Tag Archives: research

News Flash: Watching TV with Your Sweetheart May Boost Your Happiness.

497294952_c06a81d93b_bI’m very interested in the role of TV-watching in our happiness. After all,  after sleeping and work, it’s the biggest consumer of the world’s time.

So I was interested to see that new research suggests that for  couples who don’t have lots of mutual friends, watching the same TV show (or reading the same book or going to the same movie) can help both people feel that they inhabit in the same social world.

It turns out that couples who have lots of mutual friends tend to have the strongest bonds, and for those who don’t have a lot of mutual friends, having “shared media experiences” helps them to feel connected. Continue reading

Better than Before: Follow Your Gut (DIY Healthcare Tips)

Health-Tips-1One would think that, as a confirmed hypochondriac, I would run from doctor to doctor trying to get a diagnosis for whatever symptoms, however mild, I happen to have. But even though I work closely with the medical community in my role as a health columnist, I seldom, if ever, visit any of them for personal reasons. The problem is that, as is well-documented, the mere sight of a white coat can increase your blood pressure. And then I could have a stroke!

Through it all, though, I have learned to listen to my gut. (Except, of course, when I have indigestion from kale overload!) And while I do take the advice of the renowned doctors I interview for this column and on my radio show, I am also my own healthcare adviser.  Furthermore, I suggest that my readers research and learn everything there is to know about the disease or condition for which they are currently seeing their physicians.  That’s what being Better Than Before is all about. I am all about DIY healthcare advice – the more you know the more you’re prepared.

To that end, I recently discovered a book by Julia Schopick, Honest Medicine: Effective, Time-Tested, Inexpensive Treatments for Life-Threatening Diseases. In it, she tells of her 15-year journey through the American healthcare system, from the time when her husband, Tim, was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor until his death, fifteen years later. As she puts it, “For me, this journey was a lesson in learning to listen to my gut when listening to doctors isn’t enough. It is now my mission to help others do the same.”

Here’s the back story. In 1990, Julia’s then 40-year-old husband Tim was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. He underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation – the treatments his doctors knew how to perform. But they weren’t able to keep Tim from experiencing the horrible side effects and complications resulting from the protocol.  Tim just wanted to heal so that he could live a longer, happier life.  Taking matters into her own hands, Julia followed her gut and tirelessly researched. Thanks to some pretty amazing treatments she discovered, her husband was soon eating better, taking nutritional supplements and, in general, living a healthier life. Almost immediately, he began to thrive.

Armed with her own success in helping her husband, Julia decided to write a book with true stories about other patients who listened to their guts and found therapies that even their doctors didn’t know about. In it, she chronicles the journey of  nine patients, with  autoimmune and live diseases, childhood epilepsy, and non-healing wounds, to name a few, who found inexpensive, little known therapies that proved miraculous for them.

Below Julia shares seven DIY healthcare tips to help you follow your own instincts for optimum health:

1) When a prescribed treatment isn’t working, you’ll know it. Take action and look for other options.

2). Patient-evidence-based protocols may not have gone through the rigors of Phase 3 clinical trials, but they have been used for many years by thousands of patients to great success. For instance, since the mid-1980’s Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) has treated autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. And the Ketogenic Diet, around since the 1920s, is offered at prestigious institutions such as Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic to treat childhood epilepsy.

3). Once you’ve found a promising treatment, join online patient groups devoted to it. You’ll benefit from the research and experience of many people who share your particular condition.

4). Learn which websites contain useful information and which do not. Some, affiliated with presumably reputable institutions, may have financial ties to drug companies or other hidden agendas. It takes practice to learn which sites to trust.

5). Discuss the information you’ve found with your doctor. Prepare a packet of credible information—including, if possible, small studies. For example, in the case of LDN, studies have been conducted by prestigious institutions like Penn State, Stanford, and the University of California. These finding are also included in PubMed, which doctors respect.

6). If your doctor won’t listen to you, find a more open-minded doctor who will. Support groups and online patient groups can often recommend qualified physicians who will work with patients using patient-evidence-based treatments.

7). We are accustomed to being passive regarding our health—especially when faced with a serious medical condition. Don’t be discouraged — tune in to your inner voice.

At the end of the day, listening to your gut could truly save your life. Or at least make you Better than Before!

Lynne McTaggart Stands Up to the Attack on Alternative Medicine


Many Intent readers know and admire Lynne McTaggart, the internationally known author of several bestselling books, including The Intention Experiment, The Field, The Bond, and What Doctors Don’t Tell You.

