May
12
2018

Sex Stimulates Your Brain

Sex usually causes positive feelings, but how is it that sex stimulates your brain? Recently this publication reviewed exactly what is going on. The reason both sexes seem to seek out sex is the fact that it is sex that stimulates the brain a certain way, which is pleasing to both partners. Due to the stimulation the brain will release hormones that make us feel good. Following sex there is post-coital afterglow for a period of time, which I have addressed under this link before. Here I am reviewing what physical stimulation of the brain takes place during sex. Next I will touch on the hormonal changes that happen during and after sex.

Diagnostic tests that show that sex stimulates your brain

Researchers performed  2005 positron emission tomography (PET scan) studies  during sex at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. They studied males males while they were having sex. The question was what part of the brain would be receiving stimulation. Another question was, what part of the brain was resting during intercourse? They found that the right hemisphere and particularly one area, the right posterior insula received stimulation, when the penis was stimulated. This area allows the man to feel relaxed and it reduces pain perception. The secondary somatosensory cortex also showed stimulation on PET scans. The stimulation of the secondary somatosensory cortex is what carries him to the height of his arousal during intercourse. The hypothalamus, which also received stimulatioh with the initiation of sex, was very quiet during the active part of lovemaking. The thalamus and right amygdala were also quiet during that phase on PET scans.

More on feelings and losing oneself during the height of sex

The same group from the Netherlands did a 2003 study using PET scans to find out what happens during his ejaculation. Male subjects had sexual stimulation (penile stimulation) by their female partners. At the time of his ejaculation the PET scan showed increased brain activity in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the cerebellum. The frontal brain was remarkably quiet. Other authors point out that there are profound hormone releases during lovemaking. The release of neurotransmitters like noradrenaline, oxytocin and prolactin is taking place during orgasm. Other hormones like dopamine, opioids and serotonin join the hormonal symphony of lovemaking. This leads to detachedness at the height of the orgasm, to emotional closeness and pair bonding toward the end of lovemaking. The authors of the 2003 Netherlands study concluded:

“Our results correspond with reports of cerebellar activation during heroin rush, sexual arousal, listening to pleasurable music, and monetary reward.”

Female orgasm and brain studies showing that sex stimulates your brain

It is only fair that research also studied females, similarly to the male studies. Functional MRI scans were part of a 2017 study from Newark, NJ.

It showed a much broader stimulation of brains in females than in males. Female orgasm includes stimulation of the prefrontal cortex, the orbitofrontal cortex, the insula, the cingulate gyrus, and the cerebellum. These areas take part in the processing of emotions and of pain. There is also some metabolic processing and decision-making. With the male ejaculation study discussed above we had seen that there was no activity in the frontal brain of the male. At this stage of his sexual arousal there is no place for decision-making for the man. Women, however, are still able to think while having an orgasm. Other studies have shown that the rhythmic sexual stimulation during sex can get women into an altered state of consciousness that feels like a trance.

Hormonal activity during and after sex documenting that sex stimulates your brain

We learned already about the profound hormone releases during the height of his ejaculation and her orgasm (noradrenaline, oxytocin and prolactin). But other hormones were also part of it: dopamine, opioids and serotonin. There are two hormones that are particularly important: endorphins and oxytocin. Endorphins are part of the natural endorphins that the brain makes. They help us to feel good and they minimize pain. Their production takes place in the hypothalamus, one of the main hormone producing glands of the brain. The hypothalamus also produces the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which releases ACTH in the pituitary gland. This and cortisol are the stress hormones that make us tense. With the release of endorphins during sex, the stress reaction becomes less. More sex means less stress.

Oxytocin, the cuddling hormone

Oxytocin from the posterior pituitary gland is the cuddling hormone. It is part of the symphony of hormones that show a release during sex. Oxytocin makes you feel close to your partner, but also very relaxed. It may be responsible for the afterglow that I mentioned  in the beginning of my review that can last for up to 2 days after sex.

When sex is painful

Sex can be a bad experience, particularly for women. Many women have experienced sexual abuse in the past, and when they grow up to mature women, the past bad memories often linger on. This is called postcoital dysphoria (PCD). A 2011 Australian/US study has studied this. 32.9% of the students of that study reported ever having experienced this. There were also cases of childhood sexual abuse that were more severe. The authors also found that sexual dysfunction was worse when co-existing anxiety or depression disorders were present.

Better sleep after sex

Prolactin, another brain hormone is released during sex as well. It is responsible for calming the frontal cortex down. This leads to better sleep, but in older men it also causes better cognitive functioning. Prolactin, released during sex is thought to improve memory and to improve cognitive impairment.

In women testosterone and oxytocin are released during sex. This can improve libido (testosterone) and makes you feel like cuddling.

Sex Stimulates Your Brain

Sex Stimulates Your Brain

Conclusion

Sex leads to a battery of hormones that the brain releases after ejaculation and/or orgasm. Both partners experience their own detachedness, which is due to a trance-like mental state where the partners experience each other intensely. The cuddling hormone oxytocin encourages bonding and contributes to a feeling of an intense closeness to each other. Endorphins release stress and amplify the emotional high. Brain studies on copulating couples have shown different stimulation patterns of parts of the brain in women and in men.

