cultivate, express, happiness, hood river midwife, hood river naturopath, journal, mental health, naturopath, write

Keep a One-Sentence Journal, Be Happier

UnknownEver since I can remember, my grandma has kept a daily journal. Not a “Dear Diary,” emotion-filled journal — just a couple of lines jotting down what she did that day and whom she was with. Often, when the family is together, she’ll dig out one of her old journals and tell us what she and various other family members were doing on a random day, in, say, 1994. I’ve always been amazed at how interesting these little moments are in retrospect.So this morning, as I listened to the newest episode of Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier” podcast, I was intrigued to hear her urge her listeners to adopt the habit my grandma has been following for years. Rubin calls it a one-sentence journal, and she herself has kept one for nearly a decade now. On her show, she talked about how she believes that reliving those daily moments has helped make her happier.

There’s even some research backing up Rubin (and my grandma) on this: Last year, Ting Zhang at Harvard Business School published a paper in Psychological Science outlining a series of experiments testing how much people appreciate memories of the day-to-day moments from their lives. She asked people, for example, to write about a recent conversation, and then to rate whether the chat was ordinary or extraordinary; they then guessed how much they’d appreciate reading their written account of the chat in the future.

Seven months later, Zhang contacted participants, asked them to read the memory they’d written down, and then to tell her how much they enjoyed it. Not only did most participants enjoy rediscovering the written record of the months-old conversation more than they’d anticipated, but those who’d written about an ordinary conversation were particularly likely to underestimate how much they’d appreciate reliving the memory.

What seems like an ordinary moment today, in other words, could become a little more special with time. As one participant in Zhang’s study said, “Re-reading this event of doing mundane stuff with my daughter has certainly brightened my day. I’m glad I chose that event to write about because of the incredible joy it gives me at this moment.”

add/adhd, mental health, pediatrics

Can Attention Deficit Drugs ‘Normalize’ a Child’s Brain?

Recent research that says that A.D.H.D. pills like Adderall, above, can “normalize” a child’s brain over time has drawn criticism.

By KATHERINE ELLISON Credit Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times

Recent research says that A.D.H.D. pills like Adderall, can “normalize” a child’s brain over time has drawn criticism. What are your opinions and what has worked for you?  As a naturopathic physician, I believe by balancing neurotransmitters, and discovering the root, initial insult that led to any developmental imbalance is key to finding health.   Where can energies be channeled, how can brain’s truly be ‘normalized’?  Consult your local naturopath or learn more at


The Pleasantville, N.Y., developmental pediatrician won’t allow drug marketers in his office, and says he doesn’t always prescribe medication for children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Yet Dr. Bertin has recently changed the way he talks about medication, offering parents a powerful argument. Recent research, he says, suggests the pills may “normalize” the child’s brain over time, rewiring neural connections so that a child would feel more focused and in control, long after the last pill was taken.

“There might be quite a profound neurological benefit,” he said in an interview.

A growing number of doctors who treat the estimated 6.4 million American children diagnosed with A.D.H.D. are hearing that stimulant medications not only help treat the disorder but may actually be good for their patients’ brains. In an interview last spring with Psych Congress Network, an Internet news site for mental health professionals, Dr. Timothy Wilens, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, said “we have enough data to say they’re actually neuroprotective.” The pills, he said, help “normalize” the function and structure of brains in children with A.D.H.D., so that, “over years, they turn out to look more like non-A.D.H.D. kids.”

Medication is already by far the most common treatment for A.D.H.D., with roughly 4 million American children taking the pills — mostly stimulants, such as amphetamines and methylphenidate. Yet the decision can be anguishing for parents who worry about both short-term and long-term side effects. If the pills can truly produce long-lasting benefits, more parents might be encouraged to start their children on these medications early and continue them for longer.

Leading A.D.H.D. experts, however, warn the jury is still out.

“Sometimes wishful thinking gives us hope that the impressive short-term relative benefits of medication over other treatments will persist beyond childhood, but I haven’t seen it,” said James Swanson, director of the Child Development Center at the University of California at Irvine. Dr. Swanson, a co-author of a landmark federally funded study, the Multimodal Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, said that follow-up research found overall improvement but no greater long-term benefits after three years for children who were treated with medication compared to those who weren’t. One possible reason, as the report noted, was that many children refuse to continue taking medication after a year or so, something most parentsof such children well know.

