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October 07, 2005

How We Are Going to Die

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Posted by Zack Lynch

This past Sunday, David Brooks in the New York Times explains how we are going to die:

"Twenty percent of us, according to a Rand Corporation study, are going to get cancer or another rapidly debilitating condition and we'll be dead within a year of getting the disease. Another 20 percent of us are going to suffer from some cardiac or respiratory failure. We'll suffer years of worsening symptoms, a few
life-threatening episodes, and then eventually die.

But 40 percent of us will suffer from some form of dementia (most frequently Alzheimer's disease or a disabling stroke). Our gradual, unrelenting path toward death will take 8 or 10 or even 20 years, during which we will cease to become the person we were. We will linger on, in some new state, depending on the care of others.

As the population ages, more people will live in this final category. Between now and 2050, the percentage of the population above age 85 is expected to quadruple, and the number of people with Alzheimer's
disease is expected to quadruple, too."

Bottom line: Neurological diseases and psychiatric illnesses represent the greatest threat to our lifestyles and economy. Beyond the untold human suffering, the economic burden of brain-related illness is already greater than $1 Trllion. What will it be in 2050?

Comments (9) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

September 22, 2005

Pills Alone Don't Solve Problems

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Taking a pill does not mean that a health problem is treated, let alone cured. This is especially true for any mental illness, no matter how moderate or severe the case may be. Drugs for the mind are tools. Tools that should be used in conjunction with the help and guidance of a skilled mental health professional. I am greatly concerned about the increasing trend of general medical doctors prescribing neuropharmaceuticals to patients without any sustained therapy to support the healing process. Taking Paxil for depression is not the same as Lipitor to lower cholesterol. It's well known that pills + people = better results.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

July 16, 2005

Autism Resources

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Posted by Zack Lynch

A reader asked me if I could identify some quality sources of information on autism. Here are a few I found interesting:

1. The cognitive neuroscience of autism by Simon Baron-Cohen
2. Stephen Shore's Autism and Asperger Syndrome site
3. Autism Resources from John Wobus
4. Neurodiversity

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

July 12, 2005

Jiaolu - Anxiety and Consumption in China

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The L.A. Times reports on a devistating mental health trend in China, "Across Chinese society, signs of stress and restless energy are everywhere. Jiaolu, or anxiety, a new buzzword, produces nearly a million hits on Google China. A recent survey by the newspaper China Youth Daily found that 66% of young people considered themselves under heavy pressure and fewer than 1% felt stress-free." "The young have things their parents only dreamed of. But there's a lot of hand-wringing. They want wealth, and they want it now."

The growing mental health care crisis in China continues unabated resulting in some of the highest suicide rates worldwide.

Our modern social ecology presents humanity with a new set of threats and the need to develop new tools for survival. Emotional strength and stamina have surpassed physical strength and will soon overtake cognitive processing of information as the key determinant to survive and prosper.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

June 28, 2005

Mental Illness in Bangkok Soars 900% in 3 Years

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Posted by Zack Lynch

According to a recent report, the number of mental illness cases in Bangkok soared 900 percent, from 587 per 100,000 to 5,485 in three years, said the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB). Among all patients in the Thailand's capital, 40 percent have mental disorders, 15 percent experience anxiety and 14 percent suffer severe depression, said the report. The national rate of people living with mental disease stands at 3,392 per 100,000 people. The report declared that changing life styles and increasing pollution were the primary causes of mental illness.

As I describe in my forthcoming book, Neurosociety, "Our aging and large population coupled with extensive global connectedness has created new problems for modern humans. In the last two hundred years, global population has soared from 300 million to over 6.5 billion. At the same time, life spans have more than doubled from 30 to over 70 years.

While many people question the uneven distribution of power that exists in today’s world, others are disillusioned by the happiness that wealth was supposed to provide. Constantly blasted with images of unattainable lifestyles, people face daily identity crises as they search for meaning in a world of continuously shifting truths. In every culture, feelings of uncertainty, depression, anger, and resentment have surfaced on a vast scale." In short, humanity faces a growing global mental illness crisis of epidemic proportions.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

June 21, 2005

Tsunami of Mental Illness Hurts Millions

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Posted by Zack Lynch

This week is the SIXTH month anniversary of the devastating tsunami that struck on December 26th, 2004. The trauma continues in over 22 countries with a stark reality for millions...."No boat from which to fish, lost wife and two children, don't understand...why...?

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

May 27, 2005

NIMH Pushes Translation at APA meeting

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Insel_ThomasMD_BOT.gif

"We need to translate basic science discoveries into biomarkers, diagnostic tests, and new treatments clinicians can use to improve the lives of patients with mental disorders," said NIMH Director Thomas Insel, M.D., (photo) this past week at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatry Association. In addition to Insel, the NIMH track featured other plenary lectures by Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel, Michael Meaney, Ranja Krishnan,, Bruce McEwen, Robert Freedman, and Daniel Weinberger on genes, cognition and emotion.

Institute staff Wayne Fenton, Ellen Stover, Mayada Akil, and Catherine Roca, also underscored the priority that NIMH attaches to translational research at multiple levels, from clinically relevant basic science to clinical trials. For example, two symposia entitled "Neuroscience for the Clinician," chaired by Dr. Akil, familiarized practitioners with the latest advances in genetics and functional brain imaging, with potential relevance to clinical practice. Maybe they should also join the DSM-V working group.

"We view our research track at the APA meeting as an extraordinary opportunity to inform the psychiatric profession, and the larger mental health field, about NIMH's commitment to work toward a long-term goal of personalized care for every individual who lives with a mental disorder," added Insel.

With a $1.4B annual budget, the NIMH will need to leverage market forces to help accelerate translational efforts. In short, the NIMH needs neurotech.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

May 25, 2005

The Future of Psychiatric Diagnosis - DSM-V

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Two years ago I wrote a piece on how neurotechnology will redefine how mental disorders are diagnosed and categorized. "As information from biochips and brain imaging technology becomes available it will be possible to diagnose mental disorders from the bottom up." In support of my views, I recently joined the DSM-V Prelude Project to make sure that the latest neurodiagnostics research findings are well represented.

From the Project website: "Although the DSM-V revision process will not formally begin until 2006 or 2007 (see timeline), the American Psychiatric Association has created this web site in order to keep the public and professionals informed about the plans for DSM-V as well as the ongoing effort to enrich the research base in advance of starting formal work on DSM-V. In addition, this web site provides an opportunity for you to alert us to problems in the DSM-IV that you may have encountered and to provide your suggestions for DSM-V."

Here is the current projected timeline for the DSM-V:
1999-2005 Development of DSM-V Preplanning White Papers
2002 Publication of “A Research Agenda for DSM-V” (monograph containing six white papers)
2004-5 Publication of additional DSM-V Preplanning White Papers
2004-2007Review data from the 10 APA/NIH-sponsored conferences on "The Future of Psychiatric Diagnosis: Refining the Research Agenda"
2007 Appointment of DSM-V Workgroups
2011 Publication of DSM-V

For those who are interested in this very important subject, I highly recommend visiting the website and downloading the free book published by the American Psychiatric Association, A Research Agenda for DSM-V. It's a 280 page primer with interesting tidbits on the future of neuroimaging and the important role that neuroinformatics must play going forward.