What many may not know, without reading the British tabloids last week, is that the Rupert Murdoch-owned Times UK published an article featuring representatives from an organization which called for the banning of McTaggart’s magazine, What Doctors Don’t Tell You, (WDDTY). Members of this organization phoned British magazine stockers and agents demanding they remove WDDTY from their shelves.

In today’s world, with irate people, charges and counter-charges, many things we once took for granted come under attack. But a health magazine? Health information? Why?

The Times charged that a story in McTaggart’s 25-year old print and on-line WDDTY health news magazine, claims that homeopathy cures cancer. But that homeopathy story has never seen print. It will be published next month. Instead of waiting to see what the story actually said, based on a two-sentence teaser announcement, the Times slammed McTaggart’s magazine.

“You have no idea yet what we’re going to write about, so how can you say we’re going to write that homeopathy ‘cures’ cancer?” asked McTaggart, who delves into the attack on WDDTY.

Within days of the Times’ story, McTaggart recounts that the coverage exploded in other television and other media outlets with headlines blaring, “Warning that claims in alternative health mag could prove fatal.”

This sensationalized attack on alternative and integrative medicine—and those who practice it, use it, and seek information about it ran roughshod over time-honored traditions of honest reporting.

“Not one of the newspapers, radio shows or television stations bothered to contact us, even to solicit a comment – which is Journalism 101 when you intend to run a story on someone, pro or con. It’s also apparent from the information published in The Times and in all the media following that not one journalist or broadcaster has read one single word we’ve written,” says McTaggart.

In the rush to a deadline, perhaps the pile-on of reporters misinterpreted headlines and photos. It’s also likely that encouraged by a pharma-funded group called Sense Against Science, they willfully ignored the science that WDDTY presents.

On the WDDTY Facebook page, McTaggart, points out that the “vitamin C article never claimed that vitamin C cures AIDS. It simply quoted a study by Dr. Robert Cathcart showing a favourable response when he used it against HIV.”

This is not the first attempt to censor health information or WDDTY by the well-funded British organization, Sense Against Science, which according to its website is funded by the British Pharmaceutical Society, along with a who’s who of UK pharmaceutical and medical societies.

McTaggart further explores Singh’s background and aims in a recent blog.

Nevertheless, the public has a right to a full range of health information, not only the information, treatment approach, philosophy and science offered by one health brand or industry.

“The real story here is that the Times is allowing themselves to be the patsy of an industry backed organization by attacking a magazine that is responsibly and critically examining that industry. The job of the media, the Fourth Estate is to be the guardians of the public interest…The Times seems to be suggesting that their role is to ‘protect’ the public by censoring information that departs from standard medical line,” adds McTaggart,

Critiques of both integrative medicine and what McTaggart has called “frontier science,” are nothing new, but the virulence of the new breed of paid spokespeople, may be. Through her books, and through WDDT’s health reportage, McTaggart is one of many reporters popularizing a more expanded reach for science. By covering her work in The Lost Symbol, author Dan Brown has helped this new trend in science to reach way beyond the choir. But some vested interests feel threatened.

“Those who control or suppress access to such information say they do it to protect an ‘ignorant’ public. Don’t be fooled.  People who hide information disrespect the public and act against its interest in taking responsible personal action. Don’t trust the censors,” says James S. Turner, Board Chair of  Citizens for Health, a membership based health advocacy organization

In the current media climate, in which publishers, foundations and think tanks have ties to and funding from a range of industries, people can all too readily get confused by the ensuing misinformation, particularly when a sponsored think tank’s PR agenda gets picked up by news organizations.

In this controversy, what’s at stake is safeguarding the people’s right to make their own health care decisions and access a full range of approaches that promote and maintain health, prevent disease, and address symptoms or illness, when they arise. To do that, the public clearly needs a broad and inclusive range of health information.

McTaggart assesses the implications of the Times’ coverage within the current media climate, and asks: Are we going to allow ever increasing suppression of alternative forms of health and healing when establishment, drug-based medicine is so woefully inadequate by any standard (only 12 per cent of is proven, says the British Medical Association); corrupt (three-quarters of all drug research is PR dressed up as research); and damaging (correctly prescribed drugs are one of the leading causes of death in the West, vying with deaths from heart disease or cancer)?

McTaggart hopes that “this will become a rallying call to stand united against the larger issue and begin demanding our right to choose our own system of health care.”


