Friday, March 27, 2009

This is My Brain on a Deadline!

For those of you who wonder where I've been, I am in hiding in my basement.


Where, thus tucked away in solitude, I am determined to finish up the sequel to This is Your Brain on Joy which is slated to be titled This is Your Brain in Love.
It is due in on April 2 - YIKES!! -- and we hope to see it released around Valentine's Day, 2010.

So forgive me, but I have to put the blog and housekeeping, hot meals, clean laundry, make-up, and basic sanity on "hold" for the next week to meet the deadline. This is why the publishers call it a "deadline" -- it takes the life right out of you. Thankfully, I love what I'm working on with Dr. Henslin and that sure eases the pain of the work involved!

I will begin blogging regularly again the week of April 6th! (Giving me a 4 day recovery period where I will sleep, put on make up, attack the piles of laundry, cook a gourmet meal for my husband, enjoy my daughter who will be visiting from Texas, and apologize to everyone I will have neglected this past month to finish up the book!)

Until then, if you are inclined to pray for us, Earl and I would so appreciate your prayers that in the next 7 days, our thoughts would be clear, our writing would be God-directed , our words would be wise and thorough, warm and encouraging. That this book would give new hope and fresh insight that would strengthen the love between husbands and wives all over this land.
Until then, enjoy some sunshine and laughter, eat some blueberries and cream, hug a friend, pet a dog, kiss a baby -- and that should give you a few joy-boosts to tide you over until next time. (Did I mention that praying for the well-being others, like poor writers-on-a-deadline, also increases YOUR joy quota?)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Will Walk for Dopamine"

(My Beautiful, Fit & Happy Daughter-in-Law, Amy, with her youngest son, Titus.)

How Exercise Helps Your Brain & Mood

While collaborating on This is Your Brain on Joy, I had the most fun doing research on the subject of the brain and happiness. In the process, I stumbled over some fabulous reads that go into a little more detail about some of the joy-boosters we recommend in our book.

One motivating volume that captured my attention is called, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. The author, John J. Ratey, MD writes about how exercise helps each of the following issues: Learning Problems; Stress; Anxiety; Depression; Attention Deficit Disorder; Addictions; Hormonal Changes (like PMS and menopause) and Aging. If you want to feel great about how your exercise routine is helping your brain and mood – this is a book to pick up and savor.

My daughter-in-law, Amy, has two little boys under age 3 (have I mentioned how adorable they are?) and she continues to astound me with both her level of energy and her level of happiness. As soon as she had each of her babies, she began walking, and before long she was jogging, and now that her baby is five months old, she’s about to run her first race (pushing a double stroller!) and also taking Spin Classes. (Am I the only mom on the planet who thought these were classes where you spun around in circles? I could not imagine how anybody could do this for an hour and not be crazy dizzy. Apparently you ride a stationary bike, not turn into a whirling dervish.) She often talks about how much she enjoys her life, and any mom knows that raising two little ones – however worthwhile – is not easy. (Today, Amy walked in the kitchen to find that her 2 ½ year old had “decorated” the cabinets with wet sticky oatmeal. And this before 9:00 a.m. My grandson is so creative. )

In the introduction to Spark, Dr. Ratey writes: “It was already known that exercise increases levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine – important neurotransmitters that traffic in thoughts and emotions.”

He goes on to say that most of us have, by now, heard about serotonin and its mood-boosting qualities; however, not even most psychiatrists realize this bit of news: High levels of stress (and Lord knows this has been a stressful year for many of us) “erodes the connections between the billions of nerve cells in the brain.” Chronic, even low-grade depression can actually shrink certain sections of the brain. (Another reason not to let even mild depression go untreated!)

But here’s the great news: “Exercise unleashes a cascade of neurochemicals and growth factors that can reverse this process , physically bolstering the brain’s infrastructure.” There is evidence that deep within the cells, in the genes, that the body’s activity -- exercise of any kind – is healing and restorative to the mind.

I am one of those women who would like to be in shape, would love to lose 20 pounds, but who apparently hasn’t wanted this badly enough to get to the gym or on the treadmill as often as I should. But I will tell you what motivates me: Feeling joyful. Preferably during, or shortly after, I do something. I’m a glutton for immediate reward.

So when I read that exercise gives an immediate mood boost (and by the way, walking in the sunshine for 20 minutes helps even more) --- I dusted off my tennis shoes and mounted my treadmill. Just thirty minutes of walking does amazing things for my mood and my clarity of thought. If I happen to lose a few pounds in the process, all the better! (Although I usually walk while watching the Food Network Channel, so who knows about the ultimate weight loss?) For now, I must confess, I am mostly walking for the natural high. In fact, I may put a sign on my treadmill that says, “Will Walk for Dopamine.”

I hope this encourages you to get out in the sunshine this spring and plant some flowers, or walk around the block, or mow the lawn with gusto. Before long you may be joining my daughter-in-law, Amy – and run a race for charity, or spin your way to a happier day!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Fish on the Brain

(Two of my sons, Zeke and Gabe, on a deep sea fishing trip!)