NOTE: (from the website) These dates are tentative; although these events will not occur any earlier, they could occur later.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

May 16, 2005

Gates Gets Global Health

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Addressing health ministers from 192 countries at the World Health Assembly in Geneva today, Bill Gates declared, "The world is failing billions of people" and must act more aggressively to fight disease and reduce inequity. Putting his money where his mouth is, Gates pledged another $250 million towards accelerating cures for diseases that primarily impact developing economies.

Gates called for action by governments to increase efforts to improve global health, for more scientific research to develop solutions for diseases in developing countries, for more funding to deliver health tools and design new ones, and for market incentives so the private sector will invest in "the discovery and delivery of health tools for the developing world."

Since its creation in January 2000, the Gates Foundation has pledged nearly $8 billion in grants for global health, education and public libraries as well as community programs in the Pacific Northwest. The foundation, the world's largest, has nearly $29 billion in endowments. By law, U.S. foundations are required to give away at least 5 percent of their assets each year, which for the Gates Foundation totals $1.5 billion annually.


Comments (0) + TrackBacks (5) | Category: Mental Health Issues

April 27, 2005

386 billion Euros - Cost of Brain Illness in Europe for 2004 - Neurotech Funding Boost Recommended

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Today, the European Brain Council (EBC) recommended a major boost in neurotechnology research efforts following the publication of a report stating that 127 million Europeans suffer from brain disorders, and that the financial cost of this amounted to EUR 386 billion in 2004.

The report, entitled Cost of Disorders of the Brain in Europe, focuses on the cost of the twelve most prevalent brain disorders, which include both psychiatric and neurological diseases. The costs cited involve those for healthcare, private and public expenses outside of the medical sector (for example nursing home costs), and indirect costs (restriction of work capability, absenteeism and early retirement).

1.5 billion people around the world currently suffer from a debilitating neurological or psychiatric illness. Yet, until now, no unified market-based framework was available to accelerate the development of treatments that delay, prevent and cure chronic brain-related illness.

Next week, NeuroInsights, will make available The Neurotechnology Industry 2005: A Strategic Investment and Market Analysis Report of the Global Neurological Disease and Psychiatric Illness Markets. The 250-page report provides detailed analysis of technical advancements, intellectual property trends, adoption issues and regulatory risks facing the industry. Neurotechnology companies, research centers, and venture funds are profiled and examined providing the first comprehensive view of the industry's evolving competitive landscape. For more information visit www.neuroinsights.com.


"Never doubt the power of a small group of committed individuals to change the world. It is the only thing that ever has." — Margaret Mead

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

March 22, 2005

How Bad Is It? The Cost of Brain Disorders in Europe

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Estimates of the economic cost of neurological and psychiatric disorders vary widely depending on the source, breadth of study and input data. In 2002, the Society for Neuroscience estimated the cost of neurological and mental disorders in the U.S. alone exceeded $548 billion, not including indirect costs. In 2003, Pfizer estimated that the direct cost worldwide exceeded $1 trillion. Research compiled by NeuroInsights over the past year puts the total global economic burden much higher. It's time for faster cures for brain-related illnesses.

On April 26, the final results of a two-year pan-European project on the "Cost of Brain Disorders in Europe" will be presented before the European Commissioner of research, Janes Potocnik, at the European Parliament. The project was established by the European Brain Council and is the first project aimed at analyzing the cost of all brain disorders of the Brain in Europe, bringing together scientific edge in epidemiology and health economics on major brain disorders in Europe. Supporting this work were organizations like the European Brain Council, the European Federation of Neurological Associations and the Global Alliance of Mental Illness Advocacy Networks, and The European DANA Alliance for the Brain. (The geographical scope of study was limited to the European territory, defined as all 25 EU member countries and the 3 EFTA-countries (Norway, Iceland and Switzerland).

I've been in contact with the researchers and I believe the world will be astounded by what they finally have to share. In short, we are in the midst of a global mental illness epidemic as populations grow and individuals age.

I'll let you know as soon as they let me. But in the mean time, I recommend taking a few minutes out of your day to think of some one in your life who might appreciate a short email or phone call to let them know how much they have inspired you or how much you appreciate them. Human social interaction is clearly one of the most important components of maintaining a healthy mind.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

February 16, 2005

Neurotechnology Industry Research

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Industry research on a global scale is never easy, even for the largest organizations. For example, when the World Health Organization attempted to systematically collect information on expenditure on mental health across the countries in the European Region in 2001 only 23 of the 52 countries provided any information at all.

Over the past year, NeuroInsights has been developing a report on the global neurotechnology industry. In one section we have aggregated various data sources in order to estimate the prevalence of major neurological diseases and psychiatric illness for the U.S. and worldwide. Here are our current numbers:

NeuroIlness WW NeuroInsights.jpg

I'd be very interested if anyone has different numbers.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

January 18, 2005

Stem Cell Hype and Hope Blog

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Want the latest information on stem cells? Check out Hype and Hope, a recently launched blog that covers the science, ethics, politics, markets, and many other emerging issues surrounding stem cells. Recent posts include:

- An equity-tracking index of public stem cell companies (everyone up today)
- Recent Patent activity (Parkinson's patent issued to Stem Cell Therapeutics today)
- Stem cell funding by states ($1B stem cell institute proposed in New York)
- Company-specific news (BrainStorm hired a new CFO yesterday)
- And my favorite, Politicians are Patients too

While other blogs occasionally comment on developments in the stem cell therapy space like HealthLawProf, Vinod's blog, and Blogicus; Hype and Hope takes this one issue and goes deeper and broader far better than anyone else. Looks like Kevin will have a job for a long time to come.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

January 17, 2005

U.S. Mental Health Institutes Receive 3% Funding Increase For 2005

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Posted by Zack Lynch

"For fiscal 2005 Congress approved about a 3 percent budget increase for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). This amounts to a gain of $41 million for NIMH, $23 million for NIDA, and $13 million for NIAAA, according to Boroughs. NIMH and NIAAA received increases similar to those in Fiscal 2004, while NIDA received a smaller increase.

By contrast, Congress increased the Fiscal 2005 budget of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases by about 10 percent, to $4.4 billion. This includes $100 million to fund international programs that fight HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis and $180 million to build facilities "to enhance the nation's capacity to do research on biological and other agents," according to the final congressional budget bill."

Interesting priorities, yes?

From Psychiatric News

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

January 04, 2005

Keep Your Pulse on Mental Health Issues

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Posted by Zack Lynch

For the past four years Bill Davis has been aggregating the most relevant, up-to-date information about mental health issues on his weblog PULSE. It is the best resource I have found anywhere on the net and apparently many others agree.