Research has shown that the brains of people with A.D.H.D. on average look and function differently than those who don’t have the disorder, particularly when it comes to processing two important neurotransmitters: dopamine and norepinephrine. For most people with A.D.H.D., stimulants can temporarily boost focus, motivation and self-control by increasing the availability of these chemical messengers. The question is whether these effects can last once the drugs have left the bloodstream.

In arguing for “normalization,” Dr. Wilens cited a major review in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in late 2013, which looked at 29 brain-scan studies. Although the studies had different methods and goals, the authors said that, together, they suggested that stimulants “are associated with attenuation of abnormalities in brain structure, function, and biochemistry in subjects with A.D.H.D.”

But other A.D.H.D. experts challenge this conclusion. Dr. F. Xavier Castellanos, director of research at the New York University Child Study Center, called assertions that stimulants are neuroprotective “exaggerated,” adding: “The best inference is that there is no evidence of harm from medications – normalization is a possibility, but far from demonstrated.”

A.D.H.D. is an exceptionally controversial diagnosis, with particular controversy zeroing in on researchers, including Dr. Wilens himself and some of the authors of the 2013 report he cited who have received financial support from pharmaceutical firms. In an email, Dr. Wilens said he had not received “any personal income” from the pharmaceutical industry since 2009.

As several experts noted, a major impediment to determining the long-term impacts of A.D.H.D. medication is that a “gold-standard” study would require researchers to assign children randomly to groups that either received medication or didn’t. Such a practice has been deemed unethical due to the widespread belief that the medication can help struggling children, at least in the short-term.

And other research has raised new concerns. One peer-reviewed 2013 study co-authored by Dr. Swanson suggested that the stimulants may change the brain over time so as to undermine the long-term response to the medication and even exacerbate symptoms when people aren’t taking them.

Dr. Peter Jensen, the former associate director of child and adolescent research at the National Institute of Mental Health, cautioned that parents should not try to force children with A.D.H.D. to take medication when they don’t want to, adding that “most kids don’t want to.”

Dr. Jensen, who now heads the REACH Institute, a national nonprofit organization concerned with children’s mental health, once surveyed 100 parents of sons and daughters in their 20s who had been diagnosed with A.D.H.D., asking what made the most difference.

“Eighty percent of them said ‘Love your child. Help him or her advocate for themselves, and find a doc who’ll work with you through thick or thin whether you medicate or not,” Dr. Jensen said. “Only a minority of these parents mentioned medication.”

Katherine Ellison is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent and author and co-author of seven books, including the forthcoming “What Everyone Needs to Know about A.D.H.D.” (Oxford University Press), co-authored with Stephen Hinshaw, Vice-Chair for Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco.

sleep, sunlight, vitamin d, well-being

The Meaning of Light

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 1.59.28 PM

Photographs by Uta Barth

Having trouble sleeping?  Have you been battling insomnia and other health concerns?  This article highlights some of the growing discoveries that are being made regarding the importance of our bodies natural rhythms and finding ways to sync with them.  For further support finding your balance consult with your local naturopath or make a visit today in Hood River with Dr. Katherine Walker.

  Words by Georgia Frances King

The daily rise and fall of the sun is one of the few reliable occurrence in our lives.  Despite this simple cycle controlling the happenings of our planet, we don’t pay much attention to sunlight’s effect on our physical and mental health.  And as some neuroscientists are beginning to discover, harnessing its radiant power could provide phenomenal benefits to our well-being. 

Every day presents us with all kinds of decisions to make about our lifestyles, and there are plenty of self-diagnosis websites, new age books and mothers-in-law ready to indisputably instruct us on the correct choices we should make. In an attempt to better ourselves, we try to obey their mantras: We sleep eight hours a night; we opt for whole grains instead of white flour; we drag our reluctant bodies on a quick jog; we choose not to open the second bottle of cabernet. But what if there was a more vital factor affecting our health? One that predates gluten alternatives and spin classes?

For the past few billion years, the sun has reliably risen every morning and set every evening. Our bodies have therefore come to expect its daily spiral through the sky, and most of our biological systems work on the assumption that we’ll follow along with its sunlight-based sequence. But now instead of waking with dawn, we have snooze buttons. Instead of dozing at dusk, we have Netflix.

