with the right, push with the left.

I was delirious when I realized I had just learned how to ski. I looked across the snow at the spot I wanted to head for, and I went there. Magic.

How many dendrites have I triggered into growth during these two days? It occured to me that I've engaged a number of brain areas, and one that is missing is music. I decided to figure out a little tune for myself for the afternoon's runs.

I'm flat out in awe of the feeling of discovery at this level of engagement. I'm grinning, and eager for more. What can I learn next?

Where's your "aha"?

Wishing you a year of awe,

Happy New Year,

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Brain Activation: First Skiing Lessons

Just to stand on the hillside in ski boots, on the skis, shifting weight from foot to foot is so strange and new, I do not have the kinesthetic signals to do it. I use my imagination, listen to the instructor, and say under my breath, "grow, dendrites, grow."

All the visuals are new, too. A huge white bowl, the lifts carrying skiiers and skis and poles and snowboards up to the top, trees along the ridge and the sky criss-crossed in contrails. I shift left, right, and my eyes take it in.

The little class of beginners is going down the hill now. "Single file," the instructor says, "follow me, do what I do!" I'm able now to travel along the angle of the slope, control my speed, snowplow. I'm learning a new language along with all the kinesthetic information.

Ski patrol zooms down to help a troubled skiier sprawled in the snow. I see the red jacket, as he finishes up and takes off again, the first-aid cross on the back. I sense I am cataloguing the elements of my environment.

Tomorrow, evidence of brain growth is expected. I'll be able to turn, and can spend some time doing something easier than getting up out of the snow, my legs pinned in a pretzel of skiis. I'm banking on that dendrite growth, and I'll take a little extra CoQ10 and Vitamin C to help it along.

Tonight, rub sore muscles, drink water, eat good food, laugh with my new friends, watch the fire. Regeneration.

Taking on new, challenging, and complex activities after 50 is pure Activation.

2007 is upon us. Have you considered what joyful Activation you might engage in the coming year?

Blessings to you,

Friday, December 29, 2006

My Newness

I have this Activation under way. I'm going downhill skiing for the first time in my life. That sounds like enough, I'd recommend it for an Activation activity for sure. What I'm looking at today, though, is the range of new neural pathways I'm experiencing in the process of getting to the mountain.

First there was the foreign foot experience. Buying ski boots was an utterly foreign foot expereience. Zhort, the extravagantly handsome Hungarian athlete who fits ski boots at the Sports Basement in the Presidio, instructed me. I stood in the rigid structure that is known as a modern ski boot. "Lean forward in the boot," Zhort said in his crisp accent, "push with your shin. Now your toe should come back in the boot."

I sat with the boots clamped onto my feet, settling in, watching for spots that hurt.

Sensory input traveled along to my brain. They're tight. They're rigid. My brain is listening.

Now we are traveling along I-80 in heavy traffic headed for the mountain. This is something else I have rarely done. Highways in heavy traffic is not a brain activator for anyone who commutes regularly -- seriously not recommended. But for me, today, I am taking in visuals and sounds and cultural stories left and right.

Night settles in and a half moon lights the slopes. I get my first look at snow.

We meet new friends at a mexican restaurant in Truckee, and make merry with Charley's son and his crew who have just finished dinner. New sights. New people. New stories. Dendrites galore!

A wonderland of experiences await. I'm contemplating the description of going in a long, slow "S" down the hill, letting the skis take me. Tomorrow, the slopes, and who knows what else!

to be continued...


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Thinking With Heart

Today I offer a window into one of our new sciences. The following excerpt is from an article found on the Heartmath site. You can read much more about the new discipline called "neurocardiology" by searching for "heartmath" on Google or another search engine.

Rollin McCraty, Raymond Trevor Bradley, Dana Tomasino

The Body's Heart Field
Heart Field: An electromagnetic field produced through the heart that can be detected several feet from the individual.

Many believe that conscious awareness originates in the brain alone. Recent scientific research suggests that consciousness actually emerges from the brain and body acting together. A growing body of evidence suggests that the heart plays a particularly significant role in this process.

Far more than a simple pump, as was once believed, the heart is now recognized by scientists as a highly complex system with its own functional “brain.” Research in the new discipline of neurocardiology shows that the heart is a sensory organ and a sophisticated center for receiving and processing information. The nervous system within the heart (or “heart brain”) enables it to learn, remember, and make functional decisions independent of the brain’s cerebral cortex. Moreover, numerous experiments have demonstrated that the signals the heart continuously sends to the brain influence the function of higher brain centers involved in perception, cognition, and emotional processing.