To help guide the next stage of development and growth for Pulse, Bill has pulled together a diverse group of mental health professionals from the US, Canada and the UK to help advise him on emerging mental health issues, including:

Elaine Alfano - Policy Analyst, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.
Piers Allott - Fellow for Recovery, National Institute for Mental Health in England.
Charles Benjamin - Executive Director, North Sound Mental Health Administration
Christine Bois - Concurrent Disorders Priority Manager, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Janos Botschner - Chief Researcher, Canadian Mental Health - Waterloo
Janice Buchanan - Mental Health Program, O­ntario Ministry of Health & Long Term Care
Dale Butterill - Manager: Knowledge Transfer, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Rosie Carney - Bureau Chief, Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction
Anita Everett - Senior Medical Advisor, SAMHSA
Leah Gitter - Facilitator: Criminal Justice Support Group, NAMI
Nancy Hall - University of British Columbia Department of Psychiatry
Dale Klatzker - President and CEO, The Providence Center
Frank Kokorowski - Director, King County Community and Human Services (Seattle)
Paul Lefkovitz - President, Behavioral Pathway Systems
Zack Lynch - Managing Director, NeuroInsights.
Elaine Sutton Mbionwu - President/CEO, National Re-Entry Resource Center
James McNulty - President Emeritus, NAMI
Chip Palmer - CEO, Centre for Community Change International
Knute Rotto - CEO, Choices, Inc.
Sue Schmidt - Field Director, Vermont Agency of Human Services
Ken Thompson - Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Public Health, U. of Pittsburgh Medical School

I highly recommend giving the Pulse community weblog a look. It has daily, weekly and quarterly updates to keep you abreast of mental health issues.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

December 28, 2004

Happiness Defined by Thomas Jefferson

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Posted by Zack Lynch

"It is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation, which gives happiness." --Thomas Jefferson

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October 08, 2004

Laughter - Infinite Cat and the Anti-depressant Highway

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Posted by Zack Lynch

While Bobby McFerrin's brilliant suggestion "Don't worry, be Happy" works as an anti-depressant for some, many of us require some additional help at some point in our lives. Chronic, mild depression affects over 5% of adults while major depression impacts almost 10% of us at some point in our lives.

The reduction of the social stigma associated with depression along with the development of more effective emoticeuticals has improved the lives of millions of people. Despite this, only one in three people with a significant depression seeking specific treatment for their condition.

While there is still no cure for depression, there is one thing I have found to be an extremely effective way to improve one's outlook: laughter. Despite the seriousness of depression, this picture of the "anti-depressant highway" made me laugh. So did the Onion's poke piece "Zoloft for Everything."

Paxil road.png

As Eleanor Roosevelt once said.... "...there is no beginning or end...yesterday is history...tomorrow is mystery...today is a gift, that's why they call it the present." Visit infinitecat.com for today's present or check out this proposal to create a new DSM category for political apathy disorder. Happy Friday boing boing.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

September 20, 2004

Video Games + Neurofeedback = Better Mental Health

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The convergence of video games and neurofeedback are improving cognitive-processing capabilities across a wide variety of mental illnesses. Two companies leading this market are Epoch Innovation who provides neurogaming tools for dyslexia and CyberLearning Technology who is using neurofeedback-enhanced versions of off-the-shelf videogames like Ratchet & Clank to help children with attention-deficit disorder.

Neurogaming isn't just for kids, adults can benefit from neurofeedback as well. For example, The Wild Divine Project uses (bio) sensors attached to the fingers to monitor skin conductance and heart-rate variability via the computer's USB port.

At the cutting edge of research into the benefits of neurogaming is UCSF's Sophia Vinogradov. Dr. Vinogradov is investigating how computerized training might help people with schizophrenia learn new thinking and problem-solving skills. Her breakthrough work on neuroscience-guided remediation of cognitive deficits in schizophrenia was recently awarded a $1.1M grant from the NIMH.

It seems that ever since Steven Johnson shared how neurofeedback opened up new ways to understand his implicit reactions to daily events, the neurofeedback meme has been growing stronger. As venture capital continues to pour into companies using neurofeedback to improve software productivity and increase financial trading profitability it is important to realize that even these "non-medical efforts" will translate into more effective neurofeedback solutions to treat mental illnesses. This is the neurotechnology industry at work.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

September 15, 2004

One Pill or Many? Polypharmacy

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Posted by Zack Lynch

A recent WSJ article, Drug Cocktails Hit Psychiatry, details how psychiatrists are currently mixing several different medicines to treat mental illnesses. The article suggests that this practice of polypharmacy grows out of the evolving thinking in psychiatry that mental illness is at least partly rooted in biology.

For example, in certain cases of depression some doctors prescribe both Prozac, which affects serotonin, and Wellbutrin , which works on dopamine and norepinephrine. The article also states that polypharmacy is already common in the treatment of bipolar disorder.

The polypharmacy trend will likely continue during the decade of translation for several reasons. First, current drugs are not specific enough to target the complex neurobiology underlying many mental illnesses. Second, neuropharmaceutical companies are focusing on specific aspects of complex mental illnesses such as cognition, emotions or sensory decline. For example, Saegis is developing cogniceuticals that will be used across a broad array of mental illnesses where memory degradation is present.

While polypharmacy is common practice for cardiovascular problems, many of the drug cocktails that are being prescribed have little historical data about potential negative interactions.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

September 08, 2004

Show Us the Data...Your Life Depends on It Too

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The NYTimes reports today that the editors of several major medical journals, including The Journal of the American Medical Association, The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet and The Annals of Internal Medicine "are expected to begin requiring that drug trials be registered at the outset as a prerequisite for the subsequent publication of their results. Requiring such registration as a condition for reaching the journals' vast audience of doctors would make it difficult for drug companies to hide the results of unflattering tests - as some have been accused of doing."

Experts have long criticized the tendency in the industry to publish only positive clinical trials, arguing that this distorts medical practice and undermines the scientific process. Indeed, we cannot practice evidence based medicine unless we have access to all the evidence. Withholding such data is disingenuous at least, and more likely dangerous to patient care.

For more insight on this topic check out pharmaceutical blogger, Derek Lowe who has been covering this issue over the past year with a particular focus on Paxil and placebos. I recommend his column if you haven't read it recently.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

July 16, 2004

20% of School Children Have Mental Health Problems

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Posted by Zack Lynch

According to a recently released report in Pediatrics, more than 20% of children and adolescents have mental health problems. The report goes on to suggest, "Health care professionals for children and adolescents must educate key stakeholders about the extent of these problems and work together with them to increase access to mental health resources. School-based programs offer the promise of improving access to diagnosis of and treatment for the mental health problems of children and adolescents. Pediatric health care professionals, educators, and mental health specialists should work in collaboration to develop and implement effective school-based mental health services.

It will be interesting to see how this stastic is used in support of President Bush's soon to be announced National Mental Health Agenda.