Sunlight plays an intrinsic role in our lives and has a profound effect on the way we think and how our bodies function. Through its role guiding our circadian rhythms—the internal clocks that keep us regulated—sunlight can control everything from our sleeping habits to our wintertime melted cheese cravings. Regardless of the thought we put toward our well-being, it’s becoming apparent that the sun could actually be the ironically inconspicuous guru we should be following.

Despite the sun’s omnipresent nature, the effects of light on our mental and physical health are only just beginning to be examined. Two people who are working together to pioneer this exploration are an artist and a neuroscientist: Stephen Auger, a Santa Fe–based artist with an academic background in neuroscience who works at the intersection of science and art, and Dr. Benjamin Smarr, a doctor of neurobiology at UC Berkeley whose studies focus on the long-term effects of circadian rhythms on our physical and mental health. “A lot of people haven’t heard of light’s importance as ‘a thing,’ even though it seems very intuitive once you hear about it,” Benjamin says. “I’d love to see much more attention paid to it. It’s of absolutely central importance.”

But how did we lose our connection to sunlight in the first place? Were we complicit in our demise into dimness? When Thomas Edison popularized the lightbulb some 135 years ago, he was unwittingly ending our close relationship with natural light. “The part of our DNA that responds to light is so primal,” Stephen says. “It existed when we were a one-celled organism in the primordial ooze long before we became a human species.” But now, thanks to the humble lightbulb, we can work graveyard shifts and salsa until dawn. As Stephen puts it, “We’ve objectified light.” Convenience glowed brighter than our biological clocks, and we’ve been slowly letting them fall out of sync ever since.

In order to fathom light’s consequence on our well-being, we first need to understand circadian rhythms. Our bodies are hungry for sunlight and have come to trust it to tell us when we should eat, socialize and sleep. “Your circadian rhythm is the body’s anticipation of the 24-hour cycle of sunlight and darkness,” Benjamin explains. “The sun has arced through the sky every 24 hours for all of life, so life forms have evolved to assume it’s not just going to suddenly stop.”

“Every single cell in your body has a clock that’s trying to guess what time of day it is to get ahead of the game,” he continues. “If my body knows that I get up and eat breakfast at 8 a.m. every day, then my liver, stomach and pancreas don’t have to wait until there’s food in my stomach to go, ‘Oh shoot! We should be doing something about that.’” However, this preemptive response is only effective if we maintain a consistent routine based on the sun’s movement—one that isn’t influenced by impromptu midnight movie screenings and urgent deadlines. Technology and our desire to mingle have muted our biological reasoning, meaning our circadian rhythms’ pleas for predictable schedules are often ignored. “People are generally dissociated with their connection to the environment,” Stephen says. “And I wouldn’t be the only person to say that a great deal of that has to do with light.”

Thanks to everything from caffeine to night shifts, it’s pretty easy to confuse our bodies’ internal clocks, and this is especially common on the weekends. After five days of creating a semistructured morning routine, sometimes Saturday sleep-ins can leave us more tired than 6 a.m. starts. That feeling has a name: social jet lag. “It’s a real thing and has a real effect, as your body is dumbly anticipating you’ll get up at the same time as you did yesterday, because that’s how it worked for the past four billion years,” Benjamin says. This is also why Mondays can be such a drag—after two days of sleeping in, suddenly setting the alarm for dawn can shock our systems. “Your body’s network has no mechanism to deal with alarm clocks or wanting to stay up to watch a movie,” Benjamin says.

The act of taking care of ourselves via an awareness of sunlight’s patterns is part of what Stephen and Benjamin call “sensory well-being.” In addition to the other life choices we make to benefit our health, “Light is another piece of that puzzle we can now add to our lifestyles that’s going to make a huge difference,” Stephen says.

Improving our relationship with the sun could help both our personal well-being and society overall: If we learn how to look after ourselves through environmental adjustments, we’d free up the medical profession to concentrate on bigger problems. “Doctors shouldn’t have to focus on the maintenance work—you wouldn’t take your car to the mechanic every time it runs out of gas, right? That’s a part of your daily maintenance,” Benjamin explains. “But right now we don’t really know a lot about how to maintain our bodies. And because we lack that maintenance, we therefore run into problems and need to go to the mechanic more often, which becomes a burden on the mechanics.” By synchronizing ourselves with the sunlight’s quirks, we may be able to help tune ourselves up the natural way.