Subscriptions to both online and internationally available print versions of What Doctors Don’t Tell You are available  here.

People can sign up for Citizens for Health’s Freedom of the Health Press Project to safeguard rights to get all health information.

4 Fascinating Happiness-Related Word Clouds

shutterstock_1117213-wordsA thoughtful reader sent me the link to Michael Kelley’s piece, “Scientists Used Facebook for the Largest Ever Study of Language and Personality, about a fascinating study done by University of Pennsylvania researchers, “Personality, Gender, and Age in the Language of Social Media.”

They used 700 million words, phrases, and topic instances taken from Facebook, from 75,000 volunteers,  to analyze linguistic patterns. This might not sound fascinating, but looking at the word clouds generated by this study is riveting.

They generated word clouds that track the traits of introversion and extroversion, neuroticism and emotional stability, gender, and age.  It’s quite funny to compare the word clouds generated by 13-18 year old, 19-22 year olds, 23-29 year olds, and 30-65 year olds (I didn’t notice an explanation of why they picked these particular age groupings).

From a happiness perspective, I was most interested in the word clouds for extraversion, introversion, neuroticism, and emotional stability. (For more on those terms, read here.)

Here it is, but note, there are a lot of curse words, if that bothers you.



Hmmmmm. What, if any, conclusions do you draw from this information? And here’s another question. The way that you feel will influence what you post, but do you also think that what you post influences the way that you feel? From my own experience, I’d say yes.


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Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 9)

Most Amazing High Definition Image of Earth - Blue Marble 2012Click here to read Part 8!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Neil Theise, MD

The title of this series of posts is both a declaration (the mind is not contained exclusively within the brain) and an invitation – to think creatively about the nature of your mind. You no longer have to imprison your mind inside your skull, or anywhere else in the body, in fact. There are other ways to imagine and experience it. We’ve provided many clues that mind extends outside the body, which implies that your own mind, as you experience it, may exist without boundaries. As we demonstrated, contemplative practitioners in many traditions point to experiences of mind that extend beyond the body, to encompass the universe as a whole.

Your brain doesn’t determine your mind. Brain and mind are recreating each other with every act of perception. Moreover, with training, you can learn to experience your mind in parts of your body beyond the enclosure inside your skull, perhaps experiencing it even as filling your body. We’ve been offering factual evidence to avoid the trap of metaphysics or unfounded speculation, since science so deeply distrusts metaphysics. Has the evidence made you curious about what your mind really is? There’s a huge difference between two pictures of reality. One picture describes a clockwork brain that evolved mechanistically from a random universe. The other describes a conscious universe where one expression is the human mind.

If you accept the second story – as we do – it leads to a mind-blowing conclusion: the universe is thinking, feeling, and acting through you. You exist so that the universe has a new outlet for knowing itself. (Surely this makes you curious!) As was said by the Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan,

The Sufi says this whole universe was made in order that God might know Himself. The seed wished to realize what it is, what is in it, and therefore became the tree.

If you and I are embedded in a conscious universe, a leap toward freedom can be made. Unfortunately, most people use their brains in a habitual way. Day in and day out, the brain repeats the same patterns of habitual ideas (someone once estimated that 90% of the thoughts we have today are repetitions of the thoughts we had yesterday). Habitual ideas are imprinted in you by prevailing cultural assumptions, including those that derive from science and its purely materialist view of the world. If you are a materialist, the universe couldn’t possibly be thinking (not that this notion bothers the universe – it has time to wait until a better belief system comes along).

We do not seek to convince you of anything in these posts but to stir up the urge to seek your own answers. For example, do you accept that your mind works like a computer, which would make the brain a kind of biological hardware (what one expert in artificial intelligence dubbed “a computer made of meat”)? The brain-as-computer idea can be exploded by asking, has a computer ever been curious? Has a computer ever been in love? Has it ever had urges or given into temptation? These aspects of mind are innate in human beings and are not computational.

Now that you are thinking outside the (skull) box, what if we can expand your sense of self beyond your skin? When you say “my body,” you probably mean this body made of approximately 4 trillion human cells, each of which contains your genes. But is that really your body? On close inspection, your body is lined, over the surface of the skin and throughout the digestive tract by 100 times as many cells, if not more, that aren’t “yours” at all, in that they do not contain your ancestral genes. They are microbial cells, part of what scientists now refer to as the microbiome – your second genome, so to speak. These include both bacteria and other single- celled creatures known as archaea. You are, in essence, composed of colonies of human and non-human cells living in harmonious balance.