Differences in how men and women are wired

Men cannot think at the height of lovemaking because their frontal brain is completely blocked. Women, however, are able to continue to experience all emotions and are able to think at the same time. Having said that, women can easily enter into a trance from the repetitive movements of lovemaking. Whatever it is that we experience during and after sex, it is due to the relationship we have with each other, the past experience, the present experience and the hormone symphony that occurs during all of this. Enjoy what’s going on!

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May
05
2018

The Benefits Of Drinking Green Tea

Chances are you heard about the benefits of drinking green tea to reduce heart disease. But the polyphenols of green tea also prevent cancer, depression and cognitive decline.

Green tea lowers cardiovascular mortality

A study in the Chianti region of Tuscany, Italy consisted of 807 men and women aged 65 years and older. They had urine tests for metabolites of green tea in the beginning of the study. The study went on for 12 years. 274 participants died, which was 34% of the total study group. Tests measured the total urinary polyphenol (TUP) concentration in both groups, the survivors and the participants who died. Those participants whose TUP was in the highest tertile of the TUP values had the lowest all-cause mortality. And those participants whose TUP was in the lowest tertile had the highest all-cause mortality. 

High blood pressure and stroke

A Taiwanese study from 2004 examined the blood pressure of 1507 subjects. There were 711 men and 796 women with a recent diagnosis of  high blood pressure. The investigators looked at tea consumption (green tea and oolong tea) and blood pressure reduction. They found that those who drank 120 to 599 mL/day of green tea or oolong tea decreased their blood pressure by 46%. Those who drank more than 600 mL/day of green tea or oolong tea lowered their blood pressure by 65%.

Another meta-study involving 194,965 people and 4378 strokes found that there was a reduction of strokes with increasing tea consumption. Those who drank 3 or 4 cups of green tea or black tea per day were the experimental group. Researchers compared them  to the control group that drank less than one cup of tea per day. The experimental group had a 21% lower risk of getting a stroke than the control group.

Cancer prevention more with black tea than with green tea

A meta-analysis of 18 studies from China showed that green tea and black tea consumption was beneficial for prevention of cardiovascular disease and for cancer prevention. The highest consumption of green tea reduced cardiovascular mortality by 33%. The highest black tea consumption lowered mortality by 12%. Cancer mortality turned out to be different. Green tea did not produce a reduction in mortality, but black tea lowered it by 21%.

Another study, this one from Shanghai, China, points out that there are 15 polyphenols in green tea that likely work on different target areas of the body. They target 200 different genes in humans affecting diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease, muscular disease and inflammation.

Other cancers like prostate and breast cancer benefit from green tea

This study shows evidence that habitual green tea drinkers do prevent prostate cancer and breast cancer to a certain extent.

Another study investigates the effect of tea on health. One of the studies from the same authors have shown that the oxidative damage to cells from cigarette smoking can come out in a urine test. Those smokers who drank 4 cups of tea per day had a 31% decrease in their urinary biomarkers to indicate DNA damage. As DNA damage is often the first step in cancer development, these findings are important to note.

Cognitive effects of green tea consumption in dementia patients

A 2017 review of dietary supplements to improve cognitive impairment pointed out several supplements that will improve cognition. Green tea is one of them, but omega-3 fatty acids (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are also useful supplements to restore neuronal functioning.

A 2017 study from Basel, Switzerland found that green tea improved memory, reduced anxiety and activated the working memory, which could be made visible on functional MRI scans. These researchers also pointed out that green tea has this effect as a whole, you cannot attribute it to a single constituent. Separate tests of  caffeine or L-Theanine  showed that the beneficial effect was smaller than when green tea as a whole was tested.

2016 study on severe Alzheimer’s patients

This 2016 Iranian study looked at 30 patients with severe Alzheimer’s disease. A baseline assessment was first, and 2 months after taking 4 green tea pills daily another assessment followed. A blood test measured the oxidative stress before and after, so was the antioxidant level from the green tea. The oxidative stress test showed an improvement during the study. The antioxidant level in the blood was higher than before the start of the study. The cognitive function test improved only slightly.

A 2018 study from Singapore looked at the effect of drinking tea (black tea or green tea) regarding symptoms of anxiety or depression. In a group of 614 subjects who were elderly individuals, aged 60 years and above; 59% consumed tea for longer than 15 years. These tea-drinking people were significantly less depressed and significantly less anxious when they underwent psychological tests, compared to non-tea drinkers.

Depression and green tea consumption

There is a 2018 study from South Korea that looked at the link of beverages from 15 studies with depression. 347,691 participants were part  of  these 15 studies, and 20,572 cases of depression developed. Comparing a high consumption of tea or coffee to low consumption, the following statistics were the result: coffee consumption reduced depression by 27%, green tea consumption by 29%.