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July 11, 2004

Time for a Metabolic Tune Up

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Posted by Zack Lynch

With more than 450 scientific publications under his belt (making him one of the most-cited scientists across all fields), Bruce Ames is working hard to elucidate the consequences of DNA damage for cancer, aging and mental health.

Casey and I recently attended a lovely dinner with Bruce and his wife Giovanna at Fior d'Italia in North Beach. Over the evening we discussed our emerging neurosociety and how his involvement in Juvenon, an "anti-aging" company, leverages his latest research.

Over the past decade, Ames has discovered that deficiencies of certain micronutrients appear to mimic radiation in damaging DNA. He and his group have found that folate deficiency breaks chromosomes due to massive incorporation of uracil into human DNA. Bruce asserts that micronutrient deficiency may explain why the quarter of the population that eats the fewest fruits and vegetables has double the cancer rate for most types of cancer when compared with the quarter that consumes the most fruits and vegetables. Sadly, only 9% of Americans eat enough fruit and vegetables each day.

The group has also found that aging may be caused, in good part, by oxidants produced as by-products of normal metabolism, which alter mitochondrial function. The mitochondria of old rats, when compared to young rats, were found to be impaired in many ways. Feeding old rats the normal mitochondrial metabolites, acetyl carnitine and lipoic acid, reversed much of the impairment. The group is investigating the effect of these metabolites on lifespan and brain function, and is exploring the extension of their studies to humans.

If you'd like to live long and prosper Bruce recommends getting some healthy exercise and to take your micronutrients – vitamins B12, B6, C, E, folate, and niacin, and the minerals iron and zinc - each day. According to Bruce, an optimum intake of micronutrients and metabolites, which varies with age and genetics, should tune up metabolism and markedly increase health at little cost, particularly for the poor and elderly.

Thanks David.

UPDATE: Only problem with this advice is the iron. Taking iron can be actively harmful to the half a percent of Caucasians with the genetics for hemochromatosis. (from Chris at CRNano)

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

July 02, 2004

Fireworks for the Color Blind?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Everyone agrees that aerial fireworks are amazing. Here are a few beautiful photos to get you in the Independence Day spirit (here, here, here). The invention of fireworks dates back several thousand years, but the question I have been pondering is what do these amazing pyrotechnic displays look like to those who are color blind? Since 1 in 20 people are color blind, what might be done to tantalize their minds? Perhaps Matt McMahon and other visual researchers have some thoughts on this subject. Have a happy and safe weekend.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

June 23, 2004

Bush to Announce "National Mental Health Agenda"

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Posted by Zack Lynch

In April of 2002, President Bush established the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health to conduct a "comprehensive study of the United States mental health service delivery system." In July of 2003, this commission issued its recommendations. This July, Bush will announce a massive plan to screen the entire U.S. population for mental illness and will direct more than 25 federal agencies to implement the committee's recommendations. At the core of the proposal are six goals:

1) Americans Understand that Mental Health Is Essential to Overall Health
2) Mental Health Care Is Consumer and Family Driven
3) Disparities in Mental Health Services Are Eliminated
4) Early Mental Health Screening, Assessment, and Referral to Services Are Common Practice
5) Excellent Mental Health Care Is Delivered and Research Is Accelerated
6) Technology Is Used to Access Mental Health Care and Information

So how does the government intend to implement such an ambitious program? A recent BMJ article written by Jeanne Lenzer suggests that the most likely avenue is through our schools. "Schools", wrote the commission, are in a "key position" to screen the 52 million students and 6 million adults who work at the schools.

While many view this plan as a step in the right direction, others are concerned that the initiative will "promote the use of expensive antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs favored by supporters of the administration." Indeed, Lenzer writes that the sweeping mental health initiative will use the Texas Medication Algorithm Project as a model, a model that has been criticized for promoting more recently approved drugs over older ones.

More on this story as it unfolds.

Update 7/7: Problems arise with Texas Mental health roll out

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May 01, 2004

Are You Neurotypical?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Neurotypical syndrome is a neurobiological disorder characterized by preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority, and obsession with conformity. According to The Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical (INST), as many as 9625 out of every 10,000 individuals may be neurotypical. (Yes, that means you too)

Neurotypical individuals (NTs) often assume that their experience of the world is either the only one, or the only correct one. NTs find it difficult to be alone. NTs are often intolerant of seemingly minor differences in others. When in groups NTs are socially and behaviorally rigid, and frequently insist upon the performance of dysfunctional, destructive, and even impossible rituals as a way of maintaining group identity. NTs find it difficult to communicate directly, and have a much higher incidence of lying as compared to persons on the autistic spectrum.

Take this online test to find out if you have neurotypical syndrome.

Note about the humor behind the ISNT:

"This site is an expression of autistic outrage.

About a year ago I learned I was on the autistic spectrum. Inspired by this discovery, I read everything I could get my hands on about the autistic spectrum. Much of it makes sense-- for the first time in 41 years, I had a description, albiet an unexpected one, that fit me.

But a lot of what I've found out there, mostly written by "experts" and "professionals", has been arrogant, insulting, and just plain wrong. My bête noire of the moment is finding my emotions described as "flat". As someone with considerably greater expertise in my emotions than the "experts", I can state unequivocally that my emotions are not "flat". They are different, yes, but they are most certainly not "flat."

Perhaps tomorrow I'll be fired up over being described as "lacking empathy". Or I'll be outraged at an exceptionally clueless "training" method being inflicted upon autistic kids. Or maybe it will be some new paper written by some "expert" from the perspective that neurotypical perception is correct, and my brain is a genetic mistake.

My brain is a jewel. I am in awe of the mind that I have. I and my experience of life is not inferior, and may be superior, to the NT experience of life.

Hence, this "Institute". Persons on the autistic spectrum and NT supporters are invited to submit papers to the Institute, and to share your observations in "Current Research" (the guestbook)."

If you feel like laughing right now, go here.

Update 5/9: In NYTimes Week in Review: The Disability Movement Turns to Brains

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

April 14, 2004

The Global Mental Health Epidemic

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The global mental health care crisis grows. According to one study, over 400 million people across the world suffer from mental disorders. Only 25% of them are referred to health services and only 10% of them receive adequate treatment. 10-20 million attend and 1 million people complete suicide every year. As Marginal Revolution pointed out recently, a new study shows that India has some of the highest suicide rates in the world.

The global suicide rate stands at 14.5 deaths per 100,000, with suicide the fourth leading cause of death in the 15 to 19 age group. This compares to just 2.1 suicides per 100,000 in the same group in the UK. The average suicide rate for young women aged between 15 to 19 living around Vellore in Tamil Nadu was 148 per 100,000. Compare this to older numbers in China, and you might agree that the number of people affected by mental disorders is indeed much higher.

While research on the neurobiology of suicide continues, it is clear that mental disorders, like suicide, have multiple impacts of social, biological, and psychological determinants.

