Cherish life. Nourish it.

Leave a comment

New Hope for those with Brain Challenges

MC900438727The 21st century has become quite a dry spell for the development of new treatment methods for most brain challenges. In the 1990’s, new insight and understanding about the brain exploded and expectations were running high that these new insights would lead to a flurry of next-gen medications. In contrast, today, most pharmaceutical companies have a near-non-existent psychiatry and neurology pipeline. Many have exited the field entirely.

One reason for this may be the reliance on the Monoamine pathways which have been the focus of psych meds for decades. That ship has sailed, folks.

Steven Hyman, former Director,  National Institute for Mental Health, stated, “drug discovery is at a near standstill for treating psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and common forms of autism.”

So what’s left? The aforementioned insights into brain issues have yielded some interesting possibilities. Multiple pathways have been shown to have effects on the brain and its state:

  • Inflammation
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Proteins that stimulate Neuronal growth
  • Cell death (apoptosis)
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction (energy producing factories in the cells)

Professor Michael Berk, Chair in Psychiatry at Deakin University, Geelong, Australia presented new findings at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress. He points to an incontrovertible evidence base that most major psychiatric disorders share inflammation and oxidative stress as part of their disease physiology. In addition, associated pathways including reduction in proteins that stimulate neuronal growth (neurotrophins), and increased cell death (apoptosis), as well as energy generation in organelles called mitochondria are intimately involved. Berk states: “This understanding provides an entirely new set of treatment targets.”

Berk’s work and its presentation focused on a substance called NAC, or N-Acetyl Cysteine. This amino acid appears to address some of the root issues of bipolar, unipolar, schizophrenia, depression, and autism by exerting these effects:

  • Boosting Glutathione (a powerful antioxidant), thereby lowering oxidative stress
  • Enhancing levels of nerve growth proteins, growing more neurons
  • Reducing apoptosis pathways
  • Reducing mitochondrial dysfunction

“These molecular effects of NAC have been investigated in a series of clinical trials, which show that NAC reduces the core symptoms of schizophrenia including negative symptoms such as improved apathy, social interaction and motivation. It also appears to reduce depression in people with bipolar disorder and at this meeting, new data on its role in unipolar major depression was presented. Furthermore, there is intriguing evidence that it reduces cravings in a number of addictions including cocaine, cannabis and cigarette smoking. “Apart from nausea, it appears to be relatively free of problematic side effects,” said Professor Berk.” (quote from the press release)

Please do not assume from this discussion that NAC is the answer to all problems and run out and buy a case (or ten). This article is not a substitute for medical attention: it is merely to inform of what current work is being done in the field of brain chemistry. See a qualified health professional before considering NAC or any other nutritional intervention.

For example, high doses of NAC can skew several blood tests, should not be taken with carbamazepine or nitroglycerine, and can (rarely) cause an allergic reaction. And as mentioned in the above quote, in large doses it can also cause nausea.

How grateful we can be that there are still curious, open scientific minds out there who are actively looking outside the box for treatments for tough brain issues. The more we understand the why and how of things, the more effectively we can discern the what. It’s a great time to be alive.



Lessons in survival

MP900341418As I spend time with clients and friends, I am constantly struck by the indomitable beauty of the human spirit.

We all face situations when we feel we have no control, feel trapped, and are sure we are powerless. Our emotions and negative thinking predict failure, and we can doubt our ability to carry on.

How do we respond to those situations? For the most part, we strive to face them with courage. But often the hardest part of those situations is knowing how to deal with our painful thoughts and feelings. Fear is so powerful. It can be paralyzing. Is there something stronger with which we can subdue it?

Amanda Lindhout, author of “A House In the Sky”, is a true survivor. At age 27, Amanda, a reporter, was kidnapped in Somalia and spent 460 days in captivity, in unthinkably cruel conditions. While in this situation, her survival literally depended on being able to re-frame her thoughts and feelings, since she had absolutely zero control of her own environment. Her account, while harrowing to read, points to two fundamental survival skills: counting her blessings with gratitude, and learning to self-soothe.

She writes that she would daily review small things to be grateful for:  “my family at home, the oxygen in my lungs,” the fact that one of her captors “set my food down on the floor instead of throwing it at me.”

Starving, feverish from multiple infections due to injuries, and in total darkness, she still managed to harness the power of her mind.

