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Archive for the ‘Mental Fitness’ Category

Expensive Antidepressants
No Better Than Sugar Pills!

Posted March 26th, 2009 By: Rod Newbound

Sad Woman
Depression Solutions Besides Pills

A few weeks ago, my wife told me about a family member who appears to be suffering from depression. She asked me to do some research to see what might be done. I told her I would look into it. Here’s what I found.

What Your Doctor May Not Know
About Big Pharma’s “Slight of Hand”

According to a comprehensive review by U.S. and Canadian researchers, at least 4 commonly prescribed antidepressant drugs simply do not work as advertised. After examining all data available for the drugs — including unpublished clinical trials by the manufacturers – it was found that patients taking the drugs improved no more than those taking placebo pills. The only exception was among severely depressed patients, who improved slightly more on the drugs than the placebos.

This study is unique in that it is the first time a study has been done using a full set of data from the FDA for the antidepressants Prozac (fluoxetine), Seroxat (paroxetine – also marketed under the brand name Paxil), Effexor (venlafaxine), and Serzone (nefazodone).

Note: After Serzone was linked to liver damage in a small percentage of people, the manufacturer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, discontinued its sale in the United States and Canada in 2004. (It had already been banned in some other countries.) However, the generic form – nefazodone, is still available in the US and Canada.

The authors of the study wrote, “Using complete datasets (including unpublished data) and a substantially larger dataset of this type than has been previously reported, we find that the overall effect of new-generation antidepressant medications is below recommended criteria for clinical significance. We also find that efficacy reaches clinical significance only in trials involving the most extremely depressed patients, and that this pattern is due to a decrease in the response to placebo rather than an increase in the response to medication.” Source: PLoS (Public Library of Science) Medicine February 26, 2008

I know for a fact that some doctors are still prescribing these drugs for elderly patients. So, if you have friends or family who are on these drugs, please show them this article.

I’ve never placed much trust in prescription drugs, although in some cases they can be lifesavers. But if they are no better than jelly beans…

So what alternatives are available to fight depression?

Avoid Feeling Caged by Depression
With These Four Healthy Habits

Why Diet Matters

A recent study showed that diets with high Omega 6: Omega 3 fatty acid ratios enhanced risk for depression Source: Psychosomatic Med 2007 69: 217-224. In fact, the study showed those with the highest level of depression had diets high in Omega 6 fatty acids. But, there’s more. Depression and stress promote something called “proinflammatory cytokine production” and diets high in Omega 6 fatty acids enhance it. The importance of proinflammatory cytokines is they are related to the onset and course of a spectrum of conditions associated with aging: coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, approximately 15% of cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, and periodontal disease.

The good news is that Omega 3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties. Good sources of Omega 3s: fish, wild game, seeds, nuts, & green leafy vegetables. Doctors suggest we have a 3:1 ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3. Olive, coconut, & hemp oils have a much better ratio than corn, soy, and canola oils.

A diet high in Omega 3 EFA plus B vitamins such as is found in liver will help reduce depression. If you don’t particularly care for liver, a more palatable substitute is Brewer’s yeast, available in tablets or as a powder that can be added to soups. Note: (If buying Brewer’s yeast powder, be sure you get the “de-bittered” variety).

Another dietary approach to depression is simply to eat foods naturally high in tryptophan, the precursor for serotonin in the body. It is particularly plentiful in chocolate, oats, bananas, mangoes, dried dates, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, red meat, eggs, fish, poultry, sesame, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, spirulina, and peanuts. One of the highest sources is Parmesan cheese!

Make Laughing a Daily Habit

Natural ways to enhance your serotonin levels: L-tryptophan supplementation, exercise, sunlight, and laughter! Mark Twain said, “Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” Rent comedy movies. Learn and tell jokes. Go out of your way to be kind – People who regularly volunteer to help others have measurably higher levels of serotonin.

Treat Your Brain to Healing Scents

Religious leaders have contended for millennia that burning incense is good for the soul. Now, biologists have learned that it is good for our brains too. An international team of scientists, including researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, describe how burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate anxiety or depression. SOURCE: Science Daily on May 20, 2008

Lavender essential oil has been shown to be effective in treating depression. Although essential oils evaporate rapidly, the effects are more lasting. The aromatic molecules permeate the air. When we inhale the aroma, these molecules travel into the nose and to the olfactory receptors, which transmit this information directly to the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system controls our emotions, influences the production of hormones, the immune system, and the nervous system.

