Interesting news item from National Public Radio: Birds of a feather flock together. The age-old adage now carries scientific weight. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests genes may influence how people pick their friends. James Fowler, professor of medical genetics and political science at the University of California, San Diego, is the author of the study and he tells host Guy Raz there’s biology in social chemistry. Read or listen more here.
Left Hemisphere – Rational
Responds to verbal instructions
Problem solves by logically and sequentially looking at the parts of things
Looks at differences
Is planned and structured
Prefers established, certain information
Prefers talking and writing
Prefers multiple choice tests
Prefers ranked authority structures
Right Hemisphere – Intuitive
Responds to demonstrated instructions
Problem solves with hunches, looking for patterns and configurations
Looks at similarities
Is fluid and spontaneous
Prefers elusive, uncertain information
Prefers drawing and manipulating objects
Prefers open ended questions
Free with feelings
Prefers collegial authority structures
It seems that lots of folks have emailed me about all sorts of other left/right side brain tests/quizzes online. Here are the top 2 tests.
Hemispheric Dominance Inventory Test: This test has 18 questions and you choice between 2 answers. I like the questions they seem interesting and thought provoking.
Right Brain vs Left Brain Creativity Test: This test of 54 questions is multiple choice with 4 choices and all of the questions are on one page like the test above. Some repeating of questions, which is fairly standard in personality type tests.
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Yoga is a mind and body practice in complementary medicine with origins in ancient Indian philosophy. The various styles of yoga that people use for health purposes typically combine physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation. There are numerous schools of yoga. Hatha yoga, the most commonly practiced in the United States and Europe, emphasizes postures (asanas) and breathing exercises (pranayama).
Since the 1020’s researchers have been studying and publishing articles on the results of a Yoga practice. Listed below are some of the research results of Hatha Yoga and specific medical conditions. :
ADHD Eighteen boys with diagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were randomly assigned to either a yoga treatment or a cooperative activities group. After 20 sessions of yoga, the boys showed improvement on a variety of indices, including oppositional behavior, emotional lability, and restlessness or impulsivity. The subjects exhibited a dose/ response curve, with those subjects who participated in additional home practice showing a greater response. The control group showed superior scores on measures of hyperactivity, anxiety, and shyness, as well as social function measures.7
Anxiety A meta-analysis of the research involving yoga interventions for anxiety and related disorders reviewed eight studies conducted during 2004. Overall, this research reported positive results, especially in cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, the authors were quick to point out a generally poor quality of research techniques, inadequacies in methodology, and difficulty comparing studies.8 A Cochrane review of two RCTs that investigated the effectiveness of meditation and yoga on patients with diagnosed anxiety disorders stated that based on the available research, no distinct conclusions can be drawn on the ability of meditation and yoga to be effective for anxiety disorders.9
Asthma To determine the efficacy of Iyengar yoga practice on symptoms and perceived quality of life of people living with asthma, 62 patients with mild to moderate asthma were randomized and divided into two groups. The treatment group performed Iyengar yoga for 4 weeks, and the control group enrolled in a “stretching” program. Both groups underwent spirometry testing and recorded their bronchodilator use, symptoms, and quality of life assessments. At no point in the study did the yoga intervention group show a measured benefit in clinical indices.10
Another small RCT divided 17 subjects into a yoga treatment and a control group. The yoga group engaged in relaxation pranayama (mindful breathing) techniques, yoga postures, and meditation 3 times per week for 16 weeks. Spirometry testing showed little difference between the two groups; however, the yoga group showed improved exercise tolerance and reported relaxation as well as a more positive attitude as measured by questionnaire. This study also showed a trend toward less use of short-acting bronchodilator medication in the yoga group.11
