Posts Tagged ‘Stress’

Less Hippocampus, More Caudate Nucleus

January 24, 2020

This post is based on text from Wayfinding, a book by M.R. O’Connor.
Bohbot is concerned that the conditions of modern Life are leading us to flex the hippocampus less while spurring us to rely on the caudate nucleus. She says, “Maybe in the past we never had to go on autopilot. Having jobs in one location and lives being more habitual is new. Industrialization learned to capitalize on the habit-memory-learning system.” HM is in strong agreement with Dr. Bohbot.

Chronic stress, untreated depression, insomnia, and alcohol abuse all can shrink hippocampal volume. Anxiety alone has been shown to impact the spatial learning and memory of rats. Stress and depression seem to affect neurogenesis in the hippocampus, whereas exercise seems to improve learning, memory and resistance to depression, which spurs a proliferation of new neurons. Patients with PTSD have been shown to have lower hippocampal volume. One of the consequences of effective treatment for this disorder such as the use of antidepressants and changes in environment, is increased hippocampal volume.

Bohbot has been led by the widespread prevalence of these conditions to be concerned that by the time children enter young adulthood, they might already have relatively shrunken hippocampal volume that makes them susceptible to cognitive and emotional impairments and behavioral problems. An over reliance on stimulus-response navigation strategies seems connected to a host of destructive yet seemingly unrelated behaviors. Because the circuit is located in the striatum, a brain area involved in addiction, Bohbot started to wonder: Would people who rely on a response strategy to navigate show any difference in substance abuse from those who relied on spatial strategies? In 2013 she published a study of 55 young adults that showed those who relied on response strategies in navigating had double the amount of lifetime alcohol consumption, in addition to more use of cigarettes and marijuana. In a different study of 255 children, she found that those with ADHD symptoms primarily rely on caudate nucleus stimulus strategies. Recently, Bohbot and Greg West showed that ninety hours of in-lab action video games will shrink the hippocampus of young adults who used their caudate nucleus. This is the first clear evidence that the activities we engage in can have negative impact on the hippocampus.

In 2017, Bohbot along with ten researchers published a report called, “Global Determinants of Navigational Ability,’ in which they looked at the performance of 2.5 million people globally on a virtual spatial navigation task. Then they broke the data down to understand whether there were similar profiles in cognitive abilities among countries. The data are that spatial navigation ability starts declining in early adulthood, around nineteen years of age, and steadily slips in old age. People from rural ares were significantly better at the game. When it came to countries themselves, Australians, South Africans, and North American showed generally good spatial orientation skills, but the real outliers were Nordic countries.

The Role of Humor for a Healthy Memory

June 28, 2019

This post was inspired by a column by Marlene Cimons titled “Laughter can cure your ills? That’s no joke” in the Health and Science Section of the June 18, 2019 issue the Washington Post. She cites the following statement by Carl Reiner. “There is no doubt about it. Laughter is my first priority. I watch something that makes me laugh. I wake up and tickle myself while I’m still in bed. There is no greater pleasure than pointing at something, smiling and laughing about it. I don’t think there is anything more important than being able to laugh. When you can laugh, life is worth living. It keeps me going. It keeps me young.”

Reiner is 97. His fellow funny people: Mel Brooks is 93, Dick Van Dyke is is 93, Norman Lear will be 97, and Betty White is 97, seem to make this point.

Sven Svebak, professor emeritus at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology says, “A friendly sense of humor will bless you with better social relations as well as coping skills, and the reduced risk of dying early. A friendly sense of humor acts like shock absorbers in a car, a mental shock absorber in everyday life to help us cope better with a range of frustrations, hassles, and irritations.”

Norman Cousins asserted that self-induced bouts of laughter (and massive intravenous doses of vitamin C) extended his life after he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, which is a debilitating form of arthritis. Cousins lived many years longer that his doctors initially predicted,

Edward Creagan, professor of medical oncology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science said, “When people are funny, they attract other people, and community connectedness is the social currency for longevity. Nobody wants to be around negative, whiny people. It’s a drain. We’re attracted to funny people.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter stimulates the brain to release more endorphins. It also helps people manage stress by easing tension, relaxing the muscles and lowering blood pressure. It relieves pain and improves mood. Laughter also strengthens the immune system.

Creagan says, “When we laugh, it decreases the level of the evil stress hormone cortisol. When we are stressed, it goes high and this interferes with the parts of the brain that regulate emotions. When that happens, the immune system deteriorates and becomes washed in a sea of inflammation, which is a factor in hear disease, cancer, and dementia. Cortisol interferes with the body’s immune system, putting us at risk for these three groups of diseases.

The results of a large Norwegian study of 53,556 participants conducted by Svebak and his colleagues indicate that humor can delay or prevent certain life-threatening diseases. The scientists measured the subjects’ sense of humor with a health survey that included, among other things, a cognitive element, “asking the participants to estimate their ability to find something funny in most situations.