Here are some quick ways to fine-tune your light-related habits:

Set a routine
In order for our bodies to operate smoothly, all of our organs and systems are dependent on their clocks being wound to the same time. “They’re not all able to look at each other’s wristwatches though,” Benjamin says. “You have to give them a routine to let them line up and coordinate.” Getting up and going to bed at the same time every day allows our bodies to sync to a schedule, and we’d benefit even more by regulating the timing of meals too, like making oatmeal at the same time each morning.

Sleep with a mask
Sleeping eight hours per night is beneficial, but not if our bodies think it’s daytime. Switching on the bathroom light or checking emails in a bout of insomnia might not be the biggest problem: The most disruptive factor may be ambient light pollution drifting in through the curtains. “Most bedrooms aren’t well blacked-out, which often leaves them light enough that your brain registers the light all night long—especially in cities,” Benjamin says. “Something as simple as wearing a sleeping mask can have a profound effect.”

Observe dawn and dusk
While a lot is left to discover, it’s beginning to appear that these times might be the most important parts of the day to be out and about: The light quality is changing rapidly and the direction of that change serves as a biological cue for whether it’s early or late, thereby orienting our cells to wake up or wind down. “The subtle movement of light is an absolutely essential component to orient us to our circadian rhythms,” Stephen says. This could be as simple as getting up 20 minutes earlier to walk the dog at dawn or having an excuse to snack on charcuterie while watching the sunset.

Get some real rays
They say that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but they should throw open a window: Just like sunscreen helpfully blocks our skin from certain harmful light frequencies, the glass in windows deflects some other frequencies our bodies need to trigger biological responses. It’s helpful that we don’t burn while sitting in a sunlit office all day, but the fact we don’t scorch is a clue that we’re not getting all that the sun has to offer. It’s best to bask during the times of day when dangerous ultraviolet wavelengths are less prevalent, such as the first and last couple hours of sunlight. “My doctor tells me I should lie out in the sun completely buck naked for 20 minutes a day. And I’m like, ‘I like that doctor!’ ” Stephen says, laughing. In order to trigger vitamin D production, direct sunlight needs to shine on our bare, unprotected skin.

Circadian rhythms aside, vitamin D can also play a vital role in our sensory well-being. Our bodies naturally produce this small molecule when our skin absorbs certain helpful frequencies of ultraviolet light, causing a whole series of enzymatic responses in our cellular structure that help support a healthy immune system and balance our mood. Without its presence in our bodies, our defenses to nasty bugs weaken and our happiness also seems to nosedive.

So why natural light, and not just more lightbulbs? It’s all to do with wavelengths: Just as we think of rainbows as color spectrums from violet to red, the same can be described in light wavelengths. The sun gives off white light made of all the wavelengths combined, but lightbulbs only give off a few (think of how a crystal swinging on someone’s porch produces a rainbow when hit at the right angle, or Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album cover). Different wavelengths have different energies, so depending on the height of the sun in the sky, the rays that hit earth have different intensities—that’s why it’s a lot harder to get sunburned at 9 a.m. than at high noon. These wavelengths and intensities also have different effects on our bodies, from the tumor-causing overdoses of ultraviolet rays to the more positive ones that stimulate vitamin D production.

Experts are still trying to understand the complicated role vitamin D plays in our well-being, and mixed messages abound: A medical professional might tell us to wear 50+ sunscreen to protect us from cancer-triggering ultraviolet light and in the same breath instruct us to sit unprotected in the sun to kindle vitamin D production. “I don’t want people to think if they hose themselves with vitamin D that all of their problems will be solved,” Benjamin says. “It’s one piece in a complex system that we’re still understanding.” Now that many of us spend our days within enclosed walls instead of outside in the wild, vitamin D deficiency has become fairly common. This is especially true in the winter when there are fewer sunlit hours in the day and therefore even less time to absorb the correct wavelengths we need to stimulate its production.

In the darker months, the combination of vitamin D deficiency and our disrupted circadian rhythms play a crucial part in Seasonal Affective Disorder, a.k.a. the aptly acronym-ed SAD. While some still consider this condition an imaginary excuse for not getting out of bed when it’s dark, it is an actual emotional disorder brought on by chemical reactions in your body. It’s often defined as when the natural traits that typify winter—the extra sleeping, the extra eating, the lack of desire to get out of the house and be social—are involuntarily taken to excess, which interferes with our ability to operate at our optimal level of mental health.