In the developing world, mental disorders are compounded by living in extreme poverty, such as slum-dwellers; children and adolescents experiencing disrupted nurturing, abused women, abandoned elderly people, others traumatized by violence, such as the victims of armed conflicts, migrants, including refugees, and many indigenous persons.

All indications show that the future will bring a dramatic increase in mental health problem. It is a crises of the 21st century. As the first report suggests, "order to avoid this rapidly growing problem, we should work altogether to increase the awareness of the community and to educate it about mental health, reorganize mental health services, create community mental health services and outreach programs, train of primary care providers, train psychiatrists, and provide psycho-social rehabilitation."

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

April 13, 2004

What Do Dreams Mean?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Dennis Coates has an interesting post on why we dream (here). As he describes, "I’ve done a lot of reading about the brain and personality as a part of my research for MindFrames, and over the years I've revisited the scientific literature on dreaming a number of times."

My bottom line is that scientists still don't know why we dream. There have been a lot of theories, some of them over 100 years old, but none of them have been validated by research.

My preferred theory about why we dream, based on some of the new findings in sleep research, a separate area of inquiry. When asked why we sleep, researchers have much to say, but it’s mostly descriptive. They’ve identified three stages of sleep, in which EEGs show low-frequency brain waves, accompanied by reduced muscle tone, heart rate and breathing. These three stages are believed to be preparatory stages, after which the brain switches into a fourth, much deeper stage of sleep, which is marked by high-frequency brain waves, and practically no muscle tone. This is known as REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep, which lasts 30-45 minutes and begins again in cycles of 90-120 minutes. Subjects report dreams five times as often in this fourth stage.

The most plausible explanation for why we sleep is that when the brain is active during waking hours, brain cell metabolism produces chemical byproducts. These need to be cleared out and replaced on a regular basis or they accumulate and get in the way of normal neurotransmitter activity, causing the sensation of being "mentally tired." Without mental rest (sleep), the brain would have difficulty functioning. This process is similar to what happens during "muscle fatigue." Prolonged use of a muscle area creates the waste byproducts of exercise metabolism, causing the sensation of need for physical rest, which gives the body time to remove these byproducts.

Moreover, the whole body requires rest in order to regenerate. The autonomic nervous system consists of two subsystems: sympathetic and parasympathetic. Both cannot be active at the same time; when one predominates, the other is switched off. When we’re active and coping with challenges and stressful situations, we're using our sympathetic nervous system. In this state, the human organism uses up energy. When we're calm and passive, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, so that the body can repair and restore itself. During rest, the immune system builds itself back up again. Without rest, we heal more slowly and are more vulnerable to disease. The importance of sleep, then, is that it forces this mental and physical inactivity upon us.

The above describes what happens, but it doesn’t explain why people dream. Freud believed that dreams were the experience of “the unconscious,” a repository for sexual and violent urges too raw to be dealt with consciously. Another long-standing theory is that dreams are how people sort through and integrate daily experience. I've also heard some say that dreams occur because the creative part of ourselves needs to be free to express itself, which it can't do adequately while we're awake. But these are all unproven speculations."

What do dreams mean to you?

Comments (21) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

April 08, 2004

Rice Helps Reduce Anxiety

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Anxiety disorders like panic disorders, agoraphobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder lead the individuals to significant distress and dysfunction due to an unpleasant emotional state, fear.

Anxiety and panic can interfere with normal life but certain nutrients may help the body and mind to cope. The B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, B6, biotin, pantothenic acid, B12, folic acid) are all important for the healthy functioning of the nervous system, especially the production of the key neurotransmitters that can help alleviate mild anxiety.

One good source of several of these nutrients is brown rice which contains thiamin (vitamin B1), vitamin B6, and niacin. Thiamin is beneficial during anxiety and panic because it facilitates neurotransmitter synthesis, promotes healthy nerve function, and converts carbohydrates in foods into energy. Vitamin B6 helps the body to manufacture neurotransmitters such as serotonin, essential for the body to cope with anxiety and panic. And Niacin helps the body to release energy from carbohydrates, control blood sugar, and maintain proper nervous system function.

Foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, brown rice, unrefined cereals and flours, and vegetables and fruits, provide your brain with a steady supply of glucose.

So here is one suggestion for feeding your brain better throughout the day:

Breakfast: Begin the day with a mixture of protein and complex carbohydrates: low-fat milk with whole-grain cereal and fresh fruit.

Lunch: To renew mental energy for the afternoon, have a salad with low-fat dressing, shrimp cocktail, or chicken breast and fresh fruit for dessert.

Afternoon Snack: Use the midday snack to supply your brain with carbohydrates. Choose fresh fruit or low-fat crackers and six ounces of fruit juice or vegetable juice cocktail.

Dinner: Start the evening with complex carbohydrates-baked potato or corn-as a side dish; choose a choline-rich entree, such as lentil soup or fish; and finish with a low-fat frozen yogurt dessert.

Bedtime Snack: Relax your brain and prepare for a good night's sleep with warm low-fat milk, honey and banana.

Time for a little natural mind styling and a stretch.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

March 30, 2004

Continuous Meaning, Authentic Happiness and Eudaemonia

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Martin Seligman on this month's Edge thoughtfully discusses happiness and the role that his positive psychology movement and neuroceuticals will play in enabling people to live happier lives.

"I spent the first 30 years of my career working on misery. The first thing I worked on was learned helplessness. I found helpless dogs, helpless rats, and helpless people, and I began to ask...how do you break it up? What's the neuroscience of it? What drugs work?...About 25 years ago I began to ask the question, who never gets helpless? That is, who resists collapsing? And the reverse question is, who becomes helpless at the drop of a hat?... I found that optimistic people got depressed at half the rate of pessimistic people..."

"What's missing is the question of whether psychologists can make people lastingly happier. I'm interested in psychological ones, but an obvious question applies to pharmacology — not to take people from -8 to -5, but to take people from +2 to +6. " (read enabling enhancement to learn more about this critical difference)

He then goes onto explain different types of happiness: First, "there is the pleasant life — having as many of the pleasures as you can and the skills to amplify them — and the good life — knowing what your signature strengths are and recrafting everything you do to use them a much as possible. But there's a third form of life, and if you're a bridge player like me, or a stamp collector, you can have eudaemonia; that is, you can be in flow."

"My great ambition for psychology...is that in the next 10 to 15 years we will be able to...claim unblushingly that psychology and psychiatry will have decreased the tonnage of suffering in the world, but also increase the tonnage of happiness in the world.

"What are the "therapeutic" and drug prospects for positive psychology? The answer is probably yes for the pleasant life...There are also recreational drugs — antidepressants don't bring pleasure, but recreational drugs do. I've never taken Ecstasy or cocaine, but I gather that they work on pleasure as well. At any rate, a pharmacology of pleasure is not science fiction, and I expect that as positive psychology matures our drug company friends will get interested in it." (To learn more about the political obstacles to developing safe and effective recreational tools read these two posts: "a call to fund recreational drug development" and "stuck with 4,000 year old tools).