The Benefits Of Drinking Green Tea

The Benefits Of Drinking Green Tea

Conclusion

Bioflavonoids are powerful antioxidants. But there are many more substances in green tea and coffee that are all beneficial for our health. One of the studies mentioned identified 15 polyphenols in green tea. But another study said that trying to identify one of the components as more active than the others would be a waste of time. They measured some of the factors by themselves and found that the overall effect was much smaller than green tea as a whole.

Other research has shown that the components of green tea activate several genes. This includes anti-inflammatory effects, prevention of heart attacks and strokes, lowering of blood pressure, anti-cancer effects, improvements of cognitive function, as well as improvement of depression and anxiety. As you can see the effect of green tea is diversified. Don’t hesitate to consume another cup of tea!

Mar
31
2018

Self-Love Is Important

You need to appreciate that self-love is important, if you want stable mental health and well-being. Before you can take care of people around you, you need to practice self-love first. You cannot give love, if you don’t love yourself first. We get so busy in working hard, wanting to achieve goals and then surpass ourselves. We want to be perfect. But this is not possible without first looking after our own needs: again, self-love is important to be able to reach the goals you want to achieve.

Perfectionism can be harmful

Most of us were grew up  in the Western society thinking that perfectionism would be good for us. After all, we achieve things; we criticize ourselves and improve it even more; so finally we end up with our dream goal. What is the downside of perfectionism?

Perfectionism often comes with chronic stress, which can shorten our life span. Perfectionism leads to diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, depression and eating disorders. Depression can have a serious complication, namely suicide attempts and actual suicide. Perfectionists also often suffer from anxiety disorders that can make life miserable. Chronic stress together with perfectionism can weaken the immune system, which in turn can cause infections and even autoimmune diseases.

Moving away from perfectionism

The United Nations passed a resolution in 2012 saying, “pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal.”

Psychologists also tell us that happiness is something we deserve to have; it is our right. A clinical psychologist in Vancouver, Canada, compares the inner critic of perfectionists to a “nasty adult beating the crap out of a tiny child”. We don’t have to beat ourselves up internally; it is not healthy for us. Don’t let the inner bully put yourself down for a minor thing that went wrong.

Start cultivating self-compassion. Self-compassion is not something that you have or do not have. According to psychologists self-compassion is something that you can learn.

The more you learn self-compassion, the less important perfectionism will be for you. You will still be productive and successful, but you will stop injuring yourself in the process.

Learning about self-compassion

Psychologists have researched how self-compassion can be developed. They even have invented an 8-week program that helps the client to build up self-compassion. These psychologists could measure a significant improvement of the level of self-compassion before taking the course and after completing it. According to Prof. Neff and associates there are three parts to self-compassion.

  • Self-kindness, which means treating yourself with understanding and forgiveness.
  • Recognition of one’s place in the shared humanity. This acknowledges that people are not perfect. It also means that personal experiences are part of the larger human experience.
  • Mindfulness, which means emotional balance and avoiding over identifying with painful emotions.

Listening to yourself

Dr. Kristin Neff has written a book that describes how to change your inner voice from a harsh voice to a softer, kinder internal voice. By becoming aware what your internal thoughts are, you can gradually change your internal talk. Profs. Neff and Germer have developed an 8-week course called “mindful self-compassion training”. In their own words “Self-compassion says, ‘Be kind to yourself in the midst of suffering and it will change.’ Mindfulness says, ‘Open to suffering with spacious awareness and it will change.'”

Part of the course is to learn how to deal with suffering when things go badly. In this case they recommend to their clients to repeat the following 3 phrases: “This is a moment of suffering,” “Suffering is a part of life,” and “May I be kind to myself.” This will take the sting away from the suffering and reduce the emotional pain.

Doubts about mindful self-compassion training?

You may have some doubts whether or not self-compassion training would work. But psychological tests regarding self-compassion ratings before and after the course have found a significant 43% difference. Similar compassion training can be found under this link.

These mindful exercises in self-compassion have been proven to down regulate the stress response. The hormones ACTH and cortisol in the blood were found to be much less in persons who had undergone self-compassion training. The training also was shown to increase heart rate variability, which is the body’s natural way to react to stress.

Not everybody is a good meditator. But apart from meditating there are other methods to recognize that self-love is important, as is self-compassion. You can write a letter to yourself, but pretend it comes from a close, loving friend. You could also write a letter that you pretend comes from you addressed to a person that you show compassion to.

Yoga to help you realize that self-love is important

Yoga is a great way to re-acquaint you with pleasures you experienced in childhood. Part of a yoga exercise can be “Mindful Eating”. You are simply refocusing your attention to the tastes that you may have taken for granted. Such a technique helps you to listen to yourself, become aware of your needs and train yourself in self-love and self-compassion. One of the top recommended Internet accessible yoga classes was this.