In addition to the extensive neural communication network linking the heart with the brain and body, the heart also communicates information to the brain and throughout the body via electromagnetic field interactions. The heart generates the body’s most powerful and most extensive rhythmic electromagnetic field. Compared to the electromagnetic field produced by the brain, the electrical component of the heart’s field is about 60 times greater in amplitude, and permeates every cell in the body. The magnetic component is approximately 5000 times stronger than the brain’s magnetic field and can be detected several feet away from the body with sensitive magnetometers.

The heart generates a continuous series of electromagnetic pulses in which the time interval between each beat varies in a dynamic and complex manner. The heart’s ever-present rhythmic field has a powerful influence on processes throughout the body. We have demonstrated, for example, that brain rhythms naturally synchronize to the heart’s rhythmic activity, and also that during sustained feelings of love or appreciation, the blood pressure and respiratory rhythms, among other oscillatory systems, entrain to the heart’s rhythm.


I am currently looking over other studies on electromagnetic pulses and the various ways the brain and body communicate. This does put a different slant on listening to your heart!

Be well,

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Development Varies In Different Areas of the Brain

At the Keck School of Medicine at USC, Ione Fine, Ph.D., was the principal investigator of a study on brain regions which respond selectively to cues of gender, ethnicity and identity cues in the faces of others.

The study showed that some people have an inability to make distinctions such as these, even failing to recognize obvious gender cues. Most of the population is likely to fall in the midrange of this ability, with some able to detect a slew of identity features at a glance.

The next time you realize that your companion didn't notice the waitress was speaking with an Italian accent, consider the possiblity that he or she may not have this particular brain development at the same level as you. The idea that we have such a range of individual brain development can help us to accept all kinds of differences in others. Our experiences of the world are truly as unique as our fingerprints.

What details of your environment do you tend to notice most?


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Relax, Relax, Relax

Letting it all go is a prescription for brain regeneration and neural integration. As we enjoy these deep winter nights, remember to drink an extra glass of water here and there, have some good laughs with loved ones, and allow that delicious sleepiness so natural to our wintering bodies.

The pace awaits, no doubt.

For now, let go, and dream.

Yours in light,

Saturday, December 23, 2006


The process I call "Activation" is based on aspects of brain chemistry which are most likely to produce dendrite growth. There are also things you can do which DE-activate brain growth, actually lowering brain activity and in effect putting your healthy, ready-to-fire neurons to sleep.

An obvious deactivation device showed up in today's paper as an advertising insert. Guess what it is. Right! Hey, you are really on today! That GPS device that is being sold actually replaces a powerful brain builder called NAVIGATING. When we use our brains to find an address, we employ many different areas of the brain. We call on areas related to memory, innovation, spatial skill, and creativity, to name a few.

Technology has given us so many powerful and positive things. Like being able to reach all of you with this blog, for example. However, let's pay attention to the healthy and life-enriching activities that may be replaced -- and soon lost -- by relying totally on devices such as the GPS.

Anyone seen my abacus?

Cheerily yours,

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Little Holiday Encouragement

Scientists are still working hard to understand the most productive actions we can take to stave off Alzheimer's Disease. We don't have enough to go on, and some 4.5 million Alzheimer's patients are still well enough to submit to experiments in brain stimulation. (Alarming number, isn't it?)

One thing is showing up in study after study, and is easily worth adopting into daily use -- yep -- good old exercise. Fifteen minutes of walking, biking, even stretching, just three times a week, cuts the risk of dementia by at least a third. How can I capitalize an exclamation point? !!! One simple explanation for this benefit is increased circulation. This is a small investment with returns we already know about.

Now that we're in the thick of the holidays, how about one of those sweet little walks between rains with friends and family who've come to visit? It can give us more than a break from the snacks and sweets.

Hey -- it stopped raining -- I'm going to head out right now.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Meditative Arts are Definite Brain Boosters

Meditating does more than just feel good and calm you down, it makes you perform better – and alters the structure of your brain, researchers have found.
People who meditate say the practice restores their energy, and some claim they need less sleep as a result. Many studies have reported that the brain works differently during meditation – brainwave patterns change and neuronal firing patterns synchronise.

