Wednesday, May 09, 2012 3:02 PM
The Crockpot: Utne’s Weekly Guide to What You May
It turns out that only about
a tenth of Americans believe climate change isn’t real, and more than two
thirds think it should be a bigger political issue. The findings, by Yale and George Mason
University, fly in the
face of what’s passing for an environmental debate in this country, says Ecopolitology. Most Americans also
believe the environmentalism/economic growth conflict is a false one and that
sustainability can help create jobs. The really weird part? Another George
Mason study back in 2010 found that about
a quarter of weathercasters thought global warming was a hoax. But
honestly, who believes what the weatherman says?
And don’t miss…
Why the pope controls our traffic
laws—and how Samoa learned to fight back.
Why Arizona could be a
battleground in this election—no, really.
Check out the new,
brilliant, extremely Russian mobile sauna.
Iran to Google Maps: It’s the Persian Gulf, OK?
Why sex robots will soon take over
the world without us really noticing.
Explore Tokyo’s exquisite, real-life glass
Researchers at Emory University
complete the first-ever
MRI scan of a dog’s brain.
What a therapeutic
playground for autism sufferers might look like.
Why Cap’n Crunch is a total
Why it took the Queen of
England 169 years to get
real on freedom of speech.
ancient Roman garbage heap can teach us about designing modern parks.
Knowing more than one
language has a profound
effect on brain development in children, and not just in language skills,
says New Scientist. New studies have
found that bilingual kids are better at concentrating, multitasking, and are
faster to empathize with others. And in adults, bilingualism may even stave off
the effects of aging, dementia, and Alzheimer’s as it keeps the brain active
and vital. The best part? It’s never too late to learn. Read
Thursday, February 16, 2012 3:59 PM
By studying the human brain—not via an MRI or CT scan, but through the hands-on examination of a brain extracted from a recently deceased body—medical researchers can make stunning headway in discovering treatments or cures for diseases like autism, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. In theory, most people want to help advance this research; in reality, the idea of donating your brain to science is knottier.
Olivia Solon, writing for Wired.co.uk, explains the importance of brain donation but also recognizes its complexities: “The researchers trying to develop treatments for these devastating diseases are unable to carry out their studies at the rate they might like to because of a lack of donated brain tissue. This is partly due to a lack of awareness, but partly due to squeamishness and a belief that brain tissue is somehow more special or sacred than other organs. That strange gelatinous mass is inextricably linked to our personalities and, for some faiths, the soul.”
Many brain banks sympathize with the existential questions that surround brain donation, specifically whether it is compatible with one’s religious beliefs. The Autism Research Foundation offers snapshots of different faiths’ philosophies about postmortem brain tissue donation in an effort to make potential donors’ decisions easier:
Buddhism: The Buddhists believe that the decision to donate organs and tissue is a matter of conscience. While there is no written resolution on the issue, Reverend Gyomay Masao, president and founder of the Buddhist Temple of Chicago, says “We honor those people who donate their bodies and organs to the advancement of medical science and to saving lives.”
Catholicism: The Catholic Church has long supported organ and tissue donation. The consent to donate is seen as an act of charity, fraternal love, and self sacrifice. On the other hand, organ and tissue donation is not considered to be an obligation. For this reason, the free and informed consent of the donor of donor’s family is imperative....
Hinduism: Hindus are not prohibited by religious law from donating their organs according to the Hindu Temple Society of North America. This act is an individual decision.
Judaism: Judaism teaches that all humans are created in the image of God and that every dignity must be extended to the human body in death as in life. Consequently, Jewish law sanctions the performance of autopsies only in certain, very limited circumstances…. A more liberal precedent, followed by many of today’s Jewish leaders, was set during the last century by Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger.... He ruled that an autopsy may be performed if the deceased had willed his or her body for that purpose while still alive. In fact, once of the major provisions of the Israeli legislature’s Anatomy and Physiology Act contends that if a person specifies in writing that his or her body should be used for science, it is permissible to donate that body for medical instruction and research.
