Building Smarter Beings

July 17th, 2011

By Riddhi Shah of the HuffingtonPost: Over the last decade, interest in the science of meditation has skyrocketed. We now know more than ever before about just how meditation affects our minds and bodies. Increased research has led to a plethora of fascinating discoveries: Take, for instance, the fact that meditation can prevent heart disease. Or that it reduces stress. Or that it can significantly lessen ADHD symptoms, and in many cases, beats medication.

Still, much is left to be discovered. We know more but we definitely don’t know everything. While we wait for science to catch up with ancient wisdom, check out this slideshow on the complex effects of the simple act of focused breathing [here are its salient points]:

  • [S]ustained meditation leads to something called neuroplasticity, which is defined as the brain’s ability to change, structurally and functionally, on the basis of environmental input. For much of the last century, scientists believed that the brain essentially stopped changing after adulthood. But research by University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson has shown that experienced meditators exhibit high levels of gamma ray activity and display an ability — continuing after the meditation session has attended — to not get stuck on a particular stimulus. That is, they’re automatically able to control their thoughts and reactiveness.

The Power of Smiling

June 5th, 2011

At Ted.Com

Meditation For ADHD Teens & Adults

May 1st, 2011

Mindfulness meditation significantly helped three-quarters of the participants in a study described here by Dr. David Rabiner: Because of the wide spread interest in new ADHD interventions — particularly non-pharmaceutical approaches — I try to cover credible research in this area when ever I come across it. I was thus pleased to learn about a very interesting study of mindfulness meditation as a treatment for adults and adolescents with ADHD that was published in the Journal of Attention Disorders.

Although medication treatment is effective for many individuals with ADHD, including adolescents and adults, there remains an understandable need to explore and develop interventions that can complement or even substitute for medication. (…)

In recent years, mindfulness meditation has been used as a new approach for stress reduc­tion and incorporated into the treatment for a variety of psychiatric dis­orders, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Of special rele­vance to the treatment of ADHD are findings that meditation has the potential to regulate brain functioning and attention. For example, research has demon­strated that mindfulness meditation can modify attentional networks, modulate EEG patterns, alter dopamine levels, and change neural activity.

Article

Rejection is Physical Pain

April 24th, 2011

Randolph E. Schmid: The pain of rejection is more than just a figure of speech. The regions of the brain that respond to physical pain overlap those that react to social rejection, according to a new study that used brain imaging on people involved in romantic breakups.

“These results give new meaning to the idea that rejection `hurts,'” wrote psychology professor Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan and his colleagues. Their findings are reported in Tuesday’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Co-author Edward Smith of Columbia University explained that the research shows that psychological or social events can affect regions of the brain that scientists thought were dedicated to physical pain. In a way, we’re saying “it’s not a metaphor,” Smith said in a telephone interview.

Article

Western Diets Are Making the World Sick

April 16th, 2011

From NPR’s ‘Fresh Air': When physician Kevin Patterson described his experiences working at the Canadian Combat Surgical Hospital in Afghanistan, he noticed that the Afghan soldiers, police and civilians he treated in Kandahar had radically different bodies from those of the Canadians he took care of back home.

“Typical Afghan civilians and soldiers would have been 140 pounds or so as adults. And when we operated on them, what we were aware of was the absence of any fat underneath the skin,” Patterson says. “Of course, when we operated on Canadians or Americans or Europeans, what was normal was to have most of the organs encased in fat.”

In a conversation on Fresh Air, Patterson tells Terry Gross that the effects of urbanization are making people everywhere in the world both fatter and sicker.

“Type 2 diabetes historically didn’t exist, only 70 or 80 years ago,” says Patterson. “And what’s driven it is this rise in obesity, especially the accumulation of abdominal fat. That fat induces changes in our receptors that cells have for insulin. Basically, it makes them numb to the effect of insulin.”

He explains that the increase in abdominal fat has driven the epidemic of diabetes over the last 40 years in the developed world — and that he’s now seeing similar patterns in undeveloped regions that have adopted Western eating patterns.

Patterson explains that in his Canadian practice, where he takes care of indigenous populations near the Arctic Circle, there is a marked increase in the number of diabetic patients he sees.  “The traditional Inuit culture of relentless motion and a traditional diet consisting mainly of caribou, Arctic char, whale and seal has been abandoned over this period of time for Kentucky Fried Chicken and processed food and living a life very similar to ours,” he says.

Part of the problem, says Patterson, is that it’s so much cheaper for processed food to be flown into the Arctic Circle than fresh food.  “There’s no roads or rail access to any of those communities,” he says. “So a 4 liter jug of milk can cost you $10 or $11. But there’s a very clear parallel between that and the inner city. In poorer neighborhoods in North American cities, fresh food is either not available or extremely expensive compared to — on a calorie-by-calorie basis — compared to fast food available on every street corner.” Continue reading »