I was recently speaking with Patricia about my suggestions to Activate brain power. She asked if discipline had to be applied, and mentioned a friend who has meditated every day for over twenty years. While I'm sure there is some special benefit to such a long term health routine, I couldn't tell Patricia that this kind of dedication is necessary. The brain thrives on newness -- so if you have many different kinds of meditations, and play with them all, you may actually benefit the brain more than you would by instituting a strict regimen.

What effect meditating has on the structure of the brain has also been a matter of some debate. Now Sara Lazar at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, US, and colleagues have used MRI to compare 15 meditators, with experience ranging from 1 to 30 years, and 15 non-meditators.

They found that meditating actually increases the thickness of the cortex in areas involved in attention and sensory processing, such as the prefrontal cortex and the right anterior insula.

“You are exercising it while you meditate, and it gets bigger,” she says. The finding is in line with studies showing that accomplished musicians, athletes and linguists all have thickening in relevant areas of the cortex. It is further evidence, says Lazar, that yogis “aren’t just sitting there doing nothing".
The growth of the cortex is not due to the growth of new neurons, she points out, but results from wider blood vessels, more supporting structures such as glia and astrocytes, and increased branching and connections.

Just remember to take a moment for yourself, and breathe, smile, and relax those shoulders.

All good,

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Biofeedback: A Brain Loop

Last night I met Dr. George Fuller von Bozzay, the Founder and Director of the Biofeedback Institute of San Francisco. I was reminded of my early experiences with biofeedback in the late 70s. Dr. Fuller von Bozzay is one of the pioneers of biofeedback, and has seen this industry go through several levels of technology. I was taught to use a little device you hold in your palm, and control its rather annoying squeal by controlling body temperature. It was an interesting tool, but is now an antique in the world of biofeedback.

Over many years of teaching myself how to wake up my brain cells and keep things interesting, I have been able to do something I would call biofeedback without any instruments. This is really the goal of teaching biofeedback -- to eliminate the props and know how to control body processes, even the involuntary ones such as breathing and heartbeat, yourself. At this point, I would describe what I do as "talking to my cells." I have learned to do this by playing with a variety of brain exercises. Different breathing exercises, for example, will help you learn to slow your heart rate. One such exercise is this: Breathe in for a count of five. Hold the breath at the "top" for a count of eight. Breathe out for a count of twelve. One thing that happens is a long pulling of the diaphragm. When you release after the exhale, your diaphragm naturally pulls air back into your lungs. This has many effects. It is an exercise used to calm yourself before going on stage, for example.

When I first played with talking to my cells, I saw an image of oval-shaped cells sitting around a table. They seemed like small children, playing. I spoke to them and they all looked up at me, waiting for instructions. I felt that my cells were busy doing "default" activities, but if I instructed them, they immediately went to work on the new assignment. I use this all the time to strengthen my immune system.

I think it is useful to play with many modalities. As you explore different realms of brain possibilities, you are actually developing your abilities in many different directions. You might find one kind of exercise tedious while another makes you laugh or feel pleasant sensations. Let me encourage you to keep playing, and pay attention to the things that make you feel really good.

In joy,
PS: To learn more about biofeedback, go to

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

This New Science

Thanks to Lisa Beerntsen (Thanks Lisa!) for the thought that kicks off this blog. Below is a segment from John Beggs' blog, which I'd like to offer as a window into why I am so inspired about the potential of our brains. (You can find more on Following that is a paragraph from Dr. Norman Rosenthal's site ( Dr. Rosenthal has written "Emotional Revolution," a book about new science related to the brain and emotions.

"Hi, my name is John Beggs. I'm Assistant Professor of Biophysics at Indiana University. So, I like to think about what the brain is doing. I want to know how it works. And by that, I mean how does it process information? It does a lot of really interesting things. The brain stores memories. The brain comes up with creative thoughts. The brain processes vision and hearing and sense of touch and smell and taste and it does so many complex things. In some sense, it's the most fundamental question we can ever ask is what is the brain doing because everything that we see, feel, do, think comes through the brain. It is what we are. So, I'd like to get to the root of the whole universe, which is the brain. What we want to do is take little sections of brain, like groups of brain cells, and understand how they store information and how they process information. We think that the brain is too complex a task to tackle all by itself, so it's better to take a little chunk of it and see if we can understand that. It's a simplified system. And that helps us to wrap our mind around it. You know, a lot of people think wow, if you're in the sciences then everything is very well known, and science has proved this or science has proved that. Neuroscience, the study of how the brain works, or how the brain grows and develops, or how the brain heals itself, this field is relatively new, but it's really booming. There are lots of exciting developments in technology so people are really rushing into the area, but it's a relatively immature science. Things are a little bit more up in the air. There is no general theory of how the brain works. It's sort of like the Wild West, it's lawless."

