Thursday, October 31, 2013

“How to Build a Happier Brain”

That’s the theme of an October 23rd article by Julie Beck in the Atlantic magazine:

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from presenting to brain tumor/stroke victims and caregivers, they all could be happier. That’s not to say that these victims haven’t been unfairly assaulted with horrific diseases, they have. I wish, though, they could enjoy the moments of happiness or fun or humor that drifts into their lives a bit more.

That thought is at the heart of this article, learning to enjoy the moments you should be able to enjoy instead of relentlessly focusing on the negative.

Beck says it much better, though, saying “There is a motif, in fiction and in life, of people having wonderful things happen to them, but still ending up unhappy. We can adapt to anything, it seems—you can get your dream job, marry a wonderful human, finally get 1 million dollars or Twitter followers—eventually we acclimate and find new things to complain about.”

Beck goes on to cite Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist, a member of U.C. Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center's advisory board, and author of the book Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, in which he observes that “our brains are naturally wired to focus on the negative, which can make us feel stressed and unhappy even though there are a lot of positive things in our lives.”

The rest of the article relates an interview with Dr. Hanson in which he discusses “A neuropsychological approach to happiness, by meeting core needs (safety, satisfaction, and connection) and training neurons to overcome a negativity bias.”

As an exercise advocate, I also want to point out that, regarding exercise, “Research shows that exercise is a very good physical health factor obviously, but it also confers mental health benefits. For example, regular exercise is roughly as powerful on average for mild depression as medication is, studies show.”

Image credit: <a href=''>mybaitshop / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It’s Just – online “Watch & Wait Forum Discussion

It's Just Benign 

Following up on yesterday’s posting, here’s a link to a rich “Watch & Wait” discussion on -   

BTW - Beth Rosenthal is the fierce founder of It's Just Benign and a benign brain stem glioma survivor. 


PS - Please know that It's Just Benign is not some well-funded non-profit and, as such, charges visitors a princely $15/year to keep the website online.


Monday, October 28, 2013

“Watch & Wait” – Advice That Drives Victims Nuts

There’s a great discussion tree on the American Brain Tumor Association’s Inspire blog about the “Wait and Watch” advice that many meningioma brain tumor victims get from their neurosurgeons:
As best I can tell, the comments/reactions fall into two camps.
  1. Total and Immediate panic. This is the most natural and immediate response. “Ohmigod, I have this thing growing inside my head and it’s going to kill me!  Can we operate this afternoon and get it out?” 
  2. Major League Denial. “Ok, I see the MRI which shows that there’s a tumor as big as my wife’s fist, but do I really need to have an operation? Can we wait another month or two and see if the seizures halt and the tumor growth stops? I hate hospitals, knives and needles. Aren’t we rushing things a bit?
Inspire isn’t the only brain tumor forum with discussion like this. Here’s a link to a similar discussion on The Cancer Forums:

As always, I also checked other brain tumor blogs that I follow. Here’s a heartfelt  March 15th, 2012 posting from THELIZARMY with the headline of “Screw ‘watch and wait’… keep fightin'” -

Image credit: <a href=''>rbv / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Friday, October 25, 2013

"How Exercise Makes Your Brain Grow"

According to a terrific article by David DiSalvo in Fortune magazine entitled "How Exercise Makes your Brain Grow", scientists have learned how endurance exercise helps build new brain cells. If you’re the victim of a brain tumor, traumatic brain injury or just feel you drew a short straw in the gene pool, understanding “how” is important.

Why? Because there’s big news in the “how” area as DiSalvo reports that “Research into ‘neurogenesis’—the ability of certain brain areas to grow new brain cells—has recently taken an exciting turn. Not only has research discovered that we can foster new brain cell growth through exercise, but it may eventually be possible to “bottle” that benefit in prescription medication.”

Couch potatoes of the world are jumping in joy! (Or, since they’re couch potatoes, maybe they’re just smiling broadly from the safety of their sofa).

At this point in reading the article I was somewhat incredulous, how could this be? Well, according to DiSalvo’s article “…researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School (HMS) have also discovered that it may be possible to capture these benefits in a pill.  The same protein that stimulates brain growth via exercise could potentially be bottled and given to patients experiencing cognitive decline, including those in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”

If you’re a happy being a couch potatoes, you may be asking yourself “Why is this exciting?” Here’s one expert’s conclusion:  “What is exciting is that a natural substance can be given in the bloodstream that can mimic some of the effects of endurance exercise on the brain,” said Bruce Spiegelman, PhD, of Dana-Farber and HMS and co-senior author of the research report with Michael E. Greenberg, PhD, chair of neurobiology at HMS.”

I found this so exciting, so provocative and so interesting I might even start jogging (at least until I can buy the pills at Walgreens).

And here’s a link to the study involving mice:

Image credit: <a href=''>iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo</a>