Perhaps it is no fluke that the happiest and most balanced people on our planet tend to live near the ocean where the supplies of fresh fish are abundant.

About ten years ago, I remember meeting a man in his mid 80’s from the Cayman Islands whose energy and joy seemed boundless. When I asked him the secret of his youth, he put his arm around me (he was also an outrageous flirt), winked and pointed to the ocean. “I’ve eaten enough fish oil over my lifetime to float a cruise ship!”

Little did I know that science would soon prove his statement to be true. The more research is done on fish oil, the more good news we seem to find. Recent findings have shown that fish oil taken by pregnant mothers and given to children (in safe amounts) may increase a child’s intelligence and also help calm and regulate hyperactivity.

Dr. Henslin shares this story from This is Your Brain on Joy:

By age seven, little Alissa was close to two years behind in school. Two years earlier she’d been diagnosed with childhood arthritis. Vioxx was the only anti-inflammatory that would bring her relief. (Little did anyone know that Vioxx would soon be removed from the market because of its harmful side-effects, increasing risk of strokes and heart attacks.)

In addition to the arthritis, Alissa would have panic attacks to such a degree that it was difficult for her to leave the house. She was also prone to outbursts of anger that were a sight to behold. With the combination of joint pain, panic, and temper outbursts, it was difficult for her to go to recess at school.

Going to an amusement park or an outing as a family was a struggle because her family never knew what might happen. Alissa’s parents struggled with guilt and shame because they could not control their own child, whose puzzling emotions were off the charts.

Very few friends came over to play with Alissa because of her physical limitations, but mostly because of her emotional instability.

Their church was highly supportive of a popular Christian parenting program at that time that defined anger as “a rebellious and defiant spirit.” Graduates of this program received a “whacker” to be used to administer discipline . Fortunately Alissa’s parents were willing to withstand the pressured advice of their well-meaning church friends, and began to search for possible underlying reasons for their daughter’s out-of-control behavior.

They contacted me, and I referred them for a SPECT brain imaging scan. Alissa’s scan showed what we call a “ring of fire.” This means that most of Alissa’s mood centers were all over-firing. She would experience fear, anger, obsessiveness and depression – all at the same time, almost all the time. In fact, when I saw the scan, I felt so much compassion for this little girl that I got tears in my eyes.

I encouraged Alissa’s parents to contact Dr. Renee Thomas (see www., who has a clinic in Boston. The family went to the clinic, and the entire family went on the Zone Diet, popularized by Dr. Barry Sears. (Similar to what I recommend in the Joy Diet, with an emphasis on adequate protein with every meal and snacks as a key component.) In addition, we gradually worked Alissa up to 2 tablespoons of a pharmaceutical grade of fish oil per day. (She used Coromega, which tastes like orange pudding. Kids love it.)

Alissa’s mother decreased the Vioxx 50 percent with no return of the joint pain. Besides being calming to the brain, Omega 3s are powerful anti-inflammatories. One month later her mother took Alissa completely off the anti-inflamatory with no return of pain, and Alissa also had control of her mood swings.

Three years later we took another scan, and Alissa now has a much-improved brain! All this change from fish oil alone! Truly amazing. Some neurologists believe that when they find this “ring of fire” pattern in children, it can bloom into bipolar disorder in later life. Treated early, with high-quality, pharmaceutical-grade fish oil, this condition may be avoided. Scientists are also discovering that Omega 3 fish oil can work as well as medication in some cases of adults with bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder.

By the way, Alissa is now reading at college level! With her brain stabilized, she can cope with her learning disabilities and has great mood management—a miracle that took five years to accomplish!


The ideal fish oil is high quality pharmaceutical grade. To avoid “fish burp” problems you’ll want to get “enteric coated capsules” (that smell like vanilla) or lemon flavored capsules also work well for me. For children, try the Coromega product that comes in little orange pudding- like squeeze packets.

Need more reasons to add fish oil to your diet? Here's a few areas where fish oil has proven helpful!

A Healthy Heart:
Reduce risk of strokes & heart attacks
Lower blood pressure
Reduce risk of blood clots
Reduce triglycerides (blood fat levels)
Protect against atherosclerosis

A Healthy Brain:
Alleviate Attention Deficit/HyperactivityDisorder (ADHD)
Alleviate Dyslexia
Alleviate Depression and aggression
Alleviate Memory problems, Alzheimers disease and dementia

A Healthy Body:
Reduce risk Rheumatoid arthritis
Reduce risk Inflammatory skin disorders
Reduce risk Inflammatory bowel diseases
A Lean BodyBurn fat faster and reduce excess body fat at the fastest possible rate.

Reduction in the risk of inflammation reactions caused by:
Rheumatoid arthritis
Inflammatory bowel disease
Kidney disease
Ulcerative colitis
Kidney failure that occurs with aging

Protection Against Degenerative Conditions
Eyesight degeneration
Alzheimer disease and age related memory loss
Kidney failure that occurs with aging