Self-love Is Important

Self-love Is Important

Conclusion

Perfectionism is widespread and is often taught in schools to be desirable. However, we become so good at this that it often turns into self-injurious behavior. We become harsh on ourselves and nothing is good enough to please us. And we expect perfection from people around us. We may even become abusive when they do not measure up to our expectations.

Dr. Kristin Neff has written a book that describes how to change your inner voice from a harsh voice to a softer, kinder internal voice. She also teaches an 8-week course at Harvard University how to develop self-compassion and self-love.

Mindful exercises in self-compassion

Mindful exercises in self-compassion have been proven to down regulate the stress response. It teaches you to deal with suffering when things go badly.

The bottom-line is to find your path away from perfectionism to a feeling of wholeness. And by achieving this we will free the negative energy of harsh and often unjustified criticism to give our best and succeed.

Jul
15
2017

Getting Rid Of Sugar

Scientific papers describe how unhealthy added sugar is, so getting rid of sugar in your diet is the answer.

An article was published in CNN that describes a one-month sugar detox program.

Brooke Alpert, the co-author of the book “The Sugar Detox: Lose the Sugar, Lose the Weight — Look and Feel Great” describes the details of a sugar detox program.

 The first three days of sugar detox

You need to go cold turkey for three days to eliminate any sugar to break the addiction cycle. During this time you may experience anxiety, sugar craving and moodiness.

You must not consume any added sugars during the first 3 days, but also keep away from fruit. Avoid starchy vegetables. This includes corn, sweet potatoes, peas and butternut squash. You also need to avoid dairy, because of the milk sugar in it. In addition avoid grains and alcohol. “You’re basically eating protein, vegetables and healthy fats”, says Alpert. You would enjoy a breakfast with 3 eggs any style. Lunch contains 6 oz. of poultry, tofu or fish. Add a green salad. For dinner your helpings are bigger, but it would be similar to lunch, perhaps with added vegetables. Snacks can be 1 oz. of nuts or a few slices of bell peppers with hummus. Your beverages: unsweetened tea, black coffee or water.

Sweeteners are not allowed according to Alpert. Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of Pediatrics and member of the Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California, San Francisco agrees. He said that artificial sweeteners cause you to store more fat. Dr. Lustig added: “You also end up overeating later on to compensate for the increased energy storage”.

Day four of sugar detox

On day 4 an apple is reintroduced. It will now taste a lot sweeter, because in the past the natural fruit sugar taste was suppressed by refined sugar. Full fat, unsweetened cheese and yogurt are also part of the diet. Alpert added: “Fat, fiber and protein slow the absorption of sugar, so taking out fat from dairy will make you absorb sugar faster.” Higher sugar content vegetables like carrots and snow peas and high-fiber crackers are introduced in the second half of the first week. Three glasses of red wine can also be added for those who like it.

Second week of sugar detox 

Add a serving of berries that are full of antioxidants. Also add an extra serving of dairy. More starchy vegetables like winter squash and yams can be added.

Third week of sugar detox

Barley, quinoa and oatmeal can now be added back. Grapes and clementines are now also allowable. Another glass of red wine can be added for those who like wine. One ounce of dark chocolate per day can also be added. “Week three should be quite livable,” Alpert said.

Week four of sugar detox

You now can have two starches per day, like bread and rice. In addition you can enjoy high-fiber crackers. You can have 5 glasses of red wine per week. You may want to eat a sandwich. Once you have completed 31 days no fruit is off-limits. You can allow yourself the occasional indulgences like an ice cream or a piece of cake at a birthday party. “Because the addictive behavior is gone, having ice cream once or twice will not send you back to square one. The whole purpose is to give people control and ownership and a place for these foods in our life,” Alpert said.

Weight loss with sugar detox

There can be a lot of weight loss with a sugar detox; depending on how much sugar the person was consuming before the detox started. Alpert recalled that of 80 subjects who tested the sugar detox people lost between 5 and 20 pounds within 31 days. Many people reported that their belly fat was going and the belts had to be tightened. There were other things participants noted: brighter eyes, fewer dark circles around the eyes, clearer skin, more energy and not as many mood swings.

Many people are not properly educated; they reduce fat intake, but add sugar and start gaining weight. By cutting out sugar and adding healthy fats in their diet, they now feel satisfied. The sugar craving has disappeared.

Side effects of sugar detox

You may feel grumpy and weak. This likely is due to low blood sugar and a piece of fruit will help you overcome this. In other cases it could be due to too little fluid intake and when you drink some water, this feeling will pass. Make sure you have supportive family and friends through the first three-day of sugar detox. “You need people around you to help you be successful,” Dr. Lustig said. “The whole family has to do it together.” Some irritability is expected due to sugar and caffeine withdrawal. This will pass and get better with every day. There are persons who should not go on this program: diabetics, people who take medicine to control blood sugar and extreme athletes. Pregnant women should also not follow a sugar detox program.

Why it is important to limit sugar intake

The American Heart Association (AHA) clearly spelled out what the limits are for added sugars:

For men: a daily dose of 9 teaspoons of sugar from all foods,

For women: a daily dose of 6 teaspoons of sugar from all foods.