From Dr. Rosenthal:
There is a revolution taking place in the scientific community that has the power to change lives! After decades of being relegated to the fringes of science, our emotions have suddenly become items of intense study and intrigue. Doctors, scientists, and researchers concerned with the workings of the human body are delving into a new "science of feelings" to find the answers to some of their most pressing questions.

Candace Pert's book, "Molecules of Emotion," is another one I highly recommend for the lay person interested in learning more about the new frontiers of neuroscience.

Good thoughts,

Monday, December 18, 2006

Can you have a synapse while you're sleeping?

Oh, yes. While science continues to explore many mysteries of the brain during sleep, it is accepted that we have synaptic activity of varying rates all through our sleep cycle. Dreams are vivid evidence of this activity.

A panoply of studies have furthered other theories about brain activity during sleep. For example, loss of synaptic activity (or reduction) may be a cause of snoring, and might explain how a person who snores loudly is not awakened by the noise -- while his or her bed partner stares at the ceiling contemplating a gentle homicide.

Here's a trick I learned from a jin shin jyutsu practitioner. (Jin shin jyutsu is a kind of energetic bodywork.) When you wake in the night or have trouble falling asleep, "hold fingers." This is very simple to do and I have found it calming, usually to the point of being able to fall into a deep sleep. Hold your thumb, encircling it lightly with your other hand. Either hand will do. Breathe normally for five breaths before moving on to the index finger. My practitioner would smile and tell me, "Enjoy being awake! It's an opportunity to hold fingers!" In the world of jin shin, holding fingers has many positive effects. Each finger is connected to a different part of the body. Go all the way through your fingers, and if you're still awake, switch hands. Freddie, who offered me jin shin for many years, explains that we are not to squeeze the fingers, but "hold them like you love them."

Enjoy your synapses!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

What Are Neurotransmitters?

Neurotransmitters are made up in many ways, and perform the critical functions of the brain. They cause cells to open as information travels toward the cell, or to close in an inhibiting action. As we age, the substances that make up our neurotransmitters decline. We can counter this and trigger continued brain growth by adding acetylcholine, or lecithin, to our diet. Lecithin is easily obtained, inexpensive and digestible. Several other brain chemicals can be supplemented in the diet and include alpha-lipoic acid, GABA, and CoQ10.

For those of you craving the raw scientific explanation, I offer the following descriptions of neurotransmitters:

Any of a group of substances that are released on excitation from the axon terminal of a presynaptic neuron of the central or peripheral nervous system and travel across the synaptic cleft to either excite or inhibit the target cell. Among the many substances that have the properties of a neurotransmitter are acetylcholine, noradrenaline, adrenaline, dopamine, glycine, y aminobutyrate, glutamic acid, substance P, enkephalins, endorphins and serotonin.

The three major categories of substances that act as neurotransmitters are (1) amino acids (primarily glutamic acid, GABA, aspartic acid & glycine), (2) peptides (vasopressin, somatostatin, neurotensin, etc.) and (3) monoamines (norepinephrine, dopamine & serotonin) plus acetylcholine. The major "workhorse" neurotransmitters of the brain are glutamic acid (=glutamate) and GABA. The monoamines & acetylcholine perform specialized modulating functions, often confined to specific structures. The peptides perform specialized functions in the hypothalamus or act as co-factors elsewhere in the brain.

See you soon,

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Answers to Yesterday's Blog Questions

Each of the questions from the blog on December 15th are topics being considered in the scientific community. Let's take them one at a time.

Today I'll give you a little more information about the blood-brain barrier. Many recent discoveries have been made, and scientists now have a new view of this dynamic.

The three main functions of the blood-brain barrier are:
1. Protection of the brain from "foreign substances."
2. Protecting the brain from hormones and neurotransmitters found elsewhere in the body.
3. Maintaining a constant environment for the brain.

Large molecules do not pass easily through the barrier. They may be too highly charged, too large, or not lipid soluble. Remember, the brain is mostly fat. Some lipid soluble molecules which pass rapidly into the brain are barbituate drugs.

Certain influences can break down the barrier, as well. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is one big factor. Microwave exposure can open the barrier. Some infectious agents can cross over. And trauma, inflammation or pressure through injury to the brain can open the barrier.

