You comfort them over a skinned knee in the playground, and coax them to sleep with a soothing lullaby. But being a nurturing mother is not just about emotional care – it pays dividends by determining the size of your child’s brain, scientists say.
Shocking: According to neurologists the sizeable difference between these two brains has one primary cause – the way were treated by their mothers.
Both of these images are brain scans of two three-year-old children, but the brain on the left is considerably larger, has fewer spots and less dark areas, compared to the one on the right.
According to neurologists this sizeable difference has one primary cause – the way each child was treated by their mothers.
But the child with the shrunken brain was the victim of severe neglect and abuse.
Babies’ brains grow and develop as they interact with their environment and learn how to function within it.
When babies’ cries bring food or comfort, they are strengthening the neuronal pathways that help them learn how to get their needs met, both physically and emotionally. But babies who do not get responses to their cries, and babies whose cries are met with abuse, learn different lessons.
The neuronal pathways that are developed and strengthened under negative conditions prepare children to cope in that negative environment, and their ability to respond to nurturing and kindness may be impaired.
According to research reportedby the newspaper, the brain on the right in the image above worryingly lacks some of the most fundamental areas present in the image on the left.
The consequences of these deficits are pronounced – the child on the left with the larger brain will be more intelligent and more likely to develop the social ability to empathize with others.
This type of severe, global neglect can have devastating consequences. The extreme lack of stimulation may result in fewer neuronal pathways available for learning.
The lack of opportunity to form an attachment with a nurturing caregiver during infancy may mean that some of these children will always have difficulties forming meaningful relationships with others. But studies have also found that time played a factor – children who were adopted as young infants have shown more recovery than children who were adopted as toddlers.
But in contrast, the child with the shrunken brain will be more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crimes, much more likely to be unemployed and to be dependent on state benefits.
The child is also more likely to develop mental and other serious health problems.
Some of the specific long-term effects of abuse and neglect on the developing brain can include:
Diminished growth in the left hemisphere, which may increase the risk for depression
Irritability in the limbic system, setting the stage for the emergence of panic disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder
Smaller growth in the hippocampus and limbic abnormalities, which can increase the risk for dissociative disorders and memory impairments
Impairment in the connection between the two brain hemispheres, which has been linked to symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
Professor Allan Schore, of UCLA, told The Sunday Telegraph that if a baby is not treated properly in the first two years of life, it can have a fundamental impact on development.
He pointed out that the genes for several aspects of brain function, including intelligence, cannot function.
And sadly there is a chance they may never develop and come into existence.
These has concerning implications for neglected children that are taken into care past the age of two.
It also seems that the more severe the mother’s neglect, the more pronounced the damage can be.
The images also have worrying consequences for the childhood neglect cycle – often parents who, because their parents neglected them, do not have fully developed brains, neglect their own children in a similar way.
But research in the U.S. has shown the cycle can be successfully broken if early intervention is staged and families are supported.
The study correlates with research released earlier this year that found that children who are given love and affection from their mothers early in life are smarter with a better ability to learn.
The experiences of infancy and early childhood provide the organizing framework for the expression of children’s intelligence, emotions, and personalities.
When those experiences are primarily negative, children may develop emotional, behavioral, and learning problems that persist throughout their lifetime, especially in the absence of targeted interventions.
The study by child psychiatrists and neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, found school-aged children whose mothers nurtured them early in life have brains with a larger hippocampus, a key structure important to learning, memory and response to stress.
The research was the first to show that changes in this critical region of children’s brain anatomy are linked to a mother’s nurturing, Neurosciencenews.com reports.
The research is published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.
Lead author Joan L. Luby, MD, professor of child psychiatry, said the study reinforces how important nurturing parents are to a child’s development.
There are two types of people: huggers and non-huggers. Some people just don’t enjoy hugging. These are the people who feel a little uncomfortable when you try to hug them. Other people love it when you hug them and will show their appreciation, happiness or excitement. These are the ones who will give a giant bear hug to people they love.
There are two types of people: huggers and non-huggers. Some people just aren’t the cuddly type. They’re probably the ones who shy away a little bit when you go in for a hug. Others love to show their appreciation, happiness or excitement by hugging those they care about. They are the ones who give those giant bear hugs that you either love, or are a bit afraid of, depending on your hugging preference.