Outnumbering “your” cells by a hundred to, these micro-organisms aren’t just passive riders or conveyers of disease. Quite the contrary- these trillions of bacteria convey your health. For example, if we grow mice in an “abiotic” environment in which there are no bacteria (or if we have a boy who has to be raised in a bubble because he has a rare disorder, Severe Combined Immunodeficiency syndrome, and cannot control infections), the digestive tract can’t function properly. The microscopic, finger-like projections, or microvilli, that line the intestinal wall don’t form. Without them, you don’t have enough gut surface area to accomplish the digestion and absorption of nutrition. By adding back in the helpful bacteria that normally line the intestines, the microvilli arise.

(To be cont.)

* * *

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books translated into over 35 languages with over twenty New York Times bestsellers. Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center – Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com

Why You Should Not Stop Taking Your Vitamins

pale-woman-taking-vitamins_123rf.com_Do vitamins kill people? How many people have died from taking vitamins? Should you stop your vitamins?

It depends. To be exact, it depends on the quality of the science and the very nature of scientific research. It is very hard to know things exactly through science. The waste bin of science is full of fallen heroes like Premarin, Vioxx and Avandia (which alone was responsible for 47,000 excess cardiac deaths since it was introduced in 1999).

That brings us to the latest apparent casualty, vitamins. The recent media hype around vitamins is a classic case of drawing the wrong conclusions from good science.

Remember how doctors thought that hormone replacement therapy was the best thing since sliced bread and recommended it to every single post-menopausal woman? These recommendations were predicated on studies that found a correlation between using hormones and reduced risk of heart attacks. But correlation does not prove cause and effect. It wasn’t until we had controlled experiments like the Women’s Health Initiative that we learned Premarin (hormone replacement therapy) was killing women, not saving them.

New studies “proving” that vitamins kill people hit front pages and news broadcasts across the country seemingly every day.

Paul A. Offit’s recent piece in The New York Times, “Don’t Take Your Vitamins,” mentioned a number of studies that suggested a correlation between supplementation and increased risk of death. Offit asserts, “It turns out … that scientists have known for years that large quantities of supplemental vitamins can be quite harmful indeed.” The flaws in the studies he quoted have been well documented. Giving large doses of a single antioxidant is known to set up a chain reaction that creates more free radicals.

But many studies do not prove anything. Science is squirrelly. You only get the answers to the questions you ask. Many of the studies that are performed are called observational studies or epidemiological studies. They are designed to look for or “observe” correlations. Studies like this look for clues that should then lead to further research. They are not designed to be used to guide clinical medicine or public health recommendations.

All doctors and scientists know that this type of study does not prove cause and effect.

Why Scientists Are Confused

At a recent medical conference, one of most respected scientists of this generation, Bruce Ames, made a joke. He said that epidemiologists (people who do population-based observational studies) have a difficult time with their job and are easily confused. Dr. Ames joked that in Miami, epidemiologists found everybody seems to be born Hispanic but die Jewish. Why? Because if you looked at population data in the absence of the total history and culture of Florida during a given time, this would be the conclusion you would draw. This joke brings home the point that correlation does not equal causation.

Aside from the fact that they fly in the face of an overwhelming body of research that proves Americans are nutrient deficient as a whole and that nutritional supplements can have significant impact in disease prevention and health promotion, many recent studies on vitamins are flawed in similar ways.

How Vitamins Save Money and Save Lives

Overwhelming basic science and experimental data support the use of nutritional supplements for the prevention of disease and the support of optimal health. The Lewin Group estimated a $24 billion savings over five years if a few basic nutritional supplements were used in the elderly. Extensive literature reviews in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine also support this view. Interventional trials have proven benefit over and over again.

The concept that nutritional supplements “could be harmful” flies in the face of all reasonable facts from both intervention trials and outcome studies published over the past 40 years. For example, recent trials published within the last few years indicate that modest nutritional supplementation in middle age women found their telomeres didn’t shorten. Keeping your telomeres (the little end caps on your DNA) long is the hallmark of longevity and reduced risk of disease. A recent study found that B12, B6 and folate given to people with memory loss prevented brain atrophy that is associated with aging and dementia. In fact, those who didn’t take the vitamins had almost ten times loss of brain volume as those who took the vitamins.