Then there are the circumventricular organs. These are specific areas of the brain where the barrier is weak.

More information can be found on the Loyola University School of Medicine website, or at the Society for Neuroscience.

To protect the blood-brain barrier, we can follow all the same suggestions for maintaining a healthy brain, such as use of fish oil to help keep free radicals in check, maintaining hydration with lots of fresh water, and avoiding excessive chemicals in the diet.

It also helps to avoid banging your head against the wall.

Earlier this week I banged my head into a tree. It wasn't much of a notable accident -- I was returning from the mailbox, reading an advertisement, and forgot to pay attention to a familiar obstacle. What I noticed after the initial stun was a heightened sensory system -- more sharpness and vividness visually, more alertness in general. This is probably due to an adrenalin release from the trauma, but it did last into the next day or two.

I'll let you know what my research turns up on mild head trauma.

Meanwhile, take good care of yourself during the holidays, and if you're going to bump your head, run into some mistletoe.

An extra dose of cheer to you all,

Friday, December 15, 2006

Let's Monkey Around

Test your knowledge about the brain with a few questions -- I'll answer them tomorrow.

What is a neurotransmitter?

Can you have a synapse while you're sleeping?

Can people smell in their dreams?

Does the blood-brain barrier prevent toxins from entering the brain tissue?

On a scale of one to ten, ten being the highest value, how does chocolate rate as an antioxidant?

Doing the crosswords every day will build your brain muscles. True or False.

Does alcohol kill brain cells?

How much sleep does the brain need to function at its best?

How is the female brain different from the male brain?

What part of the eye has its own brain cells?

What other parts of the body have neurons?

Okay, that's enough for a Friday -- have a great weekend!


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Beyond the Decade of the Brain

The ten years from 1991 to 2001 were dubbed “The Decade of the Brain.” Of the numerous important breakthroughs during that period, the most exciting to me is the discovery that the brain indeed creates new cells. The new cells the brain creates later in life apparently survive when they are used, or have a better chance of surviving if they are used.

I see happy implications in this news. The arrival of new brain cells can be seen as a gift – and an opportunity to use more of my brain.

The formation of new neurons is called neurogenesis. One area where this is taking place is in your cerebral cortex – the most complex region of the brain, and the area responsible for the highest-level decision making.

One implication of these findings is that the introduction of new neurons into the circuitry of the brain may play a role in memory. Most theories of learning and memory hold that memories are formed by changes at the synapse, or the junction between neurons.

Many studies are currently under way to further our knowledge about newly developed brain cells. The ongoing news from current scientific research is very inspiring -- and motivating.

I look for productive challenges to keep my own brain growing. I want to be sure to put those new cells to work! Learning about the brain is one way I challenge myself. Discovering how to share the news with my readers is another kind of challenge.

Creators of brain exercises say that the brain thrives on newness – and I’d say newness is thriving in the brain!

Be exuberant,

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


My regular blog readers have an idea of what I mean by Activation. It's the aspect of your lifestyle that triggers your brain cells, dendrites in particular, to grow. The very positive outcome of this activity is the strong possibility of overcoming the effects of aging on the brain. As we age, brain chemicals decline. Still, our ability to grow dendrites is astonishing -- and with enough of these branches of our cells reaching through our gray matter, we can continue to learn, to grok, to integrate, and to participate fully in the cognitive world.

Consider these aspects of Activation:

1. Relationships -- new relationships in your community.
2. Reaching for understanding -- in relationships, in studying new concepts, in developing new skills.
3. Changing routines -- the brain thrives on newness!!
4. Dial in the challenge -- choosing activities that stress the brain, but not enough to trigger cortisol or adrenaline. Practice helps you feel the difference.
5. Love and Joy -- choose activities that make you feel connected, involved, warm and fuzzy.

Blissings to you all,

Monday, December 11, 2006


Spinach and strawberries are both very powerful in restoring brain function. A medium-sized spinach salad daily for a week to ten days, along with a bowl of strawberries daily, has been shown to dramatically restore normal brain function. To rejuvenate your brain and actually reverse free radical damage, blueberries show the most dramatic effect. Add Vitamin E to this ten day experiment and you may notice a measurable change in your brain function.

Some people report a kind of "buzz" from consuming the raw cacao nibs -- chocolate's original form. Before cacao is processed into a wonder drug such as a chocolate bar or a truffle, it is one of the most powerful antioxidants known. After heating and the addition of dairy, it loses potency. I've enjoyed the nibs in some vanilla yogurt. It doesn't take much sweetness to make the cacao nibs taste fantastic.