Regardless of how you feel about hugging, the reality is that hugging can convey a message that words often can’t. It helps to create a special bond between two people and can allow the sharing of joy together.
When two people hug each other, it creates a series of health benefits for each person. The health benefits may help convince non-huggers to change their mind about hugging.
1. Hugging forms a bond
According to Psychology Today, hugging releases oxytocin from the brain which causes huggers to bond. This hormone is associated with feelings of contentment and relaxation.
2. Hugging relaxes the body
While a hug may begin quite firmly, most huggers relax their bodies and fall into each other during a hug. This creates a very relaxing effect for huggers, having therapeutic benefits.
3. Hugging can relieve pain
The release of endorphins relieves pain by blocking pain pathways in the brain. It can also help to soothe aching by increasing circulation to soft tissues.
So if you’re feeling some pain, hug someone!
4. Hugging increases understanding
A passionate hug creates an exchange of feelings between two people, and produces feelings of understanding and empathy. This comes from the release of oxytocin which is often referred to as the love hormone.
5. Hugging relieves depression
Dopamine levels in your brain are increased when hugging. This helps to boost your mood. Low dopamine levels are associated with depression, self-doubt and lack of enthusiasm. Oxytocin being released also plays a part in relieving depression.
The stress hormone known as cortisol is reduced when hugging. Lower levels of cortisol helps to relax the body and calm the mind, as found by a study suggesting hugs showed a positive correlation with higher relaxation levels.
8. Hugging boosts the immune system
People who hug frequently receive more social support and have less symptoms of illnesses, according to a study.
9. Hugging reduces worry
Hugs and touch reduce worry, according to a study published in Psychological Science. Researchers found that even hugging an inanimate object such as a teddy bear has a positive effect.
10. Hugging improves heart health
A study found that participants who didn’t have physical contact with their partners developed a quickened heart rate by ten beats per minute. Having a slower and stable heart rate helps to decrease blood pressure and lower the chance of heart problems.
Stress is something all of us face in our daily lives. What if we told you were was an ancient Japanese technique for reducing your stress levels within 2-5 minutes?
This is what we’re about to share with you.
It gets better:
You only need both of your hands to carry it out.
Ancient healing systems have the answer
Many ancient healing systems have shared beliefs about the energy of the body being important for curing illness. Hindu, Asian, Greek, Native American, Tibetan, Zen and Mediterranean healing wisdom all share the belief in a life energy force that we need to balance and harmonize for well-being.
This ancient Japanese technique employs a similar technique using acupressure points. This method that we will describe today is easier, shorter, and can be just as effective in only 2-5 minutes at a time.
They found that the nurses in the study had “significant increases in positive outlook, gratitude, motivation, calmness, and communication effectiveness and significant decreases in anger, resentfulness, depression, stress symptoms, time pressure, and morale issues. Nurses reported less muscle aches, sleeplessness, and headaches.”
Researchers also found “significant increases in nurses’ caring efficacy in areas of serenity in giving care, tuning in to patients, relating to patients, providing culturally congruent care, individualization of patient care, ability to decrease stressful situations, planning for multiple needs, and creativity in care.”
How to perform this technique on yourself
Eeach of the fingers in our hand represents a different kind of emotion or feeling.
The Thumb helps fend off emotions like worry and anxiety.
The Indexfinger helps you fight your fears.
The Middle finger helps control feelings of rage and bitterness.
The Ring finger aids in fighting melancholy and depression.
The Pinky helps relieve stress and boosts your optimism and self-esteem.
Your goal is to balance all the opposing energy forces in your body. Start by taking one finger at a time, grasping it with the opposite hand and wrapping every finger around it.
Hold each finger for one to two fingers. Wait until you feel the pulse. This is when you know it’s working.
To aid in relaxation, apply slight pressure to the center of your palm with your opposite thumb and hold for at least one minute.
If you practice this technique every day, your spirit becomes balanced, enabling you to deal with stress much more effectively.
To see these steps in action, check out the following video.
One of the major impacts of the Internet is the widespread availability of porn. It’s incredibly easy to stream it for free, yet according to a Harvard scientist it may be doing damage to your health.
Kevin Majeres is a psychiatrist specializing in cognitive-behavioral therapy and is a faculty member of Harvard Medical School.