Back pain A 12-week RCT compared viniyoga practice with conventional therapeutic back exercises or a self-help book for 101 patients with chronic low back pain. The yoga group met with one instructor for a weekly 75-minute viniyoga practice. Patients were also encouraged to practice at home daily and were given handouts and an audio CD guide. This group showed greater improvement in functional status, decreased activity restriction, and increased general health compared to the conventional exercise group or the self-help book group at 12 weeks. At 26 weeks post treatment, the conventional exercise and yoga therapy group did not show a significant difference in outcome, though at all points in time, viniyoga therapy appeared to be more effective than the self- care book. The viniyoga benefit also lasted for months after the intervention.12
Cardiovascular disease A systematic literature review of 70 studies published over the past two decades showed a trend toward beneficial changes in metabolic syndrome risk factors such as insulin resistance, lipid profiles, BP, and anthropomorphic indices. The author noted that by controlling risk factors for metabolic syndrome, a regular yoga practice might possibly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). It is important to note that approximately one-third of the reviewed studies were RCTs and that the majority of the others were uncontrolled or nonrandomized controlled clinical trials.4 A 2002 comprehensive review of the literature on the psychophysiological effects of hatha yoga concluded that regular hatha yoga practice and a “yoga lifestyle” have the potential to benefit CVD risk indices.5
Cardiovascular fitness A 50-minute hatha yoga routine burns 2.2 to 3.6 kcal/min, the equivalent a very slow walk. Except in persons who are very deconditioned, this type of yoga practice alone is unlikely to have a significant training effect on cardiovascular fitness, pulmonary function, body composition, or fat metabolism.13 More vigorous forms of power or vinyasa yoga require a higher energy output, depending on the method of teaching and selection of asanas (postures). One recent study demonstrated a 7% increase in VO2 max after previously sedentary subjects practiced 8 weeks of yoga training.13 However, the general consensus is that yoga does not provide the significant cardiovascular stimulus necessary to enhance cardiovascular function.14
1. Tindle HA, Davis RB, Phillips RS, Eisenberg DM. Trends in use of complementary and alternative medicine by US adults: 1997-2002. Altern Ther Health Med. 2005;11(1):42-49.
2. Carrico M. Yoga Journal’s Yoga Basics: The Essential Beginner’s Guide to Yoga for a Lifetime of Health and Fitness. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company; 1997.
3. Nayak NN, Shankar K. Yoga: a therapeutic approach. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2004;15(4): 783-798, vi.
4. Innes KE, Bourguignon C, Taylor AG. Risk indices associated with the insulin resistance syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and possible protection with yoga: a systematic review. J Am Board Fam Pract. 2005;18(6):491-519.
5. Raub JA. Psychophysiologic effects of Hatha yoga on musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary function: a literature review. J Altern Complement Med. 2002;8(6):797-812.
6. Luskin FM, Newell KA, Griffith M, et al. A review of mind-body therapies in the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders with implications for the elderly. Altern Ther Health Med. 2000;6(2): 46-56.
7. Jensen PS, Kenny DT. The effects of yoga on the attention and behavior of boys with attentiondeficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). J Atten Disord. 2004;7(4):205-216.
8. Kirkwood G, Rampes H, Tuffrey V, et al. Yoga for anxiety: a systematic review of the research evidence. Br J Sports Med. 2005;39(12):884-891.
9. Krisanaprakornkit T, Krisanaprakornkit W, Piyavhatkul N, Laopaiboon M. Meditation therapy for anxiety disorders. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006;(1):CD004998.
10. Sabina AB, Williams AL, Wall HK, et al. Yoga intervention for adults with mild-to-moderate asthma: a pilot study. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2005;94(5):543-548.
11. Vendanthan PK, Kesavalu LN, Murthy KC, et al. Clinical study of yoga techniques in university students with asthma: a controlled study. Allergy Asthma Proc. 1998;19(1):3-9.
12. Sherman KJ, Cherkin DC, Erro J, et al. Comparing yoga, exercise, and a self-care book for chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2005;143(12):849-856.
13. Tran MD, Holly RG, Lashbrook J, Amsterdam EA. Effects of Hatha yoga practice on the healthrelated aspects of physical fitness. Prev Cardiol. 2001;4(4):165-170.
14. Clay CC, Lloyd LK, Walker JL, et al. The metabolic cost of Hatha yoga. J Strength Cond Res. 2005;19(3):604-610.
Different brain areas are activated when we choose to suppress an emotion, compared to when we are instructed to inhibit an emotion, according a new study from the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Ghent University.