When you start reading labels, which I started to do since 2001, you realize that it is very easy to exceed these daily limits. What does this do? It makes your pancreas produce more insulin than is good for you. You start switching your metabolism into the metabolic syndrome, you gain weight, and you get inflammation. This is what the AHA is concerned about. You start developing high blood pressure; get high LDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, and atheromatous plaques in your coronary and brain arteries. Eventually you come down with a heart attack or a stroke.

In the last 100 years sugar consumption per person has skyrocketed.

This has led to a disbalance of our diet and it is because of this that we are facing the obesity wave now. All I am saying is replace sugar with stevia extract, which to my knowledge does not have the undesirable side effects that other sweeteners do and eat a Mediterranean type diet, which we know is balanced.

Watch the maximum recommended sugar intake per day set by the American Heart Association and balance your meals, and you will do a lot better than on the Standard American diet. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to be anti-inflammatory.

Getting Rid Of Sugar

Getting Rid Of Sugar

Conclusion

We learnt about how a sugar detox can get you off sugar addiction. I also summarized why it is important to keep sugar consumption within limits set by the American Heart Association. Too much sugar can derange our metabolism, which is called metabolic syndrome. This can lead to diabetes. Eating a Mediterranean diet and keeping sugar intake low is the pathway to good health. It also keeps inflammation at bay.

May
13
2017

Results Of Insomnia Studies

Results of insomnia studies are focusing on all angles of insomnia. We know for some time that the circadian rhythm is linked to deep REM sleep, which we only reach about 2 hours into our nightly sleep. There are several reasons why our normal sleep pattern can get disrupted.

1. Night owls have a CRY1 mutation

A recent publication on March 27, 2017 has detected a mutation of the human circadian clock called CRY1. This is a dominant gene that is responsible for delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD). People with this genetic feature tend to go to sleep 2 hours later than the average person every day.

It occurs between 0.2% and 10% in the general population and is inherited by the autosomal dominant mode.

This gene is responsible for the phenomenon of persons being “night owls”.

2. Sleep deprivation in nursing homes

Another publication has zeroed in to what happens in the frail elderly who live in nursing homes.

Here is what sleep researchers have found out about nursing homes.

  • Older people also need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, not less as previously thought.
  • Let people sleep at night, and give them undisturbed sleep. The practice of waking them up every 2 hours is unnecessary and undermines a restful sleep with normal amounts of REM sleep.
  • The color of light matters: Blue/purple light coming from TVs, iPod’s, laptops or cell phones stimulates serotonin production that wakes you up. In contrast to this orange/red light stimulates melatonin production that facilitates sleep. A nursing home owner, Guildermann said: “We have made it darker at night, and what light they do have is orange/amber/red light, and we are having phenomenal results.”
  • Sleep, exercise and nutrition are the biggest components of health.

3. Night workers

One of the news stories in 2016 was about health risks of night shifts. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2000 that 15 million workers (16.8 % of the working population) were doing alternative shifts (night shift work mixed with daytime shifts). In 2016 they reported 14.8% were working alternate shifts. Among blacks, Asians and Latino Americans the percentage of working alternative shifts was higher, namely 20.8%, 15.7% and 16%, respectively.

Shift work is more common in certain industries, such as protective services like the police force, food services, health services and transportation.

Your body rewards you, when you sleep 7 to 8 hours during the night, but it will penalize you severely, if you turn it upside down. The reason is the diurnal hormone rhythm that we all have built in. Sleep is regulated by melatonin during the night, which is released by the pineal gland (on the base of the skull). Daytime wakefulness is regulated by the stress hormone cortisol from the adrenal glands. These two hormones inhibit each other, cortisol inhibits melatonin and melatonin inhibits cortisol. All the other hormones are also regulated according to the diurnal rhythm: testosterone, for instance is highest in the morning, human growth hormone is highest between midnight and 3 AM.

There are examples of what happens when you do shift work for several years:

  1. A) A Swedish study found that white-collar shift workers had a 260% higher mortality compared to a control group of daytime white collar workers: Shift work and mortality.
  2. B) A study compared night workers in the age group of 45 to 54 with daytime workers and found a 147% higher mortality rate in the night shift workers: Shift Workers’ Mortality Scrutinized. Shift workers work at night and sleep during the day. This can be done, but it is against the physiology of your body, as I explained above. Remember that melatonin does not only regulate your sleep, it also is one of the main stimulant hormones of the immune system. If you manipulate your diurnal hormone rhythm by staying awake during the night and sleeping during the day, you pay the price by an increased risk of mortality (increased risk of death). I think this is not worth it!