The third form of happiness is meaning...knowing what your highest strengths are and deploying those in the service of something you believe is larger than you are. There's no shortcut to that. That's what life is about. There will likely be a pharmacology of pleasure, and there may be a pharmacology of positive emotion generally, but it's unlikely there'll be an interesting pharmacology of flow. And it's impossible that there'll be a pharmacology of meaning." (Read more of Martin's thoughts in his complete interview)

**As much as I tout the coming advances in neuroceuticals and their potential to improve emotional control, it is critical to realize that neuroceuticals are tools, tools for mental health. Creating a life of meaning and happiness requires using these tools to enable yourself to increase your capacity to continuously strive towards achieving those goals that bring each of you meaning and authentic happiness.**

Martin has raised $30 million in the last few years for the scientific infrastructure of positive psychology. If you have the time, visit his Web site, authentichappiness.org, where you take a variety of happiness and depression tests that will help you understand what type of interventions you might take in your own life to achieve a more meaningful, authentic form of happiness. Something, I know we are all interested in having a bit more of. Lastly, don't forget to take a deep breath right now and remind yourself to enjoy this day, wherever you are.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

March 18, 2004

It's Brain Awareness Week

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Remember, without your brain, you are nothing.

For more information visit Brain Week.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

March 16, 2004

Sex and Your Brain

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Why doesn't Viagra work for women? Today's NYTimes reports on new research that points to ways that men and women's brains differ when they become sexually aroused that may help explain this.

Emory University's Stephan Hamann and his research team had 14 male and 14 female participants view several types of sexual and social interaction images for 30 minutes. Their brain activity was then compared using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a technology that measures neural firing through changes in blood flow. A pattern immediately emerged. The photographs set off a frenzy of brain activity, particularly in the amygdalae of men. Yet the two groups reported equal arousal most of the time.

Other studies have gone further. In a study published last year, researchers in the Netherlands recorded brain activity in men as their female partners brought them to orgasm. The amygdala, the scientists found, showed decreased activity during climax. Other studies have suggested that a larger amygdala may lead to a more robust sex drive.

Others are not so impressed with the research. "Differences between genders are boring," says Dr. Leonore Tiefer. "The big differences are within the sexes, between individuals. It is not the case that every person pays attention to the same thing. It's like everything else in life — eating, dancing, traveling. The whole experience is shaped by your history and by what you're paying attention to."

Note: I apologize if you do not receive this update due to your spam blocking program.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

January 29, 2004

Forbes List of Neurological Drugs to Watch

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Forbes has a nice overview of seven neurological drugs that are in mid to late stage clinical trials:

Multiple sclerosis Late-stage - Antegren - Biogen Idec, Elan
Alzheimer's disease Mid-stage - Clioquinol - Prana Biotech
Alzheimer's disease Mid-stage - CX516 - Cortex Pharma
Depression, urinary incontinence Late-stage - Duloxetine - Lilly
Epilepsy, neuropathic pain, anxiety Late-stage - Pregabalin - Pfizer
Smoking addiction Late-stage - Varenicline - Pfizer

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

January 22, 2004

Acknowledge "Mind Wide Open"

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Steven Johnson's latest book, Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life, has hit the book stores in force. As I mentioned several months ago when I had the opportunity to proof it for him, BUY MIND WIDE OPEN!

To get a sense of what you will get, check out Steven's Brain Waves guest blogs What Were You Thinking? and Attention Please, May We Please Have Your Attention!. Better yet check out his website where he introduces Mind Wide Open.

Speaking of great books, Marginal Revolution has a nice post on the best non-fiction books of the 20th Century. Two books not on any of these lists but should have been are:

1. The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society: A Venture into Social Forecasting (1973) by Daniel Bell. Decades later his prescient analysis of our "post-industrial" society has been used by prominent individuals like Margaret Thatcher, President Clinton and the Unabomber to explain our current world.

2. Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies (1997) by Jared Diamond. Reaching back to the dawn of human civilization, Diamond uses his deep knowledge of historical biogeography to provide a fresh perspective on some very old questions.

Congrats Steven! And for all of you who buy MWO check out the acknowledgements for some familiar names.

Comments (22) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

December 06, 2003

Conscious Opinion

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Medpundit, who practices medicine on the front lines, has some worthy thoughts and links on our quest to understand consciousness on TechCentral. Check it out.

Comments (2) | Category: Mental Health Issues

December 05, 2003

The Edge of China's Mental Health

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Five of the ten leading causes of disability worldwide -- major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, substance abuse and obsessive-compulsive disorders -- are mental issues. These problems are as relevant in developing countries as they are in rich ones. And all predictions point towards a dramatic increase as evidenced by China's soaring demand for psychiatric services (reported by Melinda Lui and Jen Lin-Liu in Shanghai):

"China has only about 14,000 qualified psychiatrists...about the same number as France, with 60 million people—compared to China’s 1.3 billion.... China’s largest psychiatric facility, reports that its outpatient count has doubled in the past two years. Suicide—the leading cause of death for Chinese between the ages of 15 and 34—has reached an alarming pace, double the U.S. rate per capita (and impacts women more than men). Two million Chinese try to kill themselves annually...and China’s 750 or so state-run mental-health institutions can’t keep pace with the rising demand for their services."

As life expectancy continues to increase, mental health expectancy will become increasingly important. Neurotechnology will play a leading role in defining and treating mental disorders in the decades to come as Sam Barondes (Director of the Center for Neurobiology and Psychiatry at UCSF) recently shared with me over lunch and yesterday in an interview with John Brockman titled "New Pills for the Mind."

"The hot new technologies that psychiatric scientists are now using," he says, "include not only genetics but also brain imaging...It will be possible to correlate knowledge about genetic variation with knowledge about how specific brains operate in specific circumstances, as looked at with various kinds of functional magnetic resonance imaging." (Watch Sam's interview on The Edge).

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November 13, 2003

Mind Movement

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Click on the following to witness an amazing illusion, that's real.

NOTE: Click here for an explanation of this illusion - Thanks David

Comments (80) | Category: Mental Health Issues

November 12, 2003

Yes, Your Brain is Very Complex

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Today's pharmacological solutions for mental illnesses fall short because we still don't grasp the true complexity of the human brain. Synesthesia research highlights this point perfectly.

Until fairly recently, many scientists (not Richard Cytowic) believed that the information gathered by each of the senses — touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste — was processed in separate areas of the brain. However, new research from Yale on synesthesia is now revealing that there is a complex interaction between the senses in the brain—an interaction that enables us to understand the world in a unified way.

From Yale: "A common type of synesthesia is “colored-hearing.” People with this condition see specific colors in their “mind’s eye” when they hear words, letters or numbers spoken out loud. For the blind people with colored hearing, the meaning of a word, rather than its sound alone, seems to be important. For example, when the word “March” was used in a sentence to mean a particular month of the year, one volunteer saw a “dark greeny blue” color. But when he heard the same word used as a verb (“The soldiers march across the bridge.”) he did not see a color."