Women with high cognitive scores experience a reduced risk of premature death from cardiovascular and infectious diseases. Men with high cognitive scores had a reduced risk of early death from infections.

Ms. Cimons’s article also reported that humor seems to stimulate memories and improve mental acuity in the elderly, especially among those with dementia. Elder clowns are now also helping seniors in residential setting says Bernie Warren, professor emeritus in dramatic arts and the University of Windsor and founder of Fools for Health, a Canadian clown-doctor program.

There are good reasons that humor benefits a healthy memory. This can be thought of in terms of Kahneman’s Two Process of cognition. System 1 is our default mode of processing and is very fast. System 2 kicks in when we are learning something or when we hear or see something that is surprising. A joke occurs when something unexpected happens. If we are surprised and amused, that is due to System 2 processing kicking in. If System 2 does not kick in, then we miss the point and the humor of the joke. System 2 processing is critical for both a good sense of humor and a healthy memory.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Benefits of Mindfulness for Uncertain Waiting

June 27, 2017

Most of us don’t like waiting. Waiting is stressful. This is especially true when we don’t know how long we’ll be waiting. Consider law students who have taken the bar exam and don’t know when they’ll receive their results regarding whether they’ll be admitted to the bar. Professor Sweeney delivered a presentation titled “Bracing later and Coping Better: Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation during an Uncertain Waiting Period” at the 29th Annual Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science.

The study divided law students awaiting the results of their bar exam into two groups. The experimental group was provided an audio presentation for self-guided mindfulness. The mindfulness was of the loving-kindness variety. The participants were asked to practice this mindfulness three times a week. A control group practiced a control activity.

Although the participants who practiced mindfulness worried the same as the participants in the control group, they managed their expectations better and reported coping better. The participants who were at risk for poor coping benefitted most.

 

 

Cancer and the Genetic Horizons of Mind Body Treatment

December 5, 2015

This title is the same as the title of Chapter 8 in the “Relaxation Revolution” by Benson and Proctor.  This research is in an early stage.  They used the data from the experiment reported in the immediately preceding healthy memory blog post, “The Genetic Breakthrough—Your Ultimate Mind Body Connection.”  The data from this study was compared with cancer databases compiled  by the Broad Institute  of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Weitzman Institute of Science in Israel.  These databases identify cancer gene “signatures” or “sets,” which are associated with groups of gene activity of different cancer patients.  Specifically, they assessed whether gene sets in the relaxation response subjects might correlate with cancer-associated gene sets in cancer patients.

The results were presented at the Society for Integrative Oncology, 6th International Conference in 2009.  The findings were highly encouraging for future research and possible medical treatment.  They found that the gene set expression in the long-term relaxation response practitioners in their study was counter to the gene expression in the following cancers:  lymphoma (follicular and B cell lymphoma), neuro tumors (central nervous system and glioma), liver, leukemia), multiple myeloma, B cell chronic lymphoblastic leukemia, and another form of leukemia.  The results from the long-term practitioners showed gene set expression that was in the same direction as, or consistent with, the expression found in certain anticancer therapies.

The results were also encouraging for the short-term trainees who had started with no background in mind body techniques, but who had been instructed in Phase One relaxation response.  Their relaxation response gene set expression signatures countered or opposed the gene signatures for such cancer as neuro tumors, multiple myeloma, and leukemia.

Do not forget that the relaxation response is helpful in dealing with stress in general.  So to the extent cancer or cancer treatments produce stress, the relaxation response is helpful in dealing with that stress.

Unfortunately, I do not know how far research has advanced since the publication of this book.  Anyone who can provide information or sources,  please provide comments.

An Update of the Relaxation Response Update

November 29, 2015

Recently there was a heathymemory blog update of a 2009 post on the “Relaxation Response.”  The occasion of this was a review of a 25th anniversary publication for the original 1975 book.  The current posts are on the publication of the “Relaxation Revolution” by Herbert Benson, MD and William Proctor JD, which was published in 2010.  So please bear with me as I am coming up to date.

Dr.Benson’s finding of the relaxation response, which produced a response exactly opposite to the fight or flight response.  The fight or flight response produces stress, and the relaxation response relieves  this stress as indicated by the physiologic effects of reduced blood pressure, metabolism, heart and respiratory rates.  The most recent research shows that the relaxation response can beneficially effect the expression of genes.  There will be a special post on the research regarding gene expression.  Research on the relaxation response has added a third treatment option to the standard treatments of medication and surgery.

The Benson-Henry Protocol is divided into two phases.  Phase One is the Relaxation Response Trigger.
Step 1:  Pick a focus word, phrase, image, or short prayer.  Or focus only on your breathing during the exercise.
Step 2:  Find a quiet place and sit calmly in a comfortable position.
Step 3:  Close your eyes.
Step 4:  Progressively relax all your muscles.
Step 5:   Breathe slowly and naturally.
Step 6:   Assume a passive attitude.  When other thoughts intrude, simply think, “Oh,             well,” and return to your focus.
Step 7:  Continue with this exercise for an average of12 to 15 minutes.
Step 8:   Practice this technique at least once daily.