Islamic Society: The Moslem Religious Council initially rejected organ donation by followers of Islam in 1983, but has since reversed its position provided that donors consent in writing in advance.
Protestantism: While no one can speak for Protestant Christianity, because of the diversity of traditions and the lack of a single teaching authority, most denominations both endorse and encourage organ and tissue donations. At the same time they stress respect for the individual conscience and a person’s right to make decisions regarding his or her own body.
If you’re able to get over the spiritual ramifications (and the ick factor) of brain donation but think your average, standard-issue brain isn’t of use, researchers want you to know that brains do not need to be diseased to be scientifically useful. In fact, healthy brains are vital for medical research, and they are in short supply. In the UK Brain Bank’s Parkinson’s study, for example, currently only 117 of the 1,110 brains are normal specimens, Solon says.
Beyond studying what can go wrong in the brain, healthy brains enable scientists to see what can go right. In the SuperAging study conducted at Northwestern University, the cognitively sharp participants—all of whom are over the age of 80 and have maintained superior memory and IQ—are asked to contemplate brain donation, reports Kara Spak in the Chicago Sun-Times. “They commit to brain donation so at the time of death we can see if [their brains are] resistant to age-related pathology,” says assistant research professor Emily Rogalski.
For individuals who want to donate their brains for medical research, special steps must be taken. Even if you’re an organ donor, your brain will not be utilized for research that could potentially affect thousands of lives; only transplantable organs, tissue, and blood are covered by checking the “organ donor” box on your driver’s license application.
Ready to consider donating your brain for the greater good? Visit the International Brain Banking Network, the Harvard Brain Bank, the Alzheimer’s Disease Center, the Stanford Center for Narcolepsy, the New York Brain Bank, or other online resources to get started with questionnaires and consent forms. I just took the first step to donate my unremarkable brain (I’ll never know if they reject it), and I encourage you to do the same.
Sources: Wired.co.uk, Chicago Sun-Times
Image by Spec-ta-cles, licensed under Creative Commons.
Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.
Thursday, November 17, 2011 3:37 PM
I’m sure my stomach knows best. Give me a bad day, and my gut tells me to griddle up a grilled cheese sandwich made with whatever is in the fridge: cheddar, provolone, mozzarella—I’ll even take American singles, as long as they’re melted between slices of thick-cut buttered bread. The more the cheese oozes, the better I feel.
Now, in an emerging field dubbed neurogastroenterology, scientists are finding that the stomach knows more than we give it credit for. “The gut can work independently of any control by the brain in your head—it’s functioning as a second brain,” Michael Gershon, professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University tells Dan Hurley in Psychology Today. The brain in your gut, called the enteric nervous system (ENS), is made up of 100 million neurons and can work on its own, without any direction from the brain. And it does more than control itself; it can control your mood, Hurley reports.
It relies on, and in many cases manufactures, more than 30 neurotransmitters, including serotonin, that are identical to those in the brain. What’s more, tinkering with the second brain in our gut has lately been shown to be a potent tool for achieving relief from major depression. Even autism, studies suggest, may be wrapped up in the neurobiology of the brain down under.
Certain foods can have a particularly strong effect on emotions, according to researchers in Belgium. So what comfort food works best to bolster our moods? Mashed potatoes? Macaroni and cheese? Mainlined ice cream sundaes? Any of these can work, as long as they contain one key ingredient: fat.
After participants in the Belgian study were fed either a saline solution or an infusion of fatty acids and then listened to neutral or melancholy music, they were interviewed and given MRI scans. Researchers found that the fatty acids activated the brain regions that regulate emotions and reduced feelings of sadness by about half.
“It’s an important demonstration that in a nonconscious way, without knowing whether you are getting the fat or the salt-water, something you put in your stomach can change your mood,” Giovanni Cizza of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases tells Hurley.
So go on and take a little solace in comfort food. As it turns out, those cravings aren’t all in your head.
Source: Psychology Today
Image by Chefdruck, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 10, 2011 11:32 AM
Those who have taken care of a seriously ill partner, a child with special needs, or an incapacitated parent on a long-term basis know the relentless, sapping strain of it. Kristin Neff—a professor of human development and mother of an autistic son, writing for Psychology Today—opines that every caregiver should practice self-compassion to “recharge our batteries and have the emotional energy needed to serve others.”