Highlighting the brain's complexity more, Sandra Blakesly in "How Does the Brain Work?" describes the complexity of just the neocortex...."Stretched flat, the human neocortex — the center of our higher mental functions — is about the size and thickness of a formal dinner napkin. With 100 billion cells, each with 1,000 to 10,000 synapses, the neocortex makes roughly 100 trillion connections and contains 300 million feet of wiring packed with other tissue into a one-and-a-half-quart volume in the brain.

She goes on, "But how to put it back together? How to understand something so complex by examining it piecemeal? Even harder, how to integrate the different levels of analysis? Some brain events occur in fractions of milliseconds while others, like long-term memory formation, can take days or weeks. One can study molecules, ion channels, single neurons, functional areas, circuits, oscillations and chemistry."

It is for this reason that the Human Brain Project remains a critical component in helping us understand how all of these different pieces fit together, giving rise to consciousness itself.


Comments (10) | Category: Mental Health Issues

August 04, 2003

Greetings...

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Posted by Steven

By Steven Johnson


Greetings, all. As Zack alluded to below, I've just started to talk publicly a little about my next book, Mind Wide Open, due to be published in early 2004. So the timing for his guest-blog couldn't be more appropriate. Over the next few days I'll talk about some of the book's themes, hopefully tied to whatever is floating around the blogosphere this week.


I thought I'd start with a quick response to something that Pat wrote in one of his typically brilliant posts from last week. He talked about the opposition between the "the old hominid responses: that repetoire of savannah inheritances, tragic and comic, that have become a consoling pop-science myth for so many people" and the "the scary but exciting area of neurosocial innovation," with its "carefully-calibrated drugs open[ing] new doors of perception."

When I read this, it occurred to me that what has interested me about brain science the most over the past few years -- and what forms the cornerstone of this new book -- lies precisely in the middle ground between these two approaches. The evolutionary psychologists explain how our brains are wired, and the neurotechnologists speculate about re-wiring them. My interest is more prosaic, I suppose, but also I think more immediate, and maybe more useful, at least in the short term.

What I'm interested in his how simply understanding your brain's inner life -- both seeing it in action via imaging technologies, and simply learning about brain science in general -- can change the way that you think about yourself as an individual, your own quirks and passions and habits and fears.


So while I'm fascinated by (and have learned an immense amount from) both the "hominid" and the "neurosocial" approach, I'm right now interested in the plasticity that comes from neurologically-informed introspection. What happens to our layperson brains now that we're able to talk about our mental events in a much more direct, non-metaphoric language? Even without those carefully-calibrated drugs, understanding how thinking works will surely change the way we think. The question is: what kind of change is likely?

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July 17, 2003

At What Cost? Curtailing Compulsive Shopping Disorder

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Randall Parker highlights how Stanford researchers are narrowing in on a treatment for Obsessive Shopping Disorder (go read it!).  This is an interesting correlation these researchers have found but as I mentioned in Mind Styling, I, like Derek, am concerned about the unknown long-term health impacts of today's psychopharmaceuticals:



"No one knows the effects of taking an SSRI drug (like Prozac) for twenty-five years. They just haven't been around that long...And the long-term (even the short-term) effects of all the combinations that people are using? No clear idea yet, either. As someone who spent eight years doing CNS drug research, I can tell you that we're not going to be able to even make reasonable guesses. The brain's too complex (it's damn near too complex for CNS drug research to exist at all.)"


So my two cents is users beware and keep shopping at the Stanford Shopping Center.

Comments (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

July 09, 2003

Recognizing Mental Health's Importance

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Retired CNN Chairman Tom Johnson openly discussed his battle with depression recently with an audience of mostly business executives and told them that companies should provide mental health insurance just as they do physical health insurance.


The importance of mental health should be obvious.  Mental health is the ultimate competitive weapon.  Mental health anchors the capacity of employees, managers and executives to think, be creative and be productive.  It's about time that corporations realized that mental health underpins their capacity to innovate and begin to act in their own best interest by supporting the treatment of their employee's mental health.

Comments (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

June 12, 2003

Test Thyself, Know Thyself

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Here are a few tests that have popped up recently that are interesting and fun:


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May 07, 2003

Depression Linked to....Danger

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Google depression linked and these are the results you get. Depression seems to be linked to everything:



  • Depression is linked to cancer, no?
  • Depression is linked to concussions, ouch, really?
  • Depression is linked to early menopause, Parkinson's, facial pain....
  • The list is endless... 

Depression has become a very dangerous term.  It's a catchall phrase like cancer.


Cancer is a word that is used to describe about 110 different diseases caused by the uncontrollable multiplication of cells.  And just like cancer, where multiple genes and pathways are involved in even the most basic forms, a wide range of factors cause depression. 


Don't get me wrong, depression is a very serious mental health issue.  But the lack of further differentiation creates significant misdiagnoses and the prescribing of drugs that don't work.  Anti-depressant effectiveness is 50%, at best.


Accelerating our understanding of mental illnesses requires further developments in neurotechnology. In time, neurotechnology will help define mental illnesses from the bottom up as brain imaging technologies illuminate the neural substrate of disorders.

Comments (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

May 06, 2003

It's Childhood Depression Awareness Day

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Spend a moment to think about the children in your life.  More info.

Comments (1) | Category: Mental Health Issues

May 05, 2003

No More Animal Models of Human Behavior

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Animal models of disease are the cornerstones of medical research, but they are inherently limited in their predictive value of complex human mental behaviors such as mood shifts or cognitive preferences. However, this fact hasn't stopped the scientific community from focusing their finite resources on improving their animal models. 


The current trend, called environmental enrichment (EE), makes the laboratory living environments more complex by outfitting them with objects that stimulate animals' mental and physical growth. The results are relatively obvious:



  • The rats housed in an enriched environment had increased activity of neurotransmitters
  • Brain morphology, an 8% increase in thickness of the cerebral cortex in some studies
  • Increased number of neurons and synapses.
  • Increase in the capillaries that carry nutrients and blood to the brain

Although interesting, this still does little to help us undertand human mental behavior.  It’s still impossible to ask a mouse or even a baboon if it is feeling less depressed or more assertive. 


To understand how new treatments will influence human behavior we will need to study the impacts in humans.  The lack of objective measurement tools to analyze and detect the mental health changes will be bolstered by breakthroughs in brain imaging technology and biochips. It is only with these tools that we will begin to significantly increase our knowledge of human behavior.


Update 5/7: The pharmaceutical industry spends most of it's $30B research budget aimed at central nervous system disorders using our friend, Mus musculus.

Comments (1) | Category: Mental Health Issues

April 29, 2003

In Sedona, Believing is Believing

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Hiking in the warm sun, soaking in a steam room, taking a mountain bike ride or absorbing a deeply therapeutic massage are just a few of the things one can do in Sedona, Arizona.  My wife and I have spent the past few days connecting with Sedona's beauty, reminding us what an incredible rejuvenator, both mentally and physically, the world around us will always be.