Add high-lignan flaxseed oil, Nepalese pink salt (minerals intact), and a little brewer's yeast to your popcorn to make a special cell booster out of your snack.

Happy crunching,

Sunday, December 10, 2006


“You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no halfway measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That’s what I always do. Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That’s a foolish notion held by people who have no imaginations. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one – well, at least one and a half.” – Winston Churchill

Naps are still taking a long slow turn out of the realm of perceived laziness. What Churchill had discovered, however, is that napping gives a person far more high-energy alertness than the time the nap takes out of the day. And it can do much more than that.

Sleep experts propose that napping should have the status of daily exercise. Studies show that most people are chronically sleep-deprived. These sleepy workers make more mistakes, cause more accidents, and are more susceptible to heart attacks and digestive troubles. NASA’s studies show that 24-minute naps significantly improve the alertness and performance of their pilots.

A reviving-type nap should last no more than 30 minutes. After that amount of time, the body will lapse into a deeper sleep which is difficult to wake from, and may change the body’s clock. A 20 minute nap taken about eight hours after waking from the night’s sleep is shown to be far more helpful than adding that 20 minutes to the long sleep.

The ideal time for a nap is after lunch – if lunch occurs midday. Naps taken later in the afternoon will tend to disturb the sleep cycle. If you are going through a particularly stressful time, recovering from illness or injury, or are under treatment for cancer, naps can be highly beneficial even when you get adequate sleep at night.

Brain Booster: A short afternoon nap, with a cup of black or green tea to ease into wakefulness. Enjoy a productive, fulfilling evening with your brain cells firing, smooth and ready.

Winter’s best to you,

Friday, December 08, 2006

Yes! The Brain Regenerates:

Conventional medical wisdom has held that people are born with all of the brain cells they will ever have. You may recall being told as a teenager that experimentation with drugs or alcohol would kill your brain cells, and you would “never get them back,” or something to that effect.

Teenagers are at risk. Recent studies have shown a serious consequence of teenage drinking. The brain stops producing certain transmitters, and the result can mean a lifelong tendency to depression, “brain fog,” and learning difficulties.

However, scientists have found that cells in the region of the brain responsible for memory and learning can indeed regenerate. In at least one area of the brain, the hippocampus, researchers can see a continual turnover of cells throughout our lives.

We have the opportunity to make use of this exciting information today. By paying attention to the little things we can do to support healthy brains, we further the possibilities for vibrant, engaged aging. Take a moment to ponder your ideas about the later years of your life. Are you able to imagine being highly active in your community, surrounded by friends, making a significant contribution? This is what I want to further. I have the privilege today of knowing many highly creative people who are well past the 50-year mark. My desire is to continue to grow my own brain, and to be part of the information stream now reaching out to the entire population to inspire us all to activate brain health. With high levels of connection, innovation, and inspiration, we have a great future to create.

Meanwhile, here's a little brain health exercise: breathe, smile and relax.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

NUTRITION for the brain:
Antioxidants – The How, Why and What

Free radicals are the brain’s most malicious enemies, and the brain is the most vulnerable to their attacks. The brain is mostly fat, which is the generous provider of free radicals. The process by which oxygen reacts with fat molecules is called oxidation – basically producing rancid fat. The brain can literally become rancid and is constantly threatened by this process.

In spite of the heavy hits our brain cells take from free radicals hour by hour, antioxidants can repair 99% plus of this damage.

They are also sneaky underminers of free radicals. When one antioxidant is depleted in an area of the body, others rush to renew it. This newly understood antioxidant network is what provides real protection from the ravages of free radicals.

Vitamin E
Vitamin C
Glutathione – (research indicates that you cannot effectively supplement this)
Coenzyme Q10
Lipoic acid – makes glutathione available, along with resuscitating vitamin E in particular, strongly contributing to glucose stability.

Lipoic acid’s brilliant role is to resuscitate all the other network antioxidants – as well as itself!

Antioxidants can even save you from genetic destiny: They block free radicals from passing through the membrane of the nucleus into the cloistered chamber where genes are located. This in effect stops the DNA from activating disease-prone genes.

The scientific evidence is overwhelming that eating antioxidant-packed fruits and vegetables, as well as antioxidant vitamins, protects against free-radical damage.