Our bodies anticipate seasons just like they do 24-hour days, so short instances of this stoic existence are a perfectly standard response to winter’s lower light levels and dipping temperatures. For example, we’re legitimately wired to crave carbs and fatty substances during the time leading up to the cold season to help us put on a nice layer of natural insulation—an evolved excuse for baking a second batch of mac and cheese. Except that where this was once a biological reaction that preempted a lack of winter produce, we now have all the food we hanker for available to us to consume year round.

“Historically it was great that my body craved cheese in October in anticipation of a cold snap,” Benjamin says. “But here I am in Berkeley, in summer, where I can go out and spend a hundred dollars on cheddar and wolf it down, but that’s probably not what my body intended.” This is another example of how we’ve lost touch with what our bodies are geared to crave, and cues from sunlight might be one of the best natural ways to resolidify those missed connections.

The best ways to ward off the winter blues and be kind to your sensory well-being are the same year round: Set a routine to keep your circadian rhythms ticking, try to be outside with your skin exposed during daylight hours for as long as your frosty epidermis can bear it, and don’t always reach for the wheel of Brie when the slightest cheese craving gurgles within you (only give in on some days).

But often the people most affected by SAD live in areas where they don’t have the choice to bask in the sun, even if they wanted to. For the residents of the world’s northernmost communities who don’t experience a sunrise for months during winter, or night-shift workers who have to be awake during nocturnal hours, no amount of positivity and goodwill can tilt the earth on its axis to grab some more rays. Without normal hours of natural light, how can these populations possibly set any semblance of a steady circadian rhythm or produce enough vitamin D to stay healthy?

That’s where artificial light starts to shine. Through a project that fuses art with science, Stephen has helped create an artificial light with the ability to replicate the movement of specific wavelengths of sunlight, potentially opening up a whole can of glowing worms for light-starved people around the world.

The technology was invented as part of The Twilight Array, an art exhibition that will take place at Gary Snyder Gallery in New York City this winter. For this project, Stephen collaborated with many esteemed experts (including neurobiologist Dr. Margaret Livingstone, founder of the Livingstone Lab at Harvard University and author of Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing) to create a series of works that explore the subtleties of twilight perception. His paintings will be illuminated by a light that replicates the movement and wavelengths of twilight, sending the viewer’s mind into an entirely simulated biological state akin to watching a sunset. “Something really critical in my work is engaging someone’s sense of wonder, and we have that when we’re looking at a sunset or sunrise,” he says. The interplay of his canvases and the specialized light will allow him to emulate what your body feels when watching a Tahitian sunset while standing in a windowless gallery high above the streets of Manhattan.

Working with a series of optical engineers, Stephen and Benjamin have developed a highly sensitive dimmer that can artificially imitate multitude wavelengths and the changes in sunlight’s movement. Instead of walking into a room and flipping a simple on/off switch, owners of the dimmer will be able to download many different light sequences so they can have a romantic twilit dinner in a Moroccan dusk or wake up to the same wavelengths seen in the Scottish Isles. His team is currently measuring the light wavelengths around the world everywhere from Alberta, Canada, to Tasmania, Australia.

Aside from the romanticism of your body thinking it’s waking up in the foothills of Nepal or the Italian Riviera, this artificial lamp could also be used to benefit those who don’t have the privilege of experiencing a normal pattern of sunlight. “If you work until 3 a.m. and wake up at 10 a.m., there’s no reason why you can’t push your circadian rhythm back and program a dawn sequence for 9 a.m. and then turn your twilight mode on at 11 p.m.,” Stephen explains. The same could be said for northern populations who never see the sun at all: By regulating their circadian rhythms and stimulating vitamin D production with these lights, it might help stave off SAD.

“It’s absolutely the case that sunlight can be mimicked with the right technology; it’s just that it hasn’t been up until now. Our grandchildren are going to say, ‘What do you mean the lights were either on or off? That’s crazy!’ ” Benjamin says, laughing. “Once the technology is in place to control your light environment, it’s going to be huge. It’s such a fundamental quality of life issue that it’s impossible to imagine a future where it’s not part of the technological milieu.”

As it turns out, our eyes don’t really mind if light comes from a halogen lamp or the sun, as long as it provides them with the wavelengths they want, when they want. “If you’re able to replicate a light spectrum, physiologically there will be no difference between the experience of that in nature or in a space with an artificial light source,” Stephen says.