4. What to do when you cannot sleep?

The first step is to take 3mg to 5mg of melatonin at bedtime. It should be taken between 10PM and 11PM. It takes 20 to 30 minutes for melatonin to take effect. If you do not fall asleep within that time frame you are likely thinking too much! Relaxation before going to sleep should be part of your evening ritual. It can happen that we experience demanding, stressful days, and despite all better effort, it is difficult to be entirely relaxed. After demanding days like that I would recommend taking 1 or 2 capsules of valerian (500 mg strength) from the health food store. This combined with the melatonin should help in more than 80%-90% of insomnia cases. If you cannot sleep, see your physician. Sleep studies may be required or you may have problems of the thyroid (hypo- or hyperthyroidism), which may need to be checked. Other medical problems including depression have to be checked out as well. Melatonin and valerian are safe. Other sleeping pills have multiple side effects including memory problems the next day or the feeling of a mild hangover.

5. Telomeres and insomnia

Some people have no problem disciplining themselves to go to sleep between 10PM and 11 PM, which seems to be the window of opportunity to catch a good night’s sleep. Others are so used to do their late night activities (reading, watching TV, being online, going to the pub etc.) that they finally drop into bed at 1 or 2 AM. People need 7 to 8 hours of good sleep; even hard-core party goers need to get that much sleep. Nature does not make exceptions! When you go to bed only at 1AM or 2AM, it is difficult to get enough sleep.

It is true that you can suffer multiple health problems, as all of your hormones depend on the resetting during your deepest sleep between 2AM and 4AM triggered by the nighttime melatonin response. Even your telomeres, the caps of chromosomes in every cell get shortened from too much stress and too little sleep. Shortened telomeres mean a shortened life span. The reason for this is that people with shortened telomeres develop heart attacks, strokes and cancer. This is what shortens the life span. How do we avoid this risk? Go back to healthy sleep habits. As mentioned above it is best to start going to sleep between 10 PM and 11 PM and sleep for 7 to 8 hours.

6. Electronics in the bedroom

There is new research showing that electronics in the bedroom can interfere with a normal sleep pattern. Dr. Ben Carter is the lead author and a senior lecturer in biostatistics at King’s College London. He completed a study involving 125,198 children with an average age of 14½ years. There were about equal amounts of males and females. Both sexes had the same problem. When they were allowed to use electronic media, this interfered with their sleep time. What electronic devices are we talking about? Watching TV, using the computer, the cell phone, tablets and computer games. The study was originally published at JAMA Pediatrics.

The blue/purple light of the TV screen or a computer screen stimulates the brain to produce serotonin. This undermines the melatonin production and as a result the person finds it extremely difficult to fall asleep.

Here is a list that contributes to better sleep habits and better sleep quality:

  • Ensure that the bedroom is dark, soundproof, and comfortable with the room temperature being not too warm. It is important to develop a “sleep hygiene”. This means going to sleep around the same time each night, to have some down time of 1 hour or so before going to bed and getting up after the average time of sleep (for most people between 7 to 9 hours). Sleeping in is not a solution, and an alarm clock will also help to develop a sleep routine.
  • Caffeine drinks, alcohol, nicotine and recreational drugs must be avoided. Smokers should butt out no later than 7PM, as nicotine is a stimulant.
  • Getting into a regular exercise program, either at home or at a gym is beneficial.
  • Avoid a heavy meal late at night. A light snack including some warm milk would be OK.
  • It is not a sensible idea to use the bedroom as an office, reading place or media center. It paves the way to the getting stimulated by cortisol, which keeps us awake. The bedroom is a place of rest and should be comfortable and relaxing.
  • Some sleepers wake up at night, and they are wide-awake! Leaving the bedroom and relaxing in the living room for a while can help. It goes without saying that playing video games will not help! An alternative is to take 3 mg of melatonin, which will helps to fall asleep faster, but melatonin will wear off after about 4 hours.
  • A self-hypnosis recording is a useful adjunct to a sleep routine. Listening to it before going to sleep helps to focus on relaxation and to stop ruminating about the day and its events. Keep the volume low.
Results Of Insomnia Studies

Results Of Insomnia Studies

Conclusion

Recent results of insomnia studies have reconfirmed that we need our regular sleep to maintain our health. We have seen that some nursing homes have a practice of waking the client up every 2 hours. This must be abandoned as it interferes with the restorative deep REM sleep. In turn this will interfere with hormone restoration overnight.

Children and adolescents must limit their time in front of the TV, iPhones and computer screens. The blue light has the frequency that over stimulates the brain and interferes with melatonin production. Some people work overnight as shift workers or party until the wee hours in the morning. This causes your telomeres in your body cells to shorten. When you restore your sleeping pattern to normal your telomere length will no longer be shortened.

Even people who are night owls due to an inborn CRY1 gene that is responsible for delayed sleep phase disorder can normalize their sleep pattern by following a strict sleep hygiene. As people get older they lose the ability to make melatonin, but this can be replaced by taking melatonin tablets at bedtime.

Remember what I said earlier: Sleep, regular exercise and good nutrition are the biggest components of health.