In this study, published in Brain Structure and Function, the researchers scanned the brains of healthy participants and found that key brain systems were activated when choosing for oneself to suppress an emotion. They had previously linked this brain area to deciding to inhibit movement.
“This result shows that emotional self-control involves a quite different brain system from simply being told how to respond emotionally,” said lead author Dr Simone Kuhn (Ghent University).
In most previous studies, participants were instructed to feel or inhibit an emotional response. However, in everyday life we are rarely told to suppress our emotions, and usually have to decide ourselves whether to feel or control our emotions.
In this new study the researchers showed fifteen healthy women unpleasant or frightening pictures. The participants were given a choice to feel the emotion elicited by the image, or alternatively to inhibit the emotion, by distancing themselves through an act of self-control.
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of the participants. They compared this brain activity to another experiment where the participants were instructed to feel or inhibit their emotions, rather than choose for themselves.
Different parts of the brain were activated in the two situations. When participants decided for themselves to inhibit negative emotions, the scientists found activation in the dorso-medial prefrontal area of the brain. They had previously linked this brain area to deciding to inhibit movement.
In contrast, when participants were instructed by the experimenter to inhibit the emotion, a second, more lateral area was activated.
“We think controlling one’s emotions and controlling one’s behavior involve overlapping mechanisms,” said Dr Kuhn.
“We should distinguish between voluntary and instructed control of emotions, in the same way as we can distinguish between making up our own mind about what do, versus following instructions.”
Regulating emotions is part of our daily life, and is important for our mental health. For example, many people have to conquer fear of speaking in public, while some professionals such as health-care workers and firemen have to maintain an emotional distance from unpleasant or distressing scenes that occur in their jobs.
Professor Patrick Haggard (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience) co-author of the paper said the brain mechanism identified in this study could be a potential target for therapies.
“The ability to manage one’s own emotions is affected in many mental health conditions, so identifying this mechanism opens interesting possibilities for future research.
“Most studies of emotion processing in the brain simply assume that people passively receive emotional stimuli, and automatically feel the corresponding emotion. In contrast, the area we have identified may contribute to some individuals’ ability to rise above particular emotional situations.
“This kind of self-control mechanism may have positive aspects, for example making people less vulnerable to excessive emotion. But altered function of this brain area could also potentially lead to difficulties in responding appropriately to emotional situations.”
It’s easy to eat your way to an alarmingly high cholesterol level. The reverse is true too — changing what you eat can lower your cholesterol and improve the armada of fats floating through your bloodstream. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and “good fats” are all part of a heart-healthy diet. But some foods are particularly good at helping bring down cholesterol.
How? Some cholesterol-lowering foods deliver a good dose of soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol and its precursors in the digestive system and drags them out of the body before they get into circulation. Others provide polyunsaturated fats, which directly lower LDL. And those with plant sterols and stanols keep the body from absorbing cholesterol. Here are 5 of those foods:
- Oats. An easy way to start lowering cholesterol is to choose oatmeal or a cold oat-based cereal like Cheerios for breakfast. It gives you 1 to 2 grams of soluble fiber. Add a banana or some strawberries for another half-gram.
- Beans. Beans are especially rich in soluble fiber. They also take a while for the body to digest, meaning you feel full for longer after a meal. That’s one reason beans are a useful food for folks trying to lose weight. With so many choices — from navy and kidney beans to lentils, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, and beyond — and so many ways to prepare them, beans are a very versatile food.
- Nuts. A bushel of studies shows that eating almonds, walnuts, peanuts, and other nuts is good for the heart. Eating 2 ounces of nuts a day can slightly lower LDL, on the order of 5%. Nuts have additional nutrients that protect the heart in other ways.
- Foods fortified with sterols and stanols. Sterols and stanols extracted from plants gum up the body’s ability to absorb cholesterol from food. Companies are adding them to foods ranging from margarine and granola bars to orange juice and chocolate. They’re also available as supplements. Getting 2 grams of plant sterols or stanols a day can lower LDL cholesterol by about 10%.