She would imagine a “house in the sky,” in which “the voices that normally tore through my head expressing fear and wishing for death went silent, until there was only one left speaking.” This voice, the voice of her true self, her unflinching spirit, asks, “In this exact moment, are you O.K.?” Her answer? “Yes, right now I am still O.K.”

These two practices allowed her to withstand her fear and isolation. Soothing herself with the fact that she was still O.K., despite the trauma, meant that she was surviving everything her captors threw at her. Gratitude for small blessings allowed her to feel peace.

In the privacy of her own brain, once she accessed her true spirit and will to live, nothing could touch her. 

What a beautiful example for all of us: in spite of our circumstances, we can re-direct emotions and beliefs that are not serving us, and by reminding ourselves that we, too, are O.K., we can nourish our human spirit .

Leave a comment

Does the past control your present?

People  160One aspect of human nature is that we tend to focus on the past, on our history, “the story of my life”,  rather than inhabiting the present. Sometimes it’s as if, on the voyage of our life, we are firmly planted at the back of the boat, staring fixedly at its wake. In so doing, we are subscribing to the belief that the wake drives the boat.

But a literal wake is simply the trail left behind as a boat moves forward. It is not what’s actually causing forward momentum. And it’s impossible for a literal wake to control a boat. It is also impossible to change or undo the wake.

Why then is it so challenging to view the past, our own wake, in its proper perspective? What is it about the baggage of our past that makes it so hard to fully occupy our present life?

One observation is that many of us define ourselves by our traumas, failures, experiences of abuse or neglect, dysfunctions, unwanted habits, wounds, and disappointments. But is a wounded, broken-feeling definition of ourselves nourishing? Certainly not. We likely have a stress response just thinking those labels might apply to ourself and our life. Many who have defaulted to using such labels to describe their life would agree that they do not contribute to joy, a sense of possibility, or any feelings of empowerment. But how can we break the habit of thinking this way?

Traditional psychology has been said to spring from our dysfunctional past. That may not sound like such a positive thing, but stay with me.

Psychologist James Hillman describes a system of understanding our past and thinking about it, all of it, in a positive light. He uses the illustration of an acorn, which is the blueprint for one of our planet’s most steadfast, dynamic trees.

One acorn literally has unimaginable possibilities. It touches the present, since from the one beautiful specimen it becomes, spring countless hundreds of thousands of life forms which are nourished by it or sheltered within its branches. Its roots go deep to stabilize precious topsoil, preventing erosion. It cleans the air of pollutants we humans and all our toys generate. Its shadow offers welcome relief from summer’s heat. It contributes to the future, yielding millions of acorns that will become other glorious trees as it fulfills its nature, season after season. After living out its natural existence, its wood can be used to make beautiful creations to be enjoyed by generations, or to fertilize new forest growth, or to keep us warm.

To reach that potential, the acorn has to be in the right environment, with light, fertilizer, and water available. Dr. Hillman posited that our dysfunctional past is actually necessary for our own personal acorn. That our past is the fertilizer from which growth occurs. Our past is key for unlocking the possibilities for growth, for accessing our own potential. Without the fertilizer of our past, personally and collectively, our acorn would not be able to germinate. He wrote.” If you are still being hurt by an event that happened to you at twelve, it is the thought that is hurting you now.” The only way to stop that hurt is to change our thought about the past. To learn to view experiences as something leading to growth and ultimately to finding our own purpose in life.

Within each of us, just as within an acorn, is a blueprint full of astonishing possibilities. Changing our mind about past events allows us to focus on opportunities to nourish ourselves and connect meaningfully with others. It allows us to fully occupy the present, making each day count.

Traumas become stories of survival with which to comfort ourselves and others.

Failures are re-framed as periods of exploration and growth. They hone our discenrnment and good judgement.

Past abuses and neglects are seen to reflect the soul of the perpetrator, not our own. They have no bearing on our worthiness to give or receive love.

Dysfunctions and unwanted habits become messages that point the way to areas in life that are asking for our attention and compassion.

Wounds heal, as long as we focus on the fact that the wounding event is truly over. We gratefully acknowledge the fact that both body and mind have an innate ability to heal.

Disappointments remind us of how much every aspect of life matters, and deserves our very best efforts.

As you and I grow into steadfast Oaks, whom can we shelter within our branches? Where will we cast our restful shade? Season after season, as we fulfill our nature, how can we contribute to the stabilizing of the topsoil of society be being who we truly are? With what lessons learned will we contribute to the future?