"New Agers" travel from across the world to experience Sedona's many "vortex" energy centers. We spent some time hiking around the Boynton Canyon vortex, and regardless of whether or not there is actually any harmonic energy emanating around this physical spot, one thing is for sure, if you believe hard enough that there is, then that may be all that really matters. Because in Sedona, believing really is believing.

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April 17, 2003

Neurotechnology will Define Mental Disorders

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Psychiatric Times has a revealing article this month that is before its time: Dump the DSM. The DSM, short for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is the leading resource used by mental health professionals to define mental illnesses.


In its 50-year history, the DSM has been significantly updated four times--in 1968, in 1980, in 1987, and in 1994.  The diagnoses of mental disorders contained within the DSM are made using specific criteria and are considered as reliable as those for physical medical problems.  The reality is they are not.


The problem with the DSM’s descriptions of mental illnesses is that they are top down.  By this I mean that mental disorders are defined primarily via evaluation of externally observed symptoms through the perception of the practicing psychiatrist against a checklist contained in the DSM.


As information from biochips and brain imaging technology becomes available it will be possible to diagnose mental disorders from the bottom up.  That is, from the precise neural chemical imbalances that actually exist, rather than through externally observed behaviors.  Moreover, neuroceuticals will make it possible to treat those imbalances accurately.


The DSM was a good first step, but soon it will be time to dump the DSM.

Comments (1) | Category: Mental Health Issues

April 14, 2003

General Theories of Love

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Steven Johnson's May Discover article on the neurochemical basis of love declares that there is no love potion no. 9.  Although true today, researchers are making tremendous strides in understanding this ever-powerful emotion.


Citing leading love researchers like the neuroendrocronologistSue Carter and psychologist, Shelley Taylor, he details how the hormone, oxytocin, plays a critical role in creating tight social bonds.  Less than five percent of mammals practice monogamy, but it has been shown that in these mammals (humans included) oxytocin is expressed in much higher concentrations.  For example, oxytocin is released in men and women during sexual orgasm, as well as during lactation.


Oxytocin is only one part of this much more complicated phenomena.   Love is a complex emotion involving all three levels of emotions.  As explained in the recent book, A General Theory of Love, other neurotransmitters like serotonin and opiates also influence bonding while the amount and type of social interaction drive the expression of these proteins and other yet defined neurotransmitters.


Searching for the next level of detail, love researchers are focusing on developing animal models to help understand the neurochemistry of love.  But animal studies can only take us so far, especially given love's social complexity.


Animal models of physical disease have been the cornerstones of medical research, but they are limited in their predictive value of human emotions.  Animal models can point us in the right direction, but to understand human emotions requires studying them in humans


The lack of objective measurement tools to detect the changes in brain chemistries is holding back emotions research.  This reality has placed a high value on the development of new brain imaging technologies that can help us understand how the human brain functions.


As neurotechnology advances and insights into how our evolutionarily defined neural chemistry drives our daily decisions are illuminated there will be interesting insights across the spectrum of social behavior.  Just see how certain economists are already reacting to the oxytocin revelation and the potential implications of future love potions.

Comments (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

April 07, 2003

Fishing Depression Away

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Posted by Zack Lynch

You are what you eat, or perhaps more accurately, you feel what you eat.  Research continues to show that at a specific nutrient contained in fish can help alleviate depression. The nutrient is an omega-3 fatty acid called EPA.


Healthy brains and nerve cells depend on omega-3s because the nervous system is made mostly of fat.  The fats that you eat influence the composition of your brain cells. Unlike many nutrients omega-3 fatty acids are not produced by our bodies.  Fish are an excellent source.


And if you don't like fish, you can also get your fill from walnuts or flaxseed.

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April 01, 2003

What's So Funny?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Last week comedian Ellen Degeneres, asked a packed crowd at Davies Symphony Hall, "How do lazy people work up the motivation to procrastinate?" ...And the crowd broke into hysterical laughter that literally stopped her show.


What is humor and how does laughter make us human?  Steven Johnson tackles this important question in his second of two articles in April's Discover magazine.  One fascinating fact he brings to light comes from the leading humor researcher, Robert Provine, who describes in his recent book Laughter that humans are 30 times more likely to laugh when you are with other people than when you are alone.  So if you didn't laugh at Ellen's joke, try it with a larger group of people. 


Laughter sits on the edge of primary and social emotions, a place where once your tummy is full and you don't have bodily needs, humans, especially the young, will engage in the type of vigorous social engagement that creates humor. 


Some great minds over the ages have engaged the perplexing significance of laughter, including Freud in Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, Darwin in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, and more recently, Jared Diamond in Why is Sex Fun?


Recent neuroscientific research suggests that there might even be dedicated "play" circuitry in the brain equivalent to the more extensively studied fear and love circuits.  Let's hope so, because just as advancing neurotechnology will enable us to down regulate fear it might just provide us with a safe and sane way to up regulate our potential for laughter.  We could all sure use it.


In the meantime, try these outlets: Ellen's Random Thoughts, Laughing Yoga (great combo!), The Humor Project, daily humor emails, international humor blog, or if you really need it...hire a certified laughter leader.


Don't forget to check out the Top 100 April Fool's hoaxes of all time!  It is April 1st after all :)

Comments (1) | Category: Mental Health Issues

March 14, 2003

What About Mental Health Expectancy?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Life expectancy just topped 77 Years in the US.  This should be no surprise.  For over 150 years life expectancy has continued to rise at the steady pace of an additional 3 months per year.


Living physically longer does not mean living in better mental health.  Mental health expectancy is the number of years that an individual can successfully perform mental functions, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships, and the ability to cope with adversity. 


Five of the ten leading causes of disability worldwide (major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, alcohol use and obsessive compulsive disorders) are mental problems. They are as relevant in developing countries as they are in rich ones, and all predictions are that there will be a dramatic increase in mental problems in the coming years.  Developing tools to help solve these problems will be a major focus of neurotechnology.

Comments (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

March 09, 2003

Peanuts Can Decrease Mental Health

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Posted by Zack Lynch

If a fragment of a peanut could kill you, wouldn't you feel a bit traumatized?


For the estimated 1.5 million Americans allergic to peanuts help is on the way.  Immunologists have developed a new drug, TNX-901, that alters an individual's sensitivity to peanuts from a half a peanut to over eight in some patients.  


Peanuts are tough to avoid in daily life as peanut oil is used in everything from gravy to pie crusts. Allergic reactions can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, hives, and breathing problems. Along with reducing these physical ailments, TNX-901, will reduce the mental trauma induced before each meal for peanut allergy sufferers.


Four years ago, the Surgeon General issued its first official report stating that mental health is fundamental to physical well-being.  The truth is that they are inextricably intertwined. 

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Brain Awareness Week: March 10-16

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The Society for Neuroscience is promoting Brain Awareness Week with partnering institutions across the world.  It comes complete with K-12 education materials, an international Brain Bee contest, and even promotional tchotskis.

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