- Fatty fish. Eating fish two or three times a week can lower LDL in two ways: by replacing meat, which has LDL-boosting saturated fats, and by delivering LDL-lowering omega-3 fats. Omega-3s reduce triglycerides in the bloodstream and also protect the heart by helping prevent the onset of abnormal heart rhythms.
But stay away from…
As you consider eating more of the foods that can help dial down cholesterol, keep in mind that avoiding certain foods can improve your results. To keep cholesterol levels where you want them to be, limit intake of:
Saturated fats. The saturated fats found in red meat, milk and other dairy foods, and coconut and palm oils directly boost LDL. So one way to lower your LDL is to cut back on saturated fat. Try substituting extra-lean ground beef for regular; low-fat or skim milk for whole milk; olive oil or a vegetable-oil margarine for butter; baked fish or chicken for fried.
Trans fats. Trans fats are a byproduct of the chemical reaction that turns liquid vegetable oil into solid margarine or shortening and that prevents liquid vegetable oils from turning rancid. Trans fats boost LDL as much as saturated fats do. They also lower protective HDL, rev up inflammation, and increase the tendency for blood clots to form inside blood vessels. Although trans fats were once ubiquitous in prepared foods, many companies now use trans-free alternatives. Some restaurants and fast-food chains have yet to make the switch.
A new study by researchers in Wisconsin, Spain, and France reports the first evidence of specific molecular changes in the body following a period of mindfulness meditation. The study investigated the effects of a day of intensive mindfulness practice in a group of experienced meditators, compared to a group of untrained control subjects who engaged in quiet non-meditative activities. After eight hours of mindfulness practice, the meditators showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, including altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice,” says study author Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Most interestingly, the changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs,” says Perla Kaliman, first author of the article and a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, Spain (IIBB-CSIC-IDIBAPS), where the molecular analyses were conducted.
The study was published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
Mindfulness-based trainings have shown beneficial effects on inflammatory disorders in prior clinical studies. The new results provide a possible biological mechanism for therapeutic effects.
The results show a down-regulation of genes that have been implicated in inflammation. The affected genes include the pro-inflammatory genes RIPK2 and COX2 as well as several histone deacetylase (HDAC) genes, which regulate the activity of other genes epigenetically by removing a type of chemical tag. What’s more, the extent to which some of those genes were downregulated was associated with faster cortisol recovery to a social stress test involving an impromptu speech and tasks requiring mental calculations performed in front of an audience and video camera.
Perhaps surprisingly, the researchers say, there was no difference in the tested genes between the two groups of people at the start of the study. The observed effects were seen only in the meditators following mindfulness practice. In addition, several other DNA-modifying genes showed no differences between groups, suggesting that the mindfulness practice specifically affected certain regulatory pathways.
However, it is important to note that the study was not designed to distinguish any effects of long-term meditation training from those of a single day of practice. Instead, the key result is that meditators experienced genetic changes following mindfulness practice that were not seen in the non-meditating group after other quiet activities — an outcome providing proof of principle that mindfulness practice can lead to epigenetic alterations of the genome.
Previous studies in rodents and in people have shown dynamic epigenetic responses to physical stimuli such as stress, diet, or exercise within just a few hours.
“Our genes are quite dynamic in their expression and these results suggest that the calmness of our mind can actually have a potential influence on their expression,” Davidson says.
“The regulation of HDACs and inflammatory pathways may represent some of the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic potential of mindfulness-based interventions,” Kaliman says. “Our findings set the foundation for future studies to further assess meditation strategies for the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions.”
Study funding came from National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (grant number P01-AT004952) and grants from the Fetzer Institute, the John Templeton Foundation, and an anonymous donor to Davidson. The study was conducted at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the UW-Madison Waisman Center.
Perla Kaliman, María Jesús Álvarez-López, Marta Cosín-Tomás, Melissa A. Rosenkranz, Antoine Lutz, Richard J. Davidson. Rapid changes in histone deacetylases and inflammatory gene expression in expert meditators.Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2014; 40: 96 DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.11.004