Writing in a blog post, Majeres breaks down how the brain works and what happens during repeated exposure to pornography.
He explains it in such logical terms that you’ll probably think again before succumbing to the temptation of watching porn.
Majeres begins with the mating patterns discovered in rats:
“Scientists have discovered that if you place a male rat in a cage with a receptive female, they will mate; but once done, the male rat will not mate more times, even if the female is still receptive. He loses all sexual interest. But if, right after he finishes with the first female, you put in a second receptive female, he will immediately mate again; and again a third, and so on, until he nearly dies. This effect has been found in every animal studied. This is called the Coolidge effect.”
Pornography’s power comes from the way it tricks the man’s lower brain. One of the drawbacks of this region is that it can’t tell the difference between an image and reality. The same processes are kicked off.
The problem with pornography is that it offers men an unlimited number of supposedly willing females. Every time the man sees a new potential partner, even if on a computer screen, it gets his sex driving going again.
Here’s what Majeres has to say about the role of dopamine in this process:
“Dopamine is the drug of desire – when you see something desirable, your brain pours out dopamine, saying “Go for it! Do whatever it takes!” Dopamine fixes your attention on that desirable object, giving you your power of concentration…
“So when someone clicks and sees a new pornographic image, his lower brain thinks this is the real thing, this is the lady he must win over with all his might, and so he gets an enormous dopamine flood in his upper brain, causing a wild amount of electrical energy.
“This first exposure to a new female who is a potential mate wasn’t something that happened a lot to our ancestors; maybe only once in their lives; so the brain thinks this is a big deal. It doesn’t know that now the game has completely changed: it doesn’t understand that these are virtual females only; so with each new one it causes another flood of dopamine, time after time, click after click, as long as he continues. It’s a dopamine binge.”
“This is why pornography causes a vicious circle. When someone views pornography, he gets overstimulated by dopamine; so his brain destroys some dopamine receptors. This makes him feel depleted, so he goes back to pornography, but, having fewer dopamine receptors, this time it requires more to get the same dopamine thrill; but this causes his brain to destroy more receptors; so he feels an even greater need for pornography to stimulate him.
“So as guys keep gaming the dopamine system, they start to find that they have to use pornography for longer and longer periods to have the same effect, and they have to visit more and more sites.”
But even more porn sites eventually don’t cut it. What then?
“You have to stimulate another emotion: fear or disgust or shock or surprise. For porn use, you need to start moving to kinkier things, things that make you afraid or make you feel a bit sick; and so you start experimenting with various perversions.”
It’s worth reading Majeres’ article in full. The science may yet be unclear on the physical side effects of porn, but he makes a strong case, at the very least, that pornography is 1) highly addictive 2) harmful to relationships.
Regardless of what you think of porn from the moral perspective, the fact that it’s so addictive should provide cause for rethinking the role of porn in your life.
Everybody likes a good alcoholic beverage every now and again, but you may want to rethink your nightly cocktail. Alcohol might do more harm than it does anything, specifically to your brain.
Study after study suggests that alcohol in moderation may promote heart health and even ward off diabetes and dementia. The evidence is so plentiful that some experts consider moderate drinking about one drink a day for women, about two for men saying it’s a central component of a healthy lifestyle.
But what if it’s all a big mistake?
For some scientists, the question will not go away. No study, these critics say, has ever proved a causal relationship between moderate drinking and lower risk of death only that the two often go together. It may be that moderate drinking is just something healthy people tend to do, not something that makes people healthy.
“The moderate drinkers tend to do everything right — they exercise, they don’t smoke, they eat right and they drink moderately,” said Kaye Middleton Fillmore, a retired sociologist from the University of California, San Francisco, who has criticized the research. “It’s very hard to disentangle all of that, and that’s a real problem.”
How alcohol damages your brain?
In one study, eight men and seven women drank alcohol through a straw while lying in an MRI scanner, presumably not all together, to see what would happen. It went to their heads. Quickly, the researchers say.
Only 6 minutes after consuming an amount of alcohol equivalent to three beers leading to a blood alcohol level of 0.05 to 0.06 percent, which impairs driving ability changes had already taken place in the brain cells.
For one thing, the brain begins to run on the sugar in alcohol instead of using glucose, the normal brain food.