Lavender essential oil has many known uses. It is a great aid for relaxing and winding down before bedtime. On the other hand, its balancing properties can also boost stamina and energy. Lavender is a great aromatherapy essential oil for reducing stress, alleviating fears, and soothing frustrations and irritability… especially in times of crises.

It’s important to find quality essential oils as some companies cut them with “carrier” oils. Since essential “oils” are not really oils at all, a good test is to put a few drops on a cloth. The essential oil should evaporate rapidly leaving no oily residue.

Consider Natural Supplements

“A February 2005 study in the British Medical Journal finally put to rest the effectiveness of St. John’s Wort as an antidepressant for people with moderate to severe depression. Half the study’s participants took the antidepressant Paxil (paroxetine); the other half took a minimum 900 mg daily of St. John’s Wort. After six weeks on these regimens, one third of those taking the Paxil felt less depressed; but one half of those taking St. John’s Wort were less depressed. The well-designed study also showed that St. John’s Wort caused fewer side effects than Paxil.”

When using this herb, it’s best to find a source made from the flowers and leaves with at least 3-5% hyperforin. One such brand is AMORYN. For potential side effects and drug interactions, please go to amoryn.com.

Caution: If you are currently on an antidepressant, do not take St. John’s Wort. And never stop taking your prescription without talking with your doctor, because most antidepressant medications need to be slowing tapered before discontinuing.

Photo credit: Hamed Saber

Curry Ingredient
Guardian for Aging Brain?

Posted February 24th, 2009 By: Ahalya

turmeric.jpg
Fresh Turmeric at the Market

Turmeric, the Multipurpose Herb

Although I love making Indian food for its myriad colors and flavors, I must admit I never knew why turmeric was used in just about everything – in desserts, in chutneys, in the main course, and in the bedtime mug of milk. Now I know it’s because turmeric is the most beneficial herb you could add to any dish. It cools the stomach, purifies the blood, eliminates toxins, and aids digestion. It’s also an antioxidant. And there’s more.

Turmeric is a golden-yellow slightly bitter powder derived from the boiled, dried, powdered rootstock of a plant that looks very much like ginger. It is the flavoring agent that is most often held responsible for curry stains that don’t wash away easily. But that can be forgiven, as it lowers your risk of cancer, reduces inflammations, is used to treat asthma, arthritis, skin infections, anemia, and several other disorders.

Just as good as an external medicine, turmeric is said to be effective against many, if not all, germs that invade the body. It is used in sunscreens and gets rid of acne without leaving behind scars. It is applied over wounds to prevent infections. It is a fungicide and keeps bugs away from stored grains. Not surprising then that it is the physician’s favorite herb and the subject of several patent wrangles.

Curcumin: Concentrated Turmeric

The main constituent of turmeric is curcumin. This element has been shown to prevent several kinds of cancers in tests on animals. Curcumin can prevent a tumor from growing and spreading through the body. This has been confirmed in studies on animals afflicted with tumors in the colon, prostate gland and breast.

Curcumin’s antioxidant properties destroy free radicals that affect our cells and result in premature aging and several disorders. It strengthens the liver and rids it of toxins. And those at risk of heart diseases can incorporate a pinch of turmeric in their meals to prevent any damage to the arteries. Turmeric also lowers cholesterol levels, and does not allow clots to form in the arteries.

Anti-aging Brain Spice?

Curcumin has also been shown in animal studies to protect the brain as it ages. Asian Indians have at least half the age related brain diseases (like Alzheimer’s disease) of those in the rest of the developed world. One possible explanation is their almost daily consumption of turmeric in dishes like curry.

While curcumin is the concentrated extract of turmeric and can be purchased as a supplement, the ethnobotanist James A. Duke theorizes the synergistic effects of food are more important than just consuming what appears to be the active ingredient.