Optional relaxation response exercises will be discussed later in this post.  My personal observations can be found in my post, “Personal Observations on Meditation Techniques in General and the Relaxation Response in Particular.”

The following Important Note is included at the end of Phase One.  “To ensure beneficial effects (to be described in the next healthy memory post0 Phase One should be practice daily for at least eight weeks.  For the maximal genetic effect as established by practiced many years.”

Phase Two involves visualization

“Use mental imagery, such as picturing a peaceful scene in which you are free of your medical condition, to engage healing expectation, belief, and memory.  This second phase will usual require an average of 8 to 10 minutes.  So the total time for Phases One and Two will be 20 to 25 minutes per session.”

Other Relaxation Response Exercises are discussed.  To be effective they all need to include the following three components:

A mental focusing device that will help you break the patter of everyday thoughts and concerns.  The device can involve words, images, or physical actions such as breathing or footsteps.
A passive, “oh well”  attitude toward distracting thoughts.  If distracting thoughts, including everyday worries or concerns, take over your mind during the exercise, the physiologic effects of the relaxation response might not occur.
Sufficient time—at least 12 to 15 consecutive minutes per practice session—to allow the requisite physiologic changes to occur.

The following suggestions, which are not claimed to be exhaustive, are regarded as additional ways to generate the relaxation response.

Repetitive aerobic exercise
Eastern meditative exercises
Repetitive prayer
Progressive muscle relaxation
Playing a musical instrument or singing
Listening to music
Engaging in a task that requires “mindless” repetitive movements
“ Natural triggers”

“These alternative techniques are discussed in detail in the book.

Here is how you can measure your success in eliciting the Relaxation Response

If you feel more relaxed after you finish a Phase One Session, the technique is working.

If the symptoms you experience diminish or disappear, even momentarily, during or immediately after a session, the technique is working.

If your symptoms diminish with a week or two, the technique is working.

If you feel that the stressors in your life bother you less now than they did within you started this mind body treatment process. the technique is working.

If you feel that you are more in control of your life now than when you started, the technique is working.

If you are observing the basic guidelines for eliciting the relaxation response, you can rest assured, in light of the extensive scientific studies, that the technique is working—no matter how you might feel on a day-to-day basis”

More detailed guidance is provided for the following conditions:
Angina Pectoris
Anxiety
Depression
Hypertension
Stress-Related Infertility
Insomnia
Menopausal, Perimenopausal, and Breast Cancer Hot Flashes
Nausea
Pain-General
Pain-Variations
Parkinson’s Disease
Phobias
Premature aging
Premature Ventricular Contractions and Palpitations
Premenstrual Syndrome

Dr, Benson writes that these treatments are only the beginning.  Being a physician he advises against self-treatment and for treatments under the guidance of a physician.

Stress and Memory

September 25, 2011

The relationship between stress and memory is complex. A recent article1 provided a discussion of this relationship. It is believed that stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol can facilitate or impair memory. These hormones may affect memory by strengthening or weakening the connections between nerve cells. It is thought that specialized cell-adhesion molecules play a key role in the learning process at the cellular level. These proteins connect two nerve cells and stabilize the synapse between them enabling the transmission of signals from cell to cell. These cell-adhesion molecules play an important role in reestablishing contact between nerve cells. They also help enable the synapses to change strength in response to increased or decreased signal transmission.

Whether memory is facilitated or impaired depends on when the hormones were released. Marian Joels and her colleagues formulated the theory2 explaining this relationship. According to their theory stress facilitates memory only when it is experienced close in time as the event that needs to be remembered and when stress hormones activate the same systems as those activated by the event. So stress only aids memory “when convergence in time and space takes place.” The stress hormones need to be released during or immediately after the event to be remembered. If they are released too soon before the event or a considerable time after, they have the opposite effect.

So their explanation involves two phases. During the first phase, stress launches hormones and neurotransmitters that increase attention and strengthen connections between brain cells forming new memories. In the second phase the cortisol initiates a second process within an hour or so to the stressful event. This second process works to consolidate memories suppressing any information not associated with the stressful event.

Stress does not affect all types of memory. The effects described refer to episodic, or personal biographic memory. Memory of motor skills, such as riding a bicycle, typically do not suffer adverse effects from stress. Stress limits the focus of attention, often overlooking helpful or relevant options. It calls upon strong crystalized memory circuits, limiting access to new or creative options.

1Schmidt, M.V., & Schwabe, L. (2011). Splintered by Stress. Scientific American Mind, September/October, 22-29.

2Joels et al. (2006). Learning Under Stress: How Does It Work? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10, 152-158.