“Our study provides evidence for alternative energy utilization upon alcohol ingestion,” said researcher Armin Biller at Heidelberg University Hospital “The brain uses an alcohol breakdown product instead of glucose for energy demands.”
The concentration of substances such as creatine (energy metabolism), which protect brain cells, decreases as the concentration of alcohol increases. Choline, a component of cell membranes, was also reduced.
“That probably indicates that alcohol triggers changes in the composition of cell membranes,” Biller said.
How to REALLY Boost Your Brain Health
Exercise encourages your brain to work at optimum capacity by causing nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage. During exercise nerve cells release proteins known as neurotrophic factors. One in particular, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health, and directly benefits cognitive functions, including learning. Further, exercise provides protective effects to your brain through:
– The production of nerve-protecting compounds
– Greater blood flow to your brain
– Improved development and survival of neurons
– Decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke
A 2010 study on primates published in Neurosciencei also revealed that regular exercise not only improved blood flow to the brain, but also helped the monkeys learn new tasks twice as quickly as non-exercising monkeys, a benefit the researchers believe would hold true for people as well.
Still more research has shown that exercise boosts mitochondria, organelles that produce energy within every cell of your body, which suggests exercise may help your brain work faster and more efficiently.
2. Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats
Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, an omega-3 fat, is an essential structural component of both your brain and retina. Approximately 60 percent of your brain is composed of fats—25 percent of which is DHA. DHA is also an essential structural ingredient of breast milk, which is believed to be a major reason why breastfed babies consistently score higher on IQ tests than formula-fed babies.
Omega-3 fats such as DHA are considered essential because your body cannot produce it, and must get it from your daily diet. DHA-rich foods include fish, liver, and brain—all of which are no longer consumed in great amounts by most Americans.
DHA is found in high levels in your neurons — the cells of your central nervous system, where it provides structural support. When your omega-3 intake is inadequate, your nerve cells become stiff and more prone to inflammation as the missing omega-3 fats are substituted with cholesterol and omega-6 instead. Once your nerve cells become rigid and inflamed, proper neurotransmission from cell to cell and within cells become compromised.
The influence of omega-3 fat on physical and mental health has been the subject of intense research over the last four decades, and there’s compelling evidence that animal-based omega-3 fats can help reduce the symptoms of a variety of psychiatric illnesses and degenerative brain disorders. For example, low DHA levels have been linked to memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
Even more exciting is research showing that degenerative conditions can not only be prevented but also potentially reversed. For example, in one study, 485 elderly volunteers suffering from memory deficits saw significant improvement after taking 900 mg of DHA per day for 24 weeks, compared with controls.
Another study found significant improvement in verbal fluency scores after taking 800 mg of DHA per day for four months compared with placebo. Furthermore, memory and rate of learning were significantly improved when DHA was combined with 12 mg of lutein per day.
Interestingly, research suggests that the unsaturated fatty acid composition of normal brain tissue is age-specific, which could imply that the older you get, the greater your need for animal-based omega-3 fat to prevent mental decline and brain degeneration.
To compensate for our inherently low omega-3 diet, a high quality animal-based omega-3 supplement is something that I recommend for virtually everyone, especially if you’re pregnant. I prefer krill oil compared to all other animal-based omega-3′s, because while the metabolic effects of krill oil and fish oil are “essentially similar,” krill oil is as effective as fish oil despite the fact that it contains less EPA and DHA.v This is because krill oil is absorbed up to 10-15 times as well as fish oil, due to its molecular composition, and is less prone to oxidation (rancidity) because it is naturally complexed with the potent fat-soluble antioxidant astaxanthin.
Sleep is not only essential for regenerating your physical body, but it is imperative for reaching new mental insights and being able to see new creative solutions to old problems. Sleep removes the blinders and helps “reset” your brain to look at problems from a different perspective, which is crucial to creativity.
Research from Harvard indicates that people are 33 percent more likely to infer connections among distantly related ideas after sleeping, but few realize that their performance has actually improved. Sleep is also known to enhance your memories and help you “practice” and improve your performance of challenging skills. In fact, a single night of sleeping only four to six hours can impact your ability to think clearly the next day.
