Category Archive: Biology and the Brain

May 06

Circadian Rhythms and Food

Scientists are uncovering a fascinating relationship between circadian rhythms and food consumption. It looks as though when you eat can have a big impact on how your body metabolizes the food and on whether or not you gain weight. It has long been clear that light exposure plays an important role in setting a number …

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Apr 23

Avoid Intimidation

Rick Hanson has written an elegant and timely newsletter article about how to avoid intimidation and fear from paper tigers and media demagogues. I love his weekly email newsletters and it is again time to encourage readers of this blog to sign up. Here is the link. One of Rick’s themes, elegantly outlined in this …

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Apr 16

The Science of Slow Breathing

In an April 5, 2017 article in the New York Times, Gretchen Reynolds reviews new research on the science of slow breathing and how this ancient technique may work to promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, and prevent panic attacks. The technique of controlled breathing or pranayama (प्राणायाम) is referred to in the Bhagavad Gita, and thus …

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Feb 22

Biological Basis of Depression

Serotonin Circuit

A recent review article in the American Journal of Psychiatry examines data from many functional neuroimaging studies in order to define more clearly the biological basis of depression. Abnormalities in two sets of neural circuits seem to be the most consistent findings in people with depression: Serotonin anxiety and distress circuits that connect the amygdala and …

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Jan 24

Darkness Treats Mania?

Bright light is one of the most rapidly effective treatments for depression and may be helpful for depression even in people without a clear seasonal pattern (winter depression). A recent study suggests that it may also be true that darkness treats mania. The portion of the light spectrum that affects circadian rhythms the most strongly …

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Dec 10

Depression and Reward Insensitivity

Why do some people get depressed and what can be done about it? Studies of brain response to rewards suggests that there is a strong link between depression and reward insensitivity. People who are at risk of depression literally don’t react to rewards in  same way as other people. A large study of adolescent girls without …

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Aug 08

Jet Lag Explained

What is “jet lag” and why do most people feel worse when they travel around the globe in one direction, rather than the other? An article in the journal Chaos, summarized in the New York Times, suggests an answer. And offers some hope that you can reduce the severity and duration of the symptoms. For …

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Mar 14

Intermittent Fasting and Brain Health

Conventional wisdom, especially in the realm of diet and health, often turns out not to be right. Conventional wisdom (as it happens, heavily subsidized by grants from the Kellogg Foundation) has argued that “breakfast is the most important meal” and “fasting diets are unhealthy.” An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Casazza …

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Feb 08

Psychopharmacology and Psychobiology

The wonderful thing about having two blogs (www.moodsurfing.com and www.gatewaypsychiatric.com) is that there are two sets of readers for the articles that I post. The problem is that sometimes I’m much more prolific in one area or another. For whatever reason, I have been writing more regularly on the Gateway Psychiatric website, which is where …

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Jan 17

Body Mindfulness and Peak Performance

If mindfulness training works to achieve peak performance in Navy SEALs and top athletes perhaps it’s not such a New Age idea. In fact what distinguishes people who are resilient in the face of physical challenges may be a natural capacity for the kind of self-awareness that mindfulness teaches. A New York Times article called …

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Dec 06

Awe Reduces Inflammation

Awe Reduces Inflammation

What if you knew that the experience of awe could measurably improve your health, would you approach the world differently today? At the most recent TEDMED, psychologist Jennifer Stellar presented evidence that the experience of a number of positive emotions (joy, pride, contentment and awe) was associated with reduced levels of interleukin – 6 (IL6) …

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Nov 02

Can Junk Food Shrink Your Brain?

Did you know that increasing or even maintaining your intake of burgers, fries and soda pop—and pretty much any other hallmark of the “Western diet,” high in saturated fats and refined sugar—isn’t just an efficient way of rotting your teeth out and raising your risk of cancer, diabetes or heart disease, but that you may …

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Jun 30

Prefrontal Cortex and Limbic System

Prefrontal Cortex and Limbic System

A very bright young man who has a great potential as the therapist but who is wrestled with chronic depression for years and has developed a pattern of avoiding doing things that he knows he has to do in order to move ahead with his life led me to talk again about the relationship between depression, …

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Mar 27

Insomnia Treatment Reduces Brain Stress

Insomnia Treatment

Insomnia treatment may have long-term beneficial effects on the health of your brain. Study in the Journal Biological Psychiatry published in February, 2015 looked at 123 older adults with chronic insomnia who were randomized to one of two active treatments (twice-weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTi) for 4 months or a relaxation therapy) or …

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Mar 21

Faith and Depression

Depression wears down our sense of trust and faith. Biologically, depression involves activating parts of the brain that search for problems. What is faith? It is an experience more than a specific belief. You can try an experiment by completing this sentence a few times (in your mind or out loud): “I have faith in …

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Jan 23

Women and Hormones – Elisabeth

women and hormones

I am a woman diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and I suspect that I am also hormonally vulnerable. I wrote this blog because I wanted to share some of my newly gained understanding of women and hormones, and the influence of hormones on mood. Hormones are produced in the endocrine glands and released into the …

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Jan 18

THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS: 2 – Depression Assessment

Cartoon

  …I’m returning to do the test suggested by my therapist in our previous meeting – the Beck Depression Inventory II. Tremendous. Doing a test sounds like something you see in those silly magazines that tell you how good a lover you are are some such other rubbish, but apparently this test is rather serious. So I …

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Nov 06

Mind Body Dualism

Mind Body Dualism

A wonderful woman who has been meeting with me off and on for a couple of years, and who initially came in to see me for some fairly classic symptoms of bipolar type 2, just sent me a “goodbye” e-mail.  In it, she noted that she has uncovered the strong likelihood that she has Lupus. Lupus is one of …

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Oct 05

Exercise and Stress – How Exercise Prevents Depression

Exercise and Stress - Karolinska Institute Researchers

Exercise seems to reduce stress. But how does this work? And what about exercise effects on depression? An article in the New York Times summarizes a recent publication in the journal Cell which may explain how exercise prevents depression. A wealth of research shows that regular exercise reduces the risk of depression. A very large study in …

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Aug 18

Bipolar Benefits: More Social and Verbal Abilities?

Why does bipolar disorder persist at a constant level across generations and around the world if it can be associated with depression, psychosis, despair and even suicide? Are there bipolar benefits associated with the same genes that can lead to the disorder? In August 2014, in the American Journal of Psychiatry, a very careful and …

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