Jul
22
2016

Anxiety Is Common

Recently a review article was published that showed that anxiety is common. This research was conducted in England (Cambridge and London). 48 reviews about anxiety around the globe were examined. The results showed that anxiety in the world population fluctuates between 3.8–25%. Women (frequencies of 5.2–8.7%) and young adults (frequency 2.5–9.1%) are suffering from anxiety more. Among people with chronic diseases there is considerable variation in the frequency of associated anxiety (from 1.4% to 70%). The frequency of anxiety in various ethnic populations varies considerably around the world. For instance European and North American cultures have a relatively high anxiety rate in the population (3.8–10.4%) when compared to Indian and Asian cultures with only 2.8%. In Africa the rate is 4.4%, in Central and Eastern European countries the rate is 3.2%. In North Africa and the Middle East the anxiety rate is 4.9% while in Spanish/Latin cultures the rate is 6.2%.

Anxiety is common; subtypes

There are many subtypes of anxiety that have been researched. 

  1. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): This disorder affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population. Women get this condition twice as often than men. The risk for developing it is greatest between childhood and midlife. People with a mild case of GAD can cope and work. Severe cases can be disabling and may be difficult to treat.
  2. Social anxiety disorder: about 15 million US citizens suffer from this. This equally affects women and men. Typically it starts at the age of 13, but 36% of people will not ask for medical help for 10 years or more. Symptoms of anxiety surrounding social situations are so intense that it interferes severely with making friends and having romantic relationships. They end up being alone, powerless against their anxiety.
  3. Panic disorder: 6 million US citizens or 2.7% of the population suffer from this. Women commonly are twice as often affected by it than men. Panic attacks develop in early adulthood. They often suffer in silence; distance themselves from friends, family and caregivers who could offer them help. Panic disorders often occur simultaneously with depression and medical conditions like asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and substance abuse.
  4. Specific phobias: 19 million or 8.7% of the US population suffer from this. It often starts in childhood and the median onset is at age 7. People affected by specific phobias may be afraid of high bridges, of animals like spiders or mice, of thunder, of flying and a myriad of other things. It disrupts daily routines, causes limitations of work efficiency and reduces self-esteem. It also places a strain on relationships because people afflicted by this problem will do whatever they can to avoid the uncomfortable or terrifying feelings of phobic anxiety.
  5. Obsessive-compulsive disorder: 2 million or 1% of the population in the US suffer from this form of anxiety. Onset is in the teenage years, although 1/3 of adults with obsessive-compulsive disorder experienced symptoms already in childhood.
  6. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): 7 million people or 3.5% of the US population are suffering from PTSD. Women are much more affected by PTSD than men. But a lot of soldiers who were involved in direct combat situations will suffer from PTSD. Rape can be a source of PTSD. Most people who experience traumatic events and develop PTSD will be affected by it for months or even years, but eventually recover from them; a minority will not recover. Often therapy is helpful for these individuals.
  7. Major depressive disorder: 8 million American adults or about 6.7% of the U.S population will suffer from depression between the ages 15 and 44 years. It is more common among women. A certain percentage of depressed people commit suicide. Anxiety is often mixed in with depression.
  8. Persistent depressive disorder is a form of depression that persists for at least 2 years. 1.5% of the US population or 3.3 million adults suffer from this condition. The median onset is at age 31. Like with depression, so also with persistent depressive disorder, anxiety is very common.

Anxiety is common; related illnesses

There are many medical diagnoses where anxiety is often part of the symptom complex. The medical profession often talks about psychosomatic diseases. This means that these diseases have an anxiety overlay, which is part of the condition.

  • For instance, bipolar disorder is a condition where extreme mood swings are common, often between elation and mania, but then switching to deep depression with suicidal thoughts. Mixed into this condition is often a certain degree of anxiety, which can be very overwhelming.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome is a psychosomatic disease of the gut with bowel cramps and frequent bowel movements, in others there are periods of constipation. But irritable bowel syndrome often has anxiety attached to it. They are often inseparable.
  • Eating disorders: here the person has an intense fear of turning fat. Persons with eating disorder often restrict their calories severely, even when they are underweight. They may exercise for hours with the hope to lose weight. Perhaps the most striking condition among eating disorders is anorexia nervosa, which often affects teenage females, but adult women are affected as well. Sadly many of these women die from starvation or starvation related diseases.
  • Sleep disorders: more than 40 million Americans suffer from chronic, long-term sleeping disorder. Another 20 million suffer from occasional sleep disorder. Often there is stress and anxiety that interferes with the normal sleep cycle.
  • Chronic pain: Pain is a common symptom; if it is associated with a surgical procedure or with an injury it is short lived and eventually goes away. With chronic pain, the pain is there all the time. People with arthritis or nerve injuries that did not heal often have this type of pain. Fibromyalgia sufferers also have this type of pain. When a person has an underlying anxiety disorder and gets chronic pain on top of this, the pain is amplified and becomes even more chronic. On the other hand anybody with chronic pain will suffer from a certain amount of anxiety just because of the chronicity of the pain.
  • Fibromyalgia: this chronic musculoskeletal pain disorder is a special form of chronic pain. About 20% of fibromyalgia sufferers have either chronic depression or chronic anxiety, which complicates the condition.
  • Substance abuse: about 20% of people with chronic anxiety disorders have an alcohol or substance abuse disorder; and 20% of people abusing alcohol or having a substance abuse disorder have a chronic anxiety disorder.
  • Stress: too much stress can turn into distress. Distress is an overdose of stress where the stressed person loses control of the situation. This can cause depression and anxiety. It can also cause physical illness.
  • Headaches: migraines, anxiety and depression seem to affect the same population group. Stress and anxiety can cause muscles around the neck to get into spasms and cause tension type headaches. But any headache can be brought on by anxiety.