The process of growth, known as plasticity, is believed to underlie the brain’s capacity to control behavior, including learning and memory. Plasticity occurs when neurons are stimulated by events, or information, from the environment. However, sleep and sleep loss modify the expression of several genes and gene products that may be important for synaptic plasticity. Furthermore, certain forms of long-term potentiation, a neural process associated with the laying down of learning and memory, can be elicited in sleep, suggesting synaptic connections are strengthened while you slumber.
As you might suspect, this holds true for infants too, and research shows that naps can give a boost to babies’ brainpower. Specifically, infants who slept in between learning and testing sessions had a better ability to recognize patterns in new information, which signals an important change in memory that plays an essential role in cognitive development. Even among adults, a mid-day nap was found to dramatically boost and restore brainpower.
4. Coconut Oil
One of the primary fuels your brain needs is glucose, which is converted into energy. Your brain actually manufactures its own insulin to convert glucose in your bloodstream into the food it needs to survive.
If your brain’s production of insulin decreases, your brain literally begins to starve, as it’s deprived of the glucose-converted energy it needs to function normally. This is what happens to Alzheimer’s patients — portions of their brain start to atrophy, or starve, leading to impaired functioning and eventual loss of memory, speech, movement and personality.
In effect, your brain can begin to atrophy from starvation if it becomes insulin resistant and loses its ability to convert glucose into energy. Fortunately, your brain is able to run on more than one type of energy supply, and this is where coconut oil enters the picture.
There’s another substance that can feed your brain and prevent brain atrophy. It may even restore and renewneuron and nerve function in your brain after damage has set in.
The substance in question is called ketone bodies or ketoacids. Ketones are what your body produces when it converts fat (as opposed to glucose) into energy, and a primary source of ketone bodies are the medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) found in coconut oil! Coconut oil contains about 66 percent MCTs. Therapeutic levels of MCTs have been studied at 20 grams per day. According to research by Dr. Mary Newport, just over two tablespoons of coconut oil (about 35 ml or 7 level teaspoons) would supply you with the equivalent of 20 grams of MCT, which is indicated as either a preventative measure against degenerative neurological diseases, or as a treatment for an already established case.
Everyone tolerates coconut oil differently, so you may have to start slowly and build up to these therapeutic levels. My recommendation is to start with one teaspoon, taken with food in the mornings. Gradually add more coconut oil every few days until you can tolerate four tablespoons. Coconut oil is best taken with food, to avoid upsetting your stomach.
5. Vitamin D
Activated vitamin D receptors increase nerve growth in your brain, and researchers have also located metabolic pathways for vitamin D in the hippocampus and cerebellum of the brain, areas that are involved in planning, processing of information, and the formation of new memories.
The National Institutes of Mental Health recently concluded that it is vital that the mother get enough vitamin D while pregnant in order for the baby’s brain to develop properly. The child must also get enough vitamin D after birth for “normal” brain functioning. In older adults, too, research has shown that low vitamin D levels are associated with poorer brain function, and increasing levels may help keep older adults mentally fit.
Appropriate sun exposure would take care of these issues, as the sun is irreplaceable when it comes to the body’s ability to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D.
Appropriate sun exposure is all it takes to keep your levels where they need to be for healthy brain function. If this is not an option, a safe tanning bed is the next best alternative, followed by a vitamin D3 supplement. It now appears as though most adults need about 8,000 IU’s of vitamin D a day in order to get their serum levels above 40 ng/ml, which is the lowest they should be. Ideally, your serum levels should be between 50-70 ng/ml, and up to 100 ng/ml to treat cancer and heart disease. However, it’s important to realize that there’s no magic dosage when it comes to vitamin D. What’s important is your serum level, so you need to get your vitamin D levels tested to make sure you’re staying within the optimal and therapeutic ranges as indicated below.
6. Optimize Your Gut Flora
Your gut is your “second brain,” and your gut bacteria transmits information to your brain via the vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that runs from your brain stem into your enteric nervous system (the nervous system of your gastrointestinal tract). There is a close connection between abnormal gut flora and abnormal brain development, and just as you have neurons in your brain, you also have neurons in your gut — including neurons that produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is also found in your brain and is linked to mood.
Quite simply, your gut health can impact your brain function, psyche, and behavior, as they are interconnected and interdependent in a number of different ways.