Antioxidants slow the aging process of the entire body, and are particularly necessary to brain health.

Generally, fruits and vegetables with the deepest colors. Also tea, and red wine. The pigment itself is a potent antioxidant!

Some of the highest rates fruits and vegetables:
Prunes, raisins, blackberries, blueberries, garlic, kale, cranberries, strawberries, spinach, raspberries, Brussels sprouts, plums, alfalfa sprouts, broccoli, beets, avocado, oranges, grapes, red peppers, cherries, kiwi, beans, grapefruit, kidney beans, onion, corn. New on the scene: Goji berries and raw cacao nuts.

Spinach and strawberries are both very powerful in restoring brain function. A medium-sized spinach salad daily for a week to ten days, along with a bowl of strawberries daily, has been shown to dramatically restore normal brain function. To rejuvenate your brain and actually reverse antioxidant damage, blueberries show the most dramatic effect. Add Vitamin E to this ten day experiment and you may notice a measurable change in your brain function.

Lycopene has also shown specific benefits, particularly in the ability to continue to perform daily functions well into very old age. The more lycopene in the blood, according to an extensive study still going on by Dr. David Snowdon at the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, the sharper mental acuity in old age. Eating processed tomatoes (which effectively concentrates the lycopene) in the form of tomato paste, tomato sauce, and tomato puree boosts blood’s antioxidant capacity dramatically and can drop the effect of free radicals by as much as 33%.

While I’m writing this, my cup of green tea is steeping. I am sweetening it with Sucanat. THE BEST WAY TO GET SCADS OF ANTIOXIDANT POWER WITH MINISCULE CALORIES: DRINK TEA.

Black tea has on average about 80% more antioxidant capacity than green tea.
However, green tea has four times more EGCG, and is preferred in Japan. Epigallocatechin (EGCG) is a specific antioxidant which is highly favorable.

In one test by Italian researchers, drinking a single cup of strong black or green tea revved antioxidant activity in the blood by 41 to 48%.

By the way, you can forget the powdered or bottled teas. Herbal teas unfortunately do not contain antioxidants, although they may have many other qualities. Decaffeinated tea loses about half the antioxidants found in regular brewed tea containing caffeine. Hot or cold does not matter as long as it is brewed initially.

And milk in your tea?
You can benefit from just a couple of teaspoons of milk in your tea, as it releases the antioxidants. Any more than that will neutralize the value.

Meanwhile, what about chocolate?
Chocolate is rich in antioxidants, packed with polyphenols. Dark chocolate has the most. White chocolate has none. Eating dark chocolate and drinking red wine boosts antioxidant activity beyond the sum of both! Sounds like a good date to me! However, the nutritive value of chocolate is greatly reduced by the processing. You can read about raw cacao online, and it is now available to purchase. I’ve used the raw cacao nibs, sprinkled in yogurt, and found them totally enjoyable.

Chocolate is also one of the most powerful mood elevators, but who doesn’t know that?

Studies indicate that eating antioxidants even late in life can help reverse mental decline that has already occurred.

Be well and enjoy your day,

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

ACTIVATION -- or stress?

The brain requires some pushing of its edges in order to grow those all-important dendrites. But when is this pushing a form of stress which releases cortisol? Cortisol is not what we are looking for in terms of helpful brain chemicals.

Everyone has their own threshold when it comes to healthy stress versus damaging stress. One way to assess your choices of brain-growing activities is to watch your emotional landscape. You know when you're enjoying an activity or pursuit. You know when it's a real turn-on. Listen to your whole body to discover the point when you are pushing too far. Deep fatigue is one signal. Getting sick is another. Feelings of irritability that last longer than a day (or longer than the full moon for some of us!) may indicate a course correction.

Even before you start a new pursuit, you can use these signals to assess the value and wisdom of what you are considering. Are you worrying about the outcome more than you are feeling excitement and joy?

Stress also has its up side. In some of the brain exercises now being made available, the pattern is to push the intellect harder and harder, increasing complexity. Just like pushing your muscles to develop, the brain will respond with dendrite growth.

Weigh both sides of stress as you develop your plan of activation for your own brain growth.

Let me know how it goes.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Neuroscientist Michael Merzenich, Ph.D., of PositScience Corporation in San Francisco, has important information about brain fitness through aging. I like his perspective, as he describes the brain as a learning machine which must be engaged in new learning. He has created a brain fitness program which may reverse memory loss. Dr. Merzenich stated, “The brain can outlive the body.”