Anxiety is common; biochemical brain abnormalities

Dr. Kharrazian has summarized in his book that Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a by-product of the brain cell metabolism is responsible for calming the brain (Ref.1). This mechanism is not working properly in people with anxiety. In many people with anxiety GABA is simply not produced enough to calm the brain or it gets inactivated too fast resulting in a lack of GABA with anxiety. The end result is the same: when there is a relative lack of GABA in the brain the person develops the symptoms of anxiety.

Disbalances in other neurotransmitters can also contribute to anxiety. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is essential to have for a stable mood and to prevent depression. It is produced in the mid brain. The pineal gland stores serotonin and makes melatonin out of it, which is essential for a normal sleep pattern. When serotonin is low, a number of things can happen. Anger and increased aggressiveness are associated with a lack of serotonin. But depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder are also frequently observed. Many of these illnesses have been noted above to be associated with anxiety. Ref.1 also describes that stress inhibits the conversion of serotonin into melatonin, which explains sleep problems in persons who are exposed to chronic stress.

Anxiety is common; treatment options

What are the treatment options for a person with anxiety?

  1. Treatment with anxiolytics: It is tempting to just treat the symptoms in an anxious person. But just prescribing anxiolytics like benzodiazepines (like Xanax) will not cure anxiety, just relieve the symptoms for a while. Eventually the body gets used to benzodiazepine and requires higher doses to suppress the anxiety. This can be the beginning of drug dependency, which is not what the health professional or the patient wants. As mentioned above alcohol and substance abuse is already a problem for 1 in 5 people with anxiety.
  2. Treat sleep deprivation: An alternative is to concentrate on treating sleep deprivation helping the person to get a good night’s sleep. Melatonin at a dose of 3 mg at bedtime is a reasonable dose to help a person to fall asleep. If during the night the anxious person wakes up again, another dose of 3 mg of melatonin can be given. In addition, if an anxious person lies in bed and ruminates about various things that have happened during the day, a dose of valerian root (500 mg or even 1000 mg) can be useful. Dr. Datis Kharrazian describes in Ref.1 that valerian root increases GABA at the GABA receptor site. Research has also shown that valerian root slows down the breakdown of GABA. Although GABA is available in health food stores, GABA does not get absorbed through the blood/brain barrier easily. Only patients with autoimmune problems have a leaky blood/brain barrier and GABA can get through, but this is not a good approach to take for treating GABA deficiency. When you take GABA as a supplement, it wears off after a few days and loses its effect. It is wiser to stay away from GABA.
  3. Cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy has been proven to help the person with anxiety. Often psychologists specialize in these treatment methods. Meditation and counseling therapy will also help.
  1. Antidepressant therapy: In anxiety cases where depression is part of the psychological make-up antidepressants may have a place for a period of time. The FDA issued a warning in October 2004 about antidepressant medications, including SSRIs. These may lead to suicide and suicidal behavior in a small number of children and adolescents. But there is no way of predicting who will be affected this way. The antidepressant medications are still available and are still prescribed by many physicians.
  2. A balanced diet like a Mediterranean diet will ensure that the nutrients that are required to make GABA will be provided. Added sugar should be avoided as it may contribute to anxiety from blood sugar fluctuations.
  3. Yoga and biofeedback: Yoga with an emphasis on breathing techniques can also be useful. Biofeedback methods are useful as well.
Anxiety Is Common

Anxiety Is Common

Conclusion

Anxiety is common, but also very complex, as explained above. 74.8 million Americans suffer from the various forms of anxiety mentioned. Psychosomatic disease often involves anxiety as well and it can be difficult to sort out the symptoms of patients afflicted with physical illness and anxiety. Repeat visits to the treating doctor will eventually help sort these problems out. The physician will rule out any physical problems first by doing lab tests and imaging studies.

Treating anxiety should focus on reestablishing a healthy sleeping pattern. Self-hypnosis tapes or discs are useful. Melatonin and valerian root have their place. Cognitive-behavioral therapy will help the patient to reestablish clear thoughts and minimize the anxiety symptoms. With this approach the patient will often be able to overcome anxiety. There are no instant solutions, but with time and persistence the patient will be able to take back control of his or her life.

References:

Ref. 1: Dr. Datis Kharrazian: “Why Isn’t My Brain Working?” © 2013, Elephant Press, Carlsbad, CA 92011