Home remedies:

  • Asthma: Add I teaspoon of turmeric powder to a glass of milk. Let this boil over a slow flame for a couple of minutes without spilling over.
  • Sore throat: A milk-turmeric drink can be used by those with a sore throat from a cold. If you add a teaspoon of powdered pepper to this (only if you can handle the spice), it acts as an expectorant and clears up the nose.
  • Intestinal worms: You will need a teaspoon of fresh juice from raw turmeric first thing in the morning. Add a pinch of salt and sip this before you eat or drink anything else.
  • Muscle strain: Take equal quantities of ginger paste and turmeric paste and apply it over the affected area for at least 30 minutes.
  • Stomach upset: After a meal that didn’t agree with you, take a cupful of yogurt. Add a spoonful of turmeric to it and eat it.

Want to start using turmeric right away? Get started with 20 top turmeric recipes.

Photo credit: Bengal*foam

Five Quick Ways to
Supercharge Your Memory

Posted November 18th, 2008 By: Ahalya

lightning strike
Super-Charge Your Memory

Quick! What day of the week is it? When is your best friend’s birthday? How many times did you answer the phone yesterday? Where have you parked your car?

Got you stumped, eh?

Does your brain buzz and hum along like a power saw? Or do you feel like your life resembles the memoirs of the absent-minded professor?

Not to worry, you’re about to learn some easy ways to boost your brain into hyper-drive.

Don’t take your body for granted, especially not your brain. This super organ will see you through life and needs to be juiced up and kept running all the time. Here’s what you can do to rev up your brain, today.

Enlist Your Eyes

Visualize your plan for the day. Say, you have to pay the phone bill and pick up pineapples for a fruit salad and meet your colleague for lunch at 2. Make a story. Imagine you’re holding a pineapple shaped phone and calling your colleague while standing under a huge clock that is chiming two ‘o clock. Or, whatever!

Before you move on to a new task, take a look at what you have achieved. This means… You take a look at the place where your car is parked before you walk away. You pause for a second and see where you’ve placed you key. You turn back and see that the geyser is really switched off, before you get out of the bathroom.

When you enter a room full of people you have to talk with, let your eyes move across their face, from left to right, then right to left. Moving your eyes horizontally activates the brain, and British researchers have found that this exercise even helps you retain information you’ll hear. The secret is in the horizontal movement that spurs the brain’s hemispheres to interact, which also helps in memory retrieval.

Recharge With Meditation

Got an important and long meeting lined up right after lunch, can’t keep from drifting off? Well, first, it’s a good idea not to eat rice for lunch. Second, snatch a few minutes before the meeting, shut yourself in your cubicle, and meditate. Sit still, close you eyes and focus on your breathing. You will feel your tiredness lift off you.

With as little as 20 minutes of meditation, you’ll feel as if you have slept for eight refreshing hours. Once you are alert, you’ll be better able to commit information to your memory.

Challenge Your Brain

Brush your teeth with your left hand. Take a new route to your office. Try to remember the phone numbers you are supposed to dial.

Once you slip into a routine, you stop thinking about simple tasks, and spend time worrying about the day ahead. This time will be more productively spent, by challenging your brain.

Change the way you normally do things, pick up new tasks or hobbies, multi task. By pushing your brain, you’ll create new pathways to carry information that will help you later in life.

Recharge It With Oxygen

Your brain needs to breathe too. The more oxygen you give it, the easier it will be for you to stave off age-related memory loss. Exercise is the best way to do this. If you can’t go to the gym, walk briskly for at least 30 minutes, as often in the week as you can.

Eat Brain Super-Foods

The Journal of Neuroscience published a report recently that spinach, strawberries and blueberries are literally food for thought. Research by the USDA has found that eating blueberries every day dramatically slows the impairment of memory associated with old age. Polyphenols in blueberries prompt the signals that help brain cells communicate with each other.

Spinach is a storehouse of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that also slow brain aging and protect your memory. Spinach is also well known as one of the very few food sources of alpha lipoic acid – a powerful antioxidant.

Ginkgo is another super food. Not only does ginkgo extract reduce the progress of dementia, but it also helps you retain your memories for longer and boosts the speed of thinking. It does this is by increasing circulation to the brain. And because it’s an antioxidant it protects the brain from cell damage.

There you have it, five ways to boost your memory. Can you remember what they are?

Photo credit: Axel Rouvin

Related article: 5 Ways to Sharpen Your Mind

Religion & Family Ties
Catapult You to 100

Posted November 13th, 2008 By: Ahalya

St. Bridget’s Church

St. Bridget’s Church, Jersey City, N.J., USA

Is there really a connection between religion and health; between going to church and enjoying a longer than average life; between spending Sunday at home and celebrating your 101st birthday with your great-grandchildren?