Stephen is by no means suggesting that we can have a happy lifestyle sitting in a room with a lamp that mimics light curves, but artificial lights could help us in times when nature’s benefits aren’t easily accessible. “I’m humbled by our innate relationship to nature, so I’ve always been suspicious of a technology claiming to replace the magnificence that nature provides,” he says. “It took me some time to stop romanticizing, but I’ve begun to demystify light and look at it empirically: It’s a spectrum, it’s a curve.” The dimmer may be artificial, but it can bring us back to a baseline from which we can build a healthy emotional and physical state.

The irony of the artificial-versus-real-light dichotomy lies in the fact that we’ve become so hooked on the freedoms technology has afforded us that we might also need to use technology to set us right again. While it would be idealistic to suggest that we live by the light like we did for eons, rising and retiring with twilight and eating our granola at the same time every morning for the rest of eternity, what kind of existence would that be? Like most things in life, employing a little give and take will often lead us to optimal gratification (and will certainly be easier to uphold). Inventions such as Stephen’s may allow us to reap sunlight’s health benefits while still taking advantage of the joys that contemporary society allows us. We’re never going to beat our bodies’ yearning for routine and sunlight, but we can learn to work with them instead of against them. “We have trouble enough accepting that we turn into our parents, right?” Benjamin explains. “With circadian biology, we have four billion years of ancestry that we have to come to terms with.”

The most important factor to consider when it comes to sensory well-being is figuring out what works best for you. Whether it’s sleeping with a mask to help all your body’s clocks align or programming an artificial dimmer to simulate a 6 a.m. dawn sequence in the depths of winter, even the act of being conscious about sunlight is a step in the right direction. As time goes on and the sun continues to rise and set every day until it flickers out, humans will continue to learn how to have a better relationship with it. There is still so much to discover, but at least we’re beginning to see the light.

emotions, mental health

3 Reasons Why It’s Healthy to Cry

Very interesting article by Dr. Deanna Minich about how honest emotional expression is beneficial! With research to back it up!3-Reasons-Why-Its-Healthy-to-Cry

Some may perceive crying as a sign of weakness, a submission to our emotions. As children many of us may have heard, “You’d better stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” At times, crying may be considered inappropriate or make those around you feel uncomfortable. Because of this we may hold back. Others may have learned to freely express their feelings and see crying as a necessary emotional release that makes them feel better. Regardless of frequency and appropriateness, we often cry from overwhelm. Whether the emotion is joyful or painful, our bodies cannot contain it and so incites the flow of tears.

Catharsis and Social Connection.

Crying is associated with a variety of emotions including grief, despair, frustration, helplessness, happiness, anger, and empathy. One research study examined how tears are important in “affective communication,” a process of expression that is important in the development and maintenance of social relationships (1).

We may more deeply connect with those around us when we shed tears with them. Crying has also been shown to be very cathartic with psychological and therapeutic benefits as it can elicit empathy and social supportiveness from others (2). Crying has been shown to have many stress relieving and mood enhancing benefits (3).

Reducing Inflammation. 

Biologically, crying has been shown to “blow off steam,” allowing for the release of stored up energy and emotions that may do damage if contained for too long (4). Inflammatory cytokines are released in tears and those who cry are able to better manage psychological stress (5). One research study showed that people with autoimmune disease who regularly cry have reduced symptoms of their diseases (6). “Those with better control over rheumatoid arthritis were more easily moved to tears…suppressing the influence of stress and therefore the buildup” (7).

Emotional expression extends life expectancy.

In general, those who express their emotions tend to live longer. When emotional suppression builds up, it can cause an increased risk of premature death, including death from cancer (8). Additionally, when we suppress our emotions, we can create “walls” between ourselves and those around us (9). This can cause strain on our interpersonal relationships because after all, emotional suppression is essentially being inauthentic and dishonest about how we feel. Over the long-term this can often lead to negative thought patterns and feelings of alienation and isolation (10). Several research studies have shown that those with stronger interpersonal bonds have longer life expectancies.

The next time you are feeling overwhelmed by emotions – whether positive or negative – don’t fervently try to hold them back. Consider listening to what your body needs and honoring the feelings that are coming forth. Allowing the free flow of tears may be just what your mind and body need for optimal health.