A plethora of experimental controlled studies–which are the gold standard for proving cause and effect–over the last few years found positive outcomes in many diseases. These include the use of calcium and vitamin D in women with bone loss; folic acid in people with cervical dysplasia (pre-cancerous lesions); iron for anemics; B-complex vitamins to improve cognitive function; zinc, vitamins C and E and carotenoids to lower the risk of macular degeneration; and folate and vitamin B12 to treat depression. This is but a handful of examples. Fish oil is approved by the FDA for lowering triglycerides and reduces risk of heart attacks and more. There are many other studies ignored by Offit in his New York Times piece.

Stay tuned for Part 2!


Originally published on my website, DrHyman.com.

Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 8)

What's black and white and red all over??Click here to read Part 7!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., and Neil Theise, MD

Despite the fact that cultures have institutionalized the universal Mind with terms long accepted as true (e.g., God, Brahman, the Absolute), words aren’t very helpful to someone who hasn’t yet had the experience. If the unreliability of subjective reports puts off many scientists, the claim that some people have special experiences that go beyond words bolsters their skepticism. As a result, formulating a science of consciousness has been slow to start and even slower to gain credibility.

A personal disclosure: the authors include some contemplative practitioners with a varying depth of experience in the traditions of Buddhism, Vedanta, and Kashmir Shaivism. This doesn’t mean that our personal experiences are “true,” only that these topics are not hypothetical for us. Aligning with centuries of contemplative practitioners, we find the reports of expanded awareness compelling, but being physicians and scientists, we also think of such experiences as material for hypothesis-making and testing through experimentation.

Alas, other scientists hotly disagree, saying, “No, this is not a fit topic for scientific exploration – your evidence is born of hearsay and superstition.” To those who draw a boundary around what is worth exploring scientifically and what is not, we ask, “Isn’t this just another form of unthinking fundamentalism, akin to that of religious fundamentalists whom many rational scientists claim to abhor?” The Roman poet Terence wrote, Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto (I am human, I consider nothing human alien to me). Consider all the forbidden topics, from female sexuality to epidemics, from madness to gross anatomy, that were once placed under a ban. These meditation experiences are human experiences, like every other human experience that scientists deem worthy of investigation by techniques such as putting people inside an MRI machine: experiences like depression, memory, love, fear, excitement, orgasm.

The trend is now moving away from the naysayers. Research is starting to account for the swing between the inner and outer world, a swing we all experience every day, using as subjects adept meditation practitioners in Tibetan Buddhism. These meditators report experiences in which the sense of inside/outside and self/other dissolves. Instead of dismissing this as mysticism, one hypothesis now suggests specific neural activity within two complementary signaling networks in the brain – one is active when you are dealing with the world outside the body (called task positive network), the other, the “default network” (or task negative network) revs up when your focus is inward as commonly happens in wakeful rest, introspection, or from lack of significant sensory inputs).

Our brains are thought to alternate rapidly between these two networks, but when deep, “non-dual” meditation is performed, they both activate together, because inside and outside are no longer opposite and contrary, but are experienced as a seamless mind contemplating a seamless whole. We don’t mean to suggest the default mode network is the basis for the mind (since default mode activity is also seen in primates and rats), but the data illustrates how mental states like meditation affect the brain.

Short of proving with scientific rigor that the mind is not located just in the brain, we have pointed to the fact that the experience of your mind in your head is not the only experience you can have. Exploring the implications for yourself only takes a few moments a day – you can feel for yourself how your thinking does not have to remain locked up in the box of your skull.

Finally, the aura of religion is so strong that skeptics dismiss all spiritual experience – being alien to materialism – as matters of faith. Faith, in a great many varieties, is something we all turn to for interpreting our experiences. From the perspective of quantum mechanics, which has shown beyond a doubt that solid objects are not solid, it takes faith to believe that the physical world exists – certainly a rationalist must admit that the five senses are lying or at best are unreliable.

In everyday life, faith is part of the equation. But it is not only great faith that drives spiritual investigations but also, as is said in Zen, “great doubt” – doubt as to the meaning of existence and the reason for suffering in the world. The great faith in this equation is what makes the great doubt bearable. This balance between what we know and what we hope to discover drives science as well as spirituality. The difference lies in which tool of investigation is used.

The mind studying the mind reveals aspects of reality that can’t be reached by investigating the physical world. The reach of consciousness becomes even greater once we realize that the mind isn’t locked in the skull or even bounded by the skin. Step by step, the findings of mainstream science have opened the domain of Mind, that transcends our individual minds and is fundamental to the universe.