As I wrote in the blog on language, our perspective can be dictated by our cultural clich├ęs. In these daily blogs, I will continue to encourage a new perspective: one in which our ideas about what is possible for the future continue to expand. Have you thought about the brain as a magnificently developed machine, even in the skull of a 90 year old? I challenge you to imagine this scenario now.

What activities might this person engage in, as a vibrantly active member of the community? I would love to work with women and men in their ninth or tenth decade of life who have continued to challenge their minds, find solutions, solve puzzles, and integrate their experiences and knowledge. I’d love to sit at a table with these great minds and let our imaginations inform us about possible solutions to our current global challenges. What might we invent together?

More tomorrow,

Monday, December 04, 2006

Community, Commitment, and Brain Health

Commitments arise in relationship

Relationships usually involve some type of commitment. This may be a commitment of the heart, where the love felt for another is generated without conscious activity. For example, the longing felt when you miss your dear friend is a kind of heart commitment.

How is commitment related to dendrite growth and brain health?

Commitment implies a return-to, perhaps a repetition, as in a daily discipline, a weekly gathering, a monthly board meeting. This process creates brain connections which strengthen with the repetition. The imagination is engaged to create conditions in which the commitment can be upheld. Commitment also engages the emotional being, when one determines that a person or project is valued enough to warrant commitment.

I found the following description in the Unitarian Universalist’s membership information. This is a beautiful formula for brain health and dendrite growth.

“Your signature is your affirming symbol of commitment to an open-minded, inclusive, reasoned, seasoned, compassionate and contemporary approach to life.”

These words effectively describe the conditions which lend themselves to healthy brain growth, and vibrant aging.

Enjoy your community this season,
love and blessings

Sunday, December 03, 2006

For Chris Thompson
I’d like to dedicate today’s blog to Chris Thompson and his family, who created an inspiring celebration of family and friends which I attended last night. Chris is a vibrant, life-loving and community-minded man who is currently doing battle with an aggressive brain tumor. I am glad to know Chris Thompson. As a woman who is healthy and strong eight years after cancer with a grim prognosis, I join everyone who knows Chris in cheering him on to beat the odds.

In a conversation shortly after his surgery, Chris told me he could not rule out the strong possibility that his tumor was caused by cell phone use, as the tumor formed in the exact spot where he has held his cell phone to his head for so many years. I have been reading the complex information about this issue, trying to understand why the results of studies are conflicting. I am still integrating what I have learned, and I’ll write a blog about it when I can articulate it clearly. For now, I think there is enough evidence of possible danger to warrant using an earpiece or Bluetooth. That is my recommendation, my friends.

CoQ10, Again
Brain health is supported in many ways. While I’m contemplating the occurrence of cancers, I want to remind myself and my readers to consider adding co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) to the daily regimen. This powerful substance supports many cellular processes. Studies have shown it to be very effective in reducing tumors. It also is a direct brain function support. I’ve written about it in other blogs, and you’re likely to see it again. You can read more about in the blog on November 26th, titled “Brain Supplement Overview.”

An active engagement in community may eclipse everything else in its power to protect health. I am still feeling the expansive warmth of friends and family last night at Chris Thompson’s party. It was fantastic to be in the same room with Chris, his many family members, and make new bonds with many acquaintances I now count as friends.

To expand community is to expand the mind.

Thank you, Chris!

In celebration of life and love,

Friday, December 01, 2006


This morning at the cafe, I sipped my espresso and watched a couple looking over the travel section of the Chronicle together. They looked to be in their early 60s. He said to her, "I think we should branch out. Do different things." She nodded, looking at him over her reading glasses.

Branch out -- a literal description of dendrite growth! Today I offer an exercise from my book, "Little Shifts." It's in the chapter "Tending What Matters: Your Limitless Brain."


Take a moment to relax. Breathe, stretch, and settle in your chair. Now, imagine the neurons in your brain stretching to meet each other. A brain neuron looks a lot like a tree, with lots of wavy branches at the top and many wiggly roots at the bottom of a long stem. Our cells mimic a healthy, growing plant in their appearance. Imagine your neurons lengthening, reaching for connections in response to the electrical impulse of your thoughts. Your new thoughts -- your struggle to understand a new language or a new friend -- these provide an actual physical inspiration, a mandate to your brain cells, to strengthen, multiply and diversify. Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Do the thing you cannot do." This is exactly what builds neuron connections.

Be lively,