Your gut bacteria are an active and integrated part of your body, and as such are heavily dependent on your diet and vulnerable to your lifestyle. If you consume a lot of processed foods and sweetened drinks, for instance, your gut bacteria are likely going to be severely compromised because processed foods in general will destroy healthy microflora and sugars of all kinds feed bad bacteria and yeast. Limiting sugar and processed foods, while eating traditionally fermented foods (rich in naturally occurring good bacteria), taking a probiotic supplement and breastfeeding your baby are among the best ways to optimize gut flora and subsequently support brain health.
7. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12, or rather a lack thereof, has been called the “canary in the coalmine” for your future brain health, and recent research has bolstered the importance of this vitamin in keeping your mind sharp as you age. According to the latest research, people with high levels of markers for vitamin B12 deficiency were more likely to score lower on cognitive tests, as well as have a smaller total brain volume,ix which suggests a lack of the vitamin may contribute to brain shrinkage.
Mental fogginess and problems with memory are two of the top warning signs that you have vitamin B12 deficiency, and this is indicative of its importance for your brain health.
In addition, a Finnish study found that people who consume foods rich in B12 may reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s in their later years.x For each unit increase in the marker of vitamin B12 (holotranscobalamin) the risk of developing Alzheimer’s was reduced by 2 percent. Research also shows that supplementing with B vitamins, including B12, helps to slow brain atrophy in elderly people with mild cognitive impairment (brain atrophy is a well-established characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease).
Vitamin B12 deficiency is widespread and many have trouble absorbing this nutrient properly from food sources. Blood tests for vitamin B12 are not always a reliable indicator of B12 status, so watching for symptoms of deficiency and increasing your dietary and supplemental intake is a practical alternative to blood testing.
B12 is available in its natural form only in animal food sources. These include seafood, beef, chicken, pork, milk, and eggs. If you don’t consume enough of these animal products (and I don’t recommend consuming seafood unless you know it is from a pure water source) to get an adequate supply of B12, or if your body’s ability to absorb the vitamin from food is compromised, vitamin B12 supplementation is completely non-toxic and inexpensive, especially when compared to the cost of laboratory testing. I recommend an under-the-tongue fine mist spray, as this technology helps you absorb the vitamin into the fine capillaries under your tongue.
8. Listen to Music
It’s long been theorized that listening to music may boost your brainpower; you’ve probably heard of this with the “Mozart Effect,” which suggests listening to classical music can make you smarter. Indeed, research has shown that listening to music while exercising boosted cognitive levels and verbal fluency skills in people diagnosed with coronary artery disease (coronary artery disease has been linked to a decline in cognitive abilities). In this study, signs of improvement in the verbal fluency areas more than doubled after listening to music compared to that of the non-music session.
Listening to music has also been associated with enhanced cognitive functioning and improved mental focus among healthy adults, so take advantage of this simple pleasure whenever you can.
9. Challenge Your Mind
One of the simplest methods to boost your brain function is to keep on learning. The size and structure of neurons and the connections between them actually change as you learn. This can take on many forms above and beyond book learning to include activities like traveling, learning to play a musical instrument or speak a foreign language, or participating in social and community activities.
Another important method? Brain aerobics. As with learning, challenging your brain with mind-training exercises can keep your brain fit as you age. This can be something as simple as thinking of famous people whose first names begin with the letter A, doing crossword puzzles or playing board games that get you thinking. Research has even shown that surfing the Web activates regions in your brain related to decision-making and complex reasoning. So unlike passively watching TV, using the Internet is an engaging task that may actually help to improve your brainpower.
A plant native to the Amazonian jungles has been used by the indigenous population for generations untold for physical, spiritual and emotional health. Now, science is beginning to prove its efficacy.
If you’re interested in alternative medicine and deep spiritual work, you’ve probably caught wind of a hard to pronounce, and very powerful purification rite called Ayahuasca. This ancient A word is Quechua in origin and refers both to an Amazonian healing ceremony and also the sacred beverage that is drank during it.
Ayahuasca has made headlines in recent months for its psychedelic properties which induce visions, as well as its purgative properties which cause many to expel liquids and solids from their bodies – a ritual detoxification of sorts.
This ancient jungle brew is used by tribes in the Amazon Rainforest to heal the body, mind, and spirit. A medicine man or woman will “prescribe” a ceremony to