In the next posts we’ll return to what contemporary science understands about the most fundamental structures in nature – our aim is to find a meeting place between the inner and outer method of investigation. Have we made you curious? We hope so, because curiosity is the theme to be taken up next.

(To be continued…)

* * *

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books with over twenty New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra ofSuper Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com

How Light Affects Our Sleep (And Overall Happiness)

moring in prague

Anyone who has ever experienced insomnia can tell you that lack of sleep is one of the cruelest barriers to happiness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 25% of the U.S. population reports not getting enough sleep, and a whopping 10% reports chronic insomnia! Not only are we stressed, sick, and overweight in this country, but we are dangerously under-slept – and all of these circumstances undoubtedly have something to do with one another.

In addition to temperature, stress, and other factors, light has been shown to have a major effect on the circadian rhythm. Timing, intensity, and quality of light all play into either promoting or detracting from healthy sleep patterns. Imagine the difficulty night shift workers have to establish their sleep cycles! But even those of us who work regular hours and expect our sleep time to comfortably overlap with the dark hours can be negatively impacted by a disturbance in our light exposure. Think: computer and cellphone screens, artificial light, television, and the like.

Doctors and scientists in recent decades have developed light therapy treatment for various issues, including sleep disorders, and their results are promising. One study published in the American Psychological Association journal reported patients’ improvement in circadian rhythms after two hours of bright light exposure in the morning in conjunction with light restriction around bedtime. Another study published in Biological Psychiatry reported that bright light therapy can reduce the incidence of relapse in patients after other forms of sleep therapy – the results of which, by the way, may have a major affect of reducing depressive symptoms in patients with depression. The future looks bright, indeed.

Bright light therapy has also been shown to help treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), as well as reduce the incidence of behavioral disorders in patients suffering from dementia. All evidence points to the fact that light gravely affects not only our sleep patterns, but also our minds, emotions, and overall pursuit of happiness. With that in mind, it’s heartening to know that there may be measures we can take, which include light therapy, to increase overall health and wellness.

 Here are some tips on promoting sleep health with light therapy:

  1. Put your phone, computer, and television away after dark, or at least close to bedtime. Those moments right before bed might seem like the perfect time to catch up on email or your favorite show, but doing so may inhibit your ability to fall asleep. So save it for the morning, and pick up a book or sketch pad, instead.
  2. Go to sleep a bit earlier to align your sleep rhythm more closely with the day. This is hard to do, especially if you’re a parent, student, or busy professional. But going to sleep earlier might just allow you to wake up a bit earlier, too, and not lose an inch of productivity!
  3. Try using candlelight and natural light as much as possible. Artificial light has been implicated in the growth of sleep disorders – and again, much of this has to do with laptops and television screens. Turn it off, unplug, and opt for natural light.
  4. Make sure your bedroom is lit (and unlit) as much as possible by natural light. For instance, keep it dark after dark and around bedtime, but be sure the morning sunlight makes it in, as well. Exposure to bright light upon awakening, as we mentioned, can help promote healthy circadian rhythms. So let the light in!

* * *

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Deepak Chopra: The Mystery of 3 Small Words – “I Love You”

I♥youBy Deepak Chopra, MD, and  Dr. Rudolph E. Tanzi

Current brain research is hot on the trail of mysteries that need solving. Current imaging techniques can show, with remarkable precision, what happens in specific parts of the brain when we feel an emotion, for example. Eventually neuroscientists may be able to pinpoint the exact process that leads to the emotion of love; indeed they already feel that they are close, since there’s a map for tracing the hormones that make falling in love feel ecstatic, along with the areas of the brain responsible for emotions.

But close does you no good if your model has a serious flaw. In this case, the flaw is to assume that the physical mechanisms associated with love are the same as love itself. What if love takes place in the mind rather than the brain?

To many, that’s a distinction without a difference. The mind is invisible, yet everything it thinks or feels requires a physical response in the brain. If you know what the brain is doing, you know what the mind is doing, or so the scientific method, based on materialism, holds to be true. But a huge mystery, known as the mind-body problem, is being begged. As long as we ignore the mind, we may be making profound mistakes about the brain.