Several studies seem to indicate this is so. Here is what the jury has found so far:

Time Well Spent

What most studies have found is that people belonging to all faiths across the globe, spend lots of time socializing with like-minded people, helping the community, and carrying out rituals that mostly emphasize a healthy, austere kind of life.

Support

Although it may seem like an endless chore sometimes, spending time with family members results in a stronger support system to rely on should you ever need help. Just knowing support is there relieves unnecessary stress. Plus, older family members tend to insist on balanced meals and eating on time, thus improving the health of the younger ones at home.

Shouldering Responsibilities

Studies show that marriage improves the health of most men. This is because the emphasis on cooking meals at home gets stronger. And having a partner to take care of chores around the house reduces stress.

However, the modern day story is changing a little. Working women, single or married, tend to skip cooking meals sometimes, opting for ready-to-eat foods. Working women also need partners who are willing to share responsibilities such as cooking and cleaning.

Hope As An Antidepressant

Those who are spiritual or practice religion have an abiding faith in love and divine justice. This hope for goodness is enough to function as a powerful antidepressant. The body feels less stress, thus reducing chances of high blood pressure, various heart diseases and even cancer. In fact, some researchers have found that very few senior citizens who regularly attend religious gatherings suffer from cognitive decline, an essential feature of Alzheimer’s disease.

Discipline Your Mind

Meditation makes you happy. Not just because you spend some quality time calming yourself, but because the act of meditating disciplines the amygdala (the area in the brain that is activated in fearful situations). The amygdala plays an important role in motivation and emotional behavior. Regular meditation can help you keep your temper in check, ensure that you do not get flustered too easily and thus include self-control in its list of life-long benefits.

Being Involved, Being Important

Studies have found that having faith is associated with a constructive outlook. This includes taking part in community efforts, maintaining relationships with others of the same community, and having a more positive attitude about life.

Editor’s Comment

I’m not suggesting you go out and join your local church, synagogue, mosque, or temple if you don’t already belong to one. If that works for you at this time, fine.

Religion is about belief in the Supreme Creator and a life beyond this mortal body. How you choose to acknowledge that has nothing to do with a building or belonging to a group. The scriptures of every major religion in the world are available to read and study without depending on someone else to interpret them and interject their own prejudices.

Of course religion & family ties alone will not bring you longevity, but they go a long way to improving the quality of life.

Photo credit: mudpig

Body Clock Missing a Stroke?

Posted October 2nd, 2008 By: admin

Keeping Time

Body Clock In Need of Repair?

Keeping Time

Why you should repair your body clock

All ye who work on night shifts pay heed. And all those who have been binging on high-calorie food on weekends, here’s a word of caution: when your body clock is out of whack, expect some serious trouble.

About time

The biological marvel that is the circadian rhythm regulates the body’s temperature and pressure according to the time of day – this means we feel alert after a good rest and feel tired and sleepy towards the end of the day or after a huge meal. The 24-hour circadian cycle is deeply ingrained in our body and is in charge of switching on and off various biological functions, such as oxygen requirements, waking up, being active, feeling hungry, hormone production and even feeling sleepy.

Alarm bells

Those who consistently defy this rhythm and set their own pace of waking, sleeping, eating at irregular intervals or drinking a lot of alcohol, eventually experience problems with their body’s functions. Studies show that a faulty body clock stops correctly regulating your hunger and metabolic rate, which increases your chances of obesity and diabetes. Other studies prove that alcoholics tend to suffer from poor sleep, depression, low immunity and disrupted neuroendocrine functions, because the alcohol interferes with those physiologic functions that depend on the circadian rhythm.

On time

One of the latest branches of medicine is called chronotherapy, which uses cues from the body’s own clock to treat illnesses and get into shape. So there are best times for taking medicines, exercising, studying, trying for a baby (sperm production is highest in the morning), eating, cleaning the house and even taking a bath. One study has found that the clock can be shifted an hour back or forward after exposure to bright pulses of light.