What, exactly, is self-compassion? Neff turns to the writings of various Buddhist scholars to draw out three main components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. She explains:
Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding with oneself rather than being harshly critical or judgmental. Common humanity involves recognizing that all humans are imperfect, fail and make mistakes. Mindfulness involves being aware of one’s painful feelings in a clear and balanced manner so that one neither ignores nor obsesses about disliked aspects of oneself or one’s life.
Though we can all benefit from practicing self-compassion, Neff sees it as crucial for overburdened, and sometimes underappreciated, caregivers. “Not only will it help to get through difficult situations,” she says, “it will lead to greater happiness and peace of mind.” She continues:
As a mother of a child with autism, I can tell you what a lifesaver self-compassion was for me…. When my son screamed and screamed because his nervous system was being overloaded and I couldn’t figure out the cause, I would soothe myself with kindness. When my son lost it in the grocery store and strangers gave me nasty looks because they thought I wasn’t disciplining my child properly, I’d give myself the compassion I wasn’t receiving from others. In short, self-compassion helped me cope, and that put me in the balanced emotional mind state needed to deal skillfully with whatever new challenges confronted me.
Want to find out how much self-compassion you have? Take Neff’s online test.
Source: Psychology Today
Image by kevinpoh, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, April 07, 2011 12:24 PM
Sure, we love our laptops and iPads, but they’ll never have the romance of a typewriter. Check out this gallery of authors and their beloved machines.
A cultural history of the river baptism.
It was announced yesterday that later this year, Glenn Beck will end his show on Fox. Sojourners—one of Beck’s progressive targets over the years because of their radical idea that Christians could be and should be committed to social justice—has rounded up a number of their responses to the blubbering, bullying Beck.
Save NPR! But please put PBS out of its misery.
Looking to explore uncharted waters? Travel 36,201 feet under the sea in billionaire Richard Branson’s deep-sea submarine.
The autism-vaccine debate is not over yet.
Fast Company points to a fascinating series of infographics detailing how America describes itself in dating profiles. (Teaser: Looking for naughty fun? You might consider moving to West Viginia or New Mexico.)
Thursday, August 26, 2010 12:38 PM
In an excerpt from Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Brain Differences by Thomas Armstrong in the April/May issue of Ode, Armstrong writes about a metaphorical “rose psychiatrist” diagnosing other non-rose flowers with diseases and disabilities. A sunflower has “hugism,” while a calla lilly is diagnosed with “PDD, or petal deficit disorder.” The metaphor, Armstrong posits, shows “how our culture treats neurological differences in human beings these days.” Instead of there being one “normal” brain (the rose brain in the metaphor), we need to think about different brains as just that, different, with what we now consider “normal” as only one spot on a continuum of brain types, making all brain types connected versus placing some in “other” categories and therefore separate. With this in mind, Armstrong says we must consider our brains to be more like ecosystems than the old comparison to machines.
Since medical research tends to focus on disease, instead of on health, Armstrong writes:
The concept of neurodiversity provides a more balanced perspective. Instead of regarding traditionally pathologized populations as disabled or disordered, the emphasis in neurodiversity is placed on differences.
This is not, as some people might suspect, merely a new form of political correctness (e.g., “serial killers are differently assertive”). Instead, research from brain science, evolutionary psychology, anthropology, sociology and the humanities demonstrates that these differences are real and deserve serious consideration.
I recognize that they also involve tremendous hardship, suffering and pain. The importance of identifying mental illness, treating it appropriately and developing the means of preventing it in early childhood cannot be overstated.
However, one important ingredient in the alleviation of this suffering is an emphasis on the positive dimensions of people who have traditionally been stigmatized as less than normal.
Armstrong has come up with eight principles of neurodiversity to guide the reader in seeing how certain mental disorders may just be “alternative forms of natural human difference.”
Source: Ode, Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Brain Differences
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