The words “I love you” give us a perfect example. Imagine that you are sitting close to someone who has not made clear what he or she feels. The moment is right; the mood is intimate. In your ear you hear the words “I love you.” Stop action. If we ask a neuroscientist what happens next, he will unfold a trail of physical events. Air molecules vibrate when those words are spoken, and in turn they vibrate the ear drum. Tiny bones in the middle ear transmit the signal, which gets turned into electrochemical reactions in the inner ear. As soon as electricity and chemicals are involved, we are in the precinct of the brain, which goes to work rapidly. Various areas light up, involving a complex interaction between those areas that process sound, meaning, memory, and emotions. Even if it takes years or decades for neuroscience to trace this pattern exactly, the result is the same: your heart jumps for joy, you flush, and the delight of hearing “I love you” overtakes your body.

Or does it? What if you don’t welcome those words? Instead, this was the moment, perhaps, when you were going to end the relationship. The physical trail remains the same, but something is drastically different. The meaning of the words as they apply to you. The dictionary definition of “I love you” isn’t in doubt. Yet if you think about it, every response imaginable is available to us when we hear “I love you,” from horror (if a serial killer says them) to indifference (if you’ve heard it too many times) to joy. As for the body, it, too, is capable of any response – you might feel nothing or you might faint dead away. How is this possible?

Of course, we each hear the words “I love you” in a personal context, involving our own associations and memories. A gentle “I love you” might invoke memories of your mother’s arms when you were a child. Individual meaning gets shaped in the brain’s memory centers. But memory has its own baffling mysteries. One of us (Rudy), a Harvard neuroscientist, asked dozens of colleagues at a scientific conference, “Where are memories stored”? Instantly every one replied, “In the brain, of course.” He pressed the point. “Where exactly in the brain? In neurons? If so, where in the cellular structure?” After hemming and hawing, most had to concede that no one really knows. We know that synapses fire to retrieve a memory, but we do not actually understand how or where memories are physically stored in the brain, or, for that matter, whether they can be physically located at all.

Meaning occurs in the mind, and the brain obeys the mind. They are not the same thing. A radio plays music, but it doesn’t create music. A radio is dependent on the station you tune it to. Meaning is like tuning in but more subtle. You don’t turn a dial; you automatically know what the meaning is, and if you don’t, what happens? Your mind tries to straighten out the meaning. Your brain doesn’t accomplish this task. Maybe the person whispered “I love U2.”  There’s a huge difference between loving a rock band and loving a person who might love you back.

Can we really claim that brain tissue, which is made up of organic chemicals and water, can tell that “I love you” leads to joy while “I love U2” leads to a mild “that’s nice. I do, too”? No, we can’t. It’s a mistake to attribute to physical things — cells, molecules, atoms, and so on – what really belongs to the mind.

We aren’t talking metaphysics, although science often takes that escape route when its faith in materialism is challenged. So let’s leave aside the mind. There is no physical explanation for why the body reacts as it does to words. Consider that you hear any of the following sentences:

It’s bedtime.
Your life savings are gone.
Look out, a rattlesnake!

Everyone agrees that each of these causes a terrifically different reaction in the body. Yet if you hear them spoken, each sentence begins with the tiniest vibration of the ear drum, and the brain signals that come next are also barely measurable in microvolts of electricity and a few hundred of thousand molecules of messenger molecules. Yet these tiny, tiny events get amplified enormously. The adrenaline rush that sends you running in panic from a rattlesnake represents millions of times more energy than the words that caused them. The words “It’s bedtime” cause an equally massive amplification but in the opposite direction, toward relaxation and shutdown of the body for sleep.

It’s well known that the human body depends upon homeostasis, the ability to keep very complex systems in balance and to return to a state of balance when it is disturbed. Yet words cause us to deliberately go out of balance, and there’s no physical mechanism to explain it. Meaning explains everything, since “It’s bedtime” and seeing a rattlesnake of course hold totally opposite meanings. But if you say that the brain creates the meaning of words in the cerebral cortex – the standard textbook explanation – you have no way of escaping a dead end. The physical world is ruled by cause and effect. We cannot say that a feather can dust the table one minute and push over a boulder the next. Yet these same tiny molecules of brain chemicals manage to do just that. One minute you hear some words and decide to go to sleep; the next minute you hear other words and instantly run away on high alert.

There is no doubt that your body can amplify signals; there’s no doubt that different words have different meanings. Yet if you try to put these two facts together using just the brain, you can’t. A tiny virus can enter the body and cause every system to break down, leading to death. It’s as if a baseball broke a window in a skyscraper and the whole building fell down. But that’s not really a mystery, because the virus divides, and by a simple train of cause-and-effect, its toxins are amplified until the immune system is overwhelmed. But there is no explanation for how a few words can create such a powerful effect that it gets repeated, day after day, for years. The things we worry and obsess over, the grief that lingers on and on, the game-winning touchdown, and the girl who got away – all can be amplified into bodily reactions from a state of near zero, since memory requires no expenditure of energy.

