The surprising brain-boosting power of gratitude

We’ve all heard about the power of gratitude and positive thinking. So what is this concept all about and more importantly, how does it affect your mood, your brain and your thinking?

The philosophy of positively visualizing the things you want in life and downplaying experiences and expectations that are negative is a concept that has been written about for at least 3,000 years. Great authors of all times have written about how our thoughts and how we choose to look at things condition the reality that we experience.

Epictetus, Greek Stoic philosopher, in the first century said that “The thing that upsets people is not so much what happens, but what they think about what happens”.

Today’s researchers are finding out how the concept actually works.

An article about brain imaging research in Psychology Today reports that research subjects who expressed gratitude on a regular basis had high levels of activity in the hypothalamus region of their brains and had higher concentrations of dopamine.

Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback says, “Because the hypothalamus controls a vast number of vital bodily functions such as eating, drinking and sleeping, this area of your brain has a significant influence on your metabolism and stress levels. Feelings of gratitude also directly activate brain regions associated with the ‘reward’ neurotransmitter called dopamine.”

Dopamine floods the brain with positive emotions, which is why it is generally considered to be the brain’s reward neurotransmitter. Importantly, dopamine is also responsible for initiating action. In essence, increases in dopamine encourage your brain to repeat what you just did, in order to get that wonderful feeling again.

According to Psychology Today, “Gratitude has a powerful impact on your life because it engages your brain in a virtuous cycle. Your brain only has so much power to focus its attention. It cannot easily focus on both positive and negative stimuli. It is like a small child: easily distracted. Your brain looks for things that prove what it already believes to be true and dopamine reinforces that. So once you start seeing things to be grateful for, your brain starts looking for more things to be grateful for. That’s how the virtuous cycle gets created.”

Leanne O’Neil has seen the power of gratitude in the brain time and time again in her work with INDY Neurofeedback clients. “Positive thinking brain activity can be tracked, showing that improvements in gratitude can have wide-ranging effects, from increases in exercise and improved sleep, to decreases in depression and aches and pains.”

Here are 3 simple ways you can use the power of gratitude to help transform your life, health and physical well-being:

  • Health and your happiness. Positive thinking has proven health benefits including minimizing stress, curbing depression, reducing both pain and the risk of heart disease.
  • A good attitude improves coping skills. Sometimes simply feeling gratitude about being alive in this vast world can help put problems into perspective and provide better coping skills – especially if you have physical pain. Use gratitude to provide perspective on what’s important and what you truly value.
  • Relationships thrive on gratitude. Gratitude reinforces bonds and provides proof of support for any difficult times in the future.

Positive focus can effect change to your health with a shift in perspective. INDY Neurofeedback can help you train your brain to actively respond to gratitude through proven non-medical biofeedback techniques. This not only works for you and your health but also helps those around you.

Gratitude is contagious!

How to help protect your brain from Alzheimer’s disease

Did you know that Alzheimer’s disease is among the fastest-growing epidemics in the world?

Over five and a half million Americans are living with the neurodegenerative disease today. According to the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org), medical researchers predict that by 2050, 14 million people in the U.S. will require full-time care for Alzheimer’s disease. That number is equal to the populations of New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago combined.

While no one has figured out for certain what causes Alzheimer’s disease, we do know that both genetic and lifestyle factors play a role. There is good news in that knowledge, because while we can’t yet change our genes, we can take proactive steps to alter lifestyle choices and minimize our risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University Medical Center have been researching how to optimize a healthy aging brain to protect it from the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Here is what they suggest you can do to protect your brain – the most active organ in your body — from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia:

  • Setting personal goals. Not only does setting personal goals and working steadily to achieve them strengthen neuron connections in the brain, it also decreases chronic worry that can pump the body full of cortisol and adrenaline. Purpose-driven stress can actually improve health by reducing inflammation.
  • Keep your brain active and learning. Solving puzzles and reading books are great ways to give your brain a workout, building and strengthening neuron connections.
  • Get more sleep. The brain consumes more than 25 percent of the body’s energy. A recent study found that the sleep-brain connection is so strong that people who suffer from sleep apnea have a 70 percent higher risk of contracting Alzheimer’s than those who breathe normally. Even one night of poor sleep can significantly increase disease-promoting inflammation in the body.
  • Exercise (especially the legs)! Muscle mass in the legs is associated with a larger hippocampus, the part of the brain that processes memories. The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program recommends strenuous leg exercise (such as power walking) for 20 to 30 minutes a day, four to five days a week.
  • Eat a balanced diet, especially one that reduces inflammation. Eat as few processed foods as possible. Instead choose natural, whole, fiber-rich foods such as greens, berries, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. These are the keys to building new nerve cells and neurons in your brain.
  • And of course, as discussed HERE, avoid anticholinergic drugs.

Aging does not necessarily mean succumbing to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Challenge your old ideas about aging and the brain by taking charge of your brain health — right now!

These common over-the-counter drugs can damage your brain

Across America, there’s a pill for just about every health issue you can think of. Americans don’t think twice about using them, either. If it’s available in a drug store, then it must be safe, right?

The problem is those pills almost always come with a lengthy list of potential side effects. And that is something you should pay close attention to, cautions Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback, because quite a few of these side effects can adversely affect your brain.

In a new scientific study, scientists found that a class of medications called anticholinergic drugs have been definitively linked with cognitive impairment and increased risk of dementia.

What are anticholinergic drugs? They include a broad class of medications that are used to treat various medical conditions involving contraction and relaxation of muscles, such as overactive bladder, muscle spasms, breathing problems, diarrhea, gastrointestinal cramps, movement disorders, and the like. They work by blocking neurotransmitters in the brain, nerves, and nearby muscles and glands.

Though you have probably never heard of this scientific classification of drugs, you have most definitely heard of the medications themselves. They include:

  • Benadryl
  • Demerol
  • Dimetapp
  • Dramamine
  • Paxil
  • Unisom
  • VESIcare

Some are also prescribed for chronic diseases including hypertension, difficulty sleeping, cardiovascular disease, bladder control, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

What the studies found:  Using brain imaging techniques, researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine found “lower metabolism and reduced brain sizes among study participants taking anticholinergic drugs.”

The IU School of Medicine study looked at 451 people with an average age of 73, sixty of whom were taking at least one anticholinergic medication. Researchers assessed the results of memory and cognitive tests, including PET scans and MRIs to determine brain structure.

The tests concluded that those taking anticholinergic drugs performed worse on short-term memory tests, executive function, verbal reasoning, planning, and problem-solving. The participants using anticholinergic drugs were also found to have reduced brain volume.

A related Indiana University study at the Center for Aging Research found that drugs with a strong anticholinergic effect could cause cognitive or brain impairment problems when taken continuously for as few as 60 days.

“Given all the research evidence, you may wish to reconsider taking any of these anticholinergic medications,” suggests Leanne O’Neil. “Ask your doctor to consider another medication whenever possible. The health of your brain needs to be factored into your medical treatment.”

Here are some helpful links to more information about anticholinergic medications including common brand names. At INDY Neurofeedback, we want to help you keep your brain as healthy as possible.

https://www.medicinenet.com/anticholinergics-antispasmodics-oral/article.htm

https://www.theseniorlist.com/list-of-anticholinergic-drugs/

https://www.healthline.com/health/anticholinergics