How Exercise May Protect Against Depression


well_physed-tmagArticleExercise may help to safeguard the mind against depression through previously unknown effects on working muscles, according to a new study involving mice. The findings may have broad implications for anyone whose stress levels threaten to become emotionally overwhelming.

Mental health experts have long been aware that even mild, repeated stress can contribute to the development of depression and other mood disorders in animals and people.

Scientists have also known that exercise seems to cushion against depression. Working out somehow makes people and animals emotionally resilient, studies have shown.

But precisely how exercise, a physical activity, can lessen someone’s risk for depression, a mood state, has been mysterious.

So for the new study, which was published last week in Cell, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm delved into the brains and behavior of mice in an intricate and novel fashion.

Mouse emotions are, of course, opaque to us. We can’t ask mice if they are feeling cheerful or full of woe. Instead, researchers have delineated certain behaviors that indicate depression in mice. If animals lose weight, stop seeking out a sugar solution when it’s available — because, presumably, they no longer experience normal pleasures — or give up trying to escape from a cold-water maze and just freeze in place, they are categorized as depressed.

And in the new experiment, after five weeks of frequent but intermittent, low-level stress, such as being restrained or lightly shocked, mice displayed exactly those behaviors. They became depressed.

The scientists could then have tested whether exercise blunts the risk of developing depression after stress by having mice run first. But, frankly, from earlier research, they knew it would. They wanted to parse how.

So they bred pre-exercised mice.

A wealth of earlier research by these scientists and others had shown that aerobic exercise, in both mice and people, increases the production within muscles of an enzyme called PGC-1alpha. In particular, exercise raises levels of a specific subtype of the enzyme known unimaginatively as PGC-1alpha1. The Karolinska scientists suspected that this enzyme somehow creates conditions within the body that protect the brain against depression.

But to determine if that theory was true, they had to isolate the PGC-1alpha1 from all the other substances pumped out by the muscles during and after exercise. So they created mice that, even without exercising, were awash in high levels of PGC-1alpha1. Their muscles produced lots of it, even when they were lazing around.

The scientists then exposed these animals to five weeks of mild stress. The mice responded with slight symptoms of worry. They lost weight. But they did not develop full-blown rodent depression. They continued to seek out sugar and fought to get out of the cold-water maze. Their high levels of PGC-1alpha1 appeared to render them depression-resistant.

But the scientists knew that the PGC-1alpha1 was almost certainly not directly protecting the animals’ brains. It doesn’t work that way, acting directly on cells. Rather it is what’s known as a promoter, sparking activity in genes, which in turn express proteins that then affect various physiological processes throughout the body.

So the scientists looked for which processes were being most notably intensified in their PGC-1alpha1-rich mice. They found one in particular, involving a substance called kynurenine that accumulates in human and animal bloodstreams after stress. Kynurenine can pass the blood-brain barrier and, in animal studies, has been shown to cause damaging inflammation in the brain, leading, it is thought, to depression.

But in the mice with high levels of PGC-1alpha1, the kynurenine produced by stress was set upon almost immediately by another protein expressed in response to signals from the PGC-1alpha1. This protein changed the kynurenine, breaking it into its component parts, which, interestingly, could not pass the blood-brain barrier. In effect, the extra PGC-1alpha1 had called up guards that defused the threat to the animals’ brains and mood from frequent stress.

Finally, to ensure that these findings are relevant to people, the researchers had a group of adult volunteers complete three weeks of frequent endurance training, consisting of 40 to 50 minutes of moderate cycling or jogging. The scientists conducted muscle biopsies before and after the program and found that by the end of the three weeks, the volunteers’ muscle cells contained substantially more PGC-1alpha1 and the substance that breaks down kynurenine than at the study’s start.

The upshot of these results, in the simplest terms, is that “you reduce the risk of getting depression when you exercise,” said Maria Lindskog, a researcher in the department of neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute and a study co-author.

Whether the same biochemical processes likewise combat depression that already exists is less certain, said Jorge Ruas, a principal investigator at the Karolinska Institute and the study’s senior author. But he is hopeful. “We think that this mechanism would be efficient if activated after depression has begun,” he said. He and his colleagues hoped to test that possibility in mice soon.

In the meantime, if work and other pressures mount, it may be a good idea to go for a jog. It may just keep your kynurenine in check.