Top 5 Signs
Your Clock’s Going Cuckoo

  1. Sleeping all the time or not sleeping at all
  1. Depression that is related to the weather; such as feeling low during winter
  1. Hallucinations, exhaustion or paranoia due to lack of sleep
  1. Putting on weight despite eating healthy foods and exercising regularly
  1. Waking up feeling tired with stiff joints and muscles

Winding up

One way of getting your clock right is to get plenty of sunlight. This will aid the production of melatonin, a powerful anti-aging hormone that is manufactured by the pineal gland and helps set the body’s internal clock. The biorhythms are set by light cues – therefore melatonin is produced each evening after sunset and before dawn. Melatonin also affects the body’s reproductive functions, metabolic rate, hunger and other bodily processes. Little wonder then that it is prescribed as a supplement to those suffering from sleep disorders due to long night shifts.

Setting your clock right

  1. Set a fixed time for waking, sleeping, and eating. Start with a good breakfast followed by a light lunch and dinner to regulate your weight. The body converts food into heat and energy in the morning, but in the evening, food is stored as fat.
  1. Don’t binge on high calorie foods for two or more days in a row. This disrupts the clock by slowing down the stomach and in turn affects your metabolism, leading to obesity or diabetes.
  1. Get at least half an hour of early daylight to give your body clock the necessary light cues to regulate your body temperature, energy levels, etc
  1. Your threshold of pain is higher in the afternoon, so if you need to do some really heavy work or visit the doctor for a shot – after your lunch break is a good time.
  1. Your heart, blood vessels, lungs, ovaries, muscles, liver, and kidneys have their own clock and achieve their peak performance at certain times in the day. So if you have problems staying alert when you should, or a tendency to put on weight, eat when your stomach will function at its best.
  1. Those who have to cope with jet lag or shift work should gradually shift the time of eating and resting to their normal routine

Photo credit:col_adamson

5 Ways to Sharpen Your Mind

Posted July 7th, 2008 By: Yorick Pinto

Just as physical exercise makes your body fit, mental exercise helps your brain stay alert especially when you grow older.

A recent study published in “Psychological Medicine” highlighted the fact that the risk of dementia is lowered by 46 percent for individuals who have high mental stimulation. Mental stimulation also reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other mental ailments by nearly half.

If you wish to have your mental faculties functioning at optimal levels well into your old age, try out these useful exercises that help your brains in achieving high mental stimulation:

1. Play Brain Teasers

Keep Your Brain Healthy by Playing Crosswords
Keep Your Brain Healthy by Playing Crosswords

Games such as jigsaw puzzles, sudoku, crossword puzzles as well as electronic games are excellent for improving your mental faculties. Not only will these games help you improve your memory but they will also help you stay alert.

2. Diet: Consume Healthy Fats

Eat Walnuts for Your Brain
Eat Walnuts: Rich in Healthy Fats

You need to provide your brain with a regular supply of healthy fats. Some food products which contain such healthy fats include walnuts and fish oil from wild salmon. Fish oils are a major source of omega-3 fatty acids. These are useful for everything from cardiovascular health to brain protection. Also make it a point to eliminate Tran’s fats (a type of unsaturated fat) completely from your diet while increasing the intake of less saturated fat.

3. Learn a New Skill

Learn how to dance to sharpen your brains!
Learn how to dance to sharpen your brain!

Learning a new skill is an excellent way of staying mentally alert. It will not only give your brain a much needed workout but will also keep your mind sharp. Go ahead and learn a new sport such as tennis or maybe an activity like fishing. A very good idea is to learn something you have never done before. For e.g.: If you enjoy dancing then go ahead and sign up for salsa lessons. Not only will you stay fit, but you will also have a whole lot of fun. Remember that when you learn something new, multiple areas of brain become active.

4. Meditate

Monk Meditating
Meditate to Rejuvenate Your Mind

Meditation is one of the best exercises that can rejuvenate your mind, body and soul. It helps your mind stay calm and thereby makes it more alert. It is an excellent practice, especially if you want to enjoy a long, healthy and stress-free life. There are various types of meditations that you can choose from. Choose a type that you are comfortable with and which you can easily practice.

5. Enjoy Outdoor Activities

Let Nature Relax Your Brain
Let Nature Relax Your Brain

A good way to spend some quality time with your family would be to go outdoors for a picnic or to the beach. Spending time in a place of natural beauty is far better than catching the latest flick on television. Nature has its own way of relaxing your mind. So whenever you do get an opportunity, do visit that spot you always wanted to visit.

Related article: Five Quick Ways to
Supercharge Your Memory