Some mysteries are worth pondering because they fascinate us. Others are worth pondering because they can shake our whole worldview. The mystery of “I love you,” we believe, is the second kind.

Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP
Follow Deepak on Twitter

Dr. Rudolph E. Tanzi
Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy
Professor of Neurology,
Harvard Medical School
Director, Genetics and Aging Research Unit,
MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease
Massachusetts General Hospital

Originally published September 2011

Can the Truth Come Back With a Capital “T”? (Part 6)

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 3.47.45 PMClick here to read Part 5!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Neil Theise, MD

Imagine someone who says, “Every morning I look out the window and the sun has come up. So I must be responsible for creating the Sun.” Of course, the statement makes no logical sense. We know that looking at the sunrise doesn’t create it. However, at the quantum level the link between observer and observed becomes much more ambiguous as fundamental uncertainty guides quantum events. The classic example has to do with photons, which have a dual personality, acting like either particles or waves. Light only assumes its form as wave or particle when an observer makes a conscious decision to set up a measuring process and actually measures it. In the act of observation, a physicist might say something very like the man looking at a sunrise: “Without me to observe it, it doesn’t exist.”

This situation already represents a much softer definition of cause and effect from Newton’s billiard balls knocking each other about. There is no settled explanation for the observer effect – some physicists deny its existence or question the classic explanation – and it would be immensely helpful to clear up its ambiguity. A consciousness-based universe clears it up immediately by saying that observer and observed co-arise. They only seem to be separate if the human mind decides on such a separation. Feeling that you are in love co-arises with the brain activity that corresponds to love. You can’t have one without the other. But if you insist that brain chemistry causes love, you wind up with the same troubling ambiguity that physics faces over photons. Common sense tells us that if someone you’re attracted to says, “I love you,” there’s no doubt that the words caused love to arise as a feeling, taking the brain along. Since our bodies respond to feelings, and of course the inverse, then the brain responds to love.

The quantum version of the universe’s origins story has made room already for a pre-created state that is “nothing.” This supposition runs into the objection that this “nothing” cannot be verified – after all, it’s nothing. What if the pre-created state can’t even be thought about? Then science as a system of thought will be forced to accept its built-in limitations. But consciousness isn’t stumped. There can be a pre-created state that has the potential to turn into the universe, containing the necessary seeds of creation (i.e., intelligence, creativity, evolution, and self-organization). This accords very well with our own minds, for everyone has a vocabulary stored out of sight. When you want a word, the potential for saying or thinking of that word exists invisibly. Is that potential the source of everything you verbally think or say? Yes. So why not give the universe the same reservoir of possibilities? There’s no scientific reason not to. Indeed, if the pre-universe contains mathematics, it would solve the riddle of where math came from, which has baffled the greatest minds for centuries. (The acclaimed British physicist Roger Penrose has even gone back to ancient philosophy and labeled the qualities of the pre-universe “Platonic values”, which he claims exist at the Planck level where space-time comes to an end).

Science has been the greatest boon of modern civilization, but at the end of the day, experience is more important. A complete description of how the brain produces the sensation of being in love would be pointless if a supernatural dictator gazed down upon us and eradicated our ability to experience the sensations of love. Without the experience, measurement makes no sense. Now come the “Aha!” moment.

If consciousness pervades the universe, and if consciousness can be aware of itself,
then by looking at itself, consciousness can know the most fundamental aspects of the universe.

Such was the position taken by the Indian rishis who developed the most sophisticated model of consciousness that we possess. In their view though it was not just to see or observe, the most important aspect of consciousness was to experience. The brain can’t pause to measure its own thoughts, just as boiling water can’t count its own bubbles. But awareness isn’t in motion. It’s the still point around which the universe turns. The dead end that science has reached by excluding consciousness turns into a limitless opportunity for knowledge once consciousness is allowed back in. In the next post we’ll explore what this means for everyday existence. The possibility of achieving greater freedom is hidden within consciousness, and also the return of God in a guise we can place our faith in once more.

* * *

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation and host of Sages and Scientists Symposium – August 16-18, 2013 at La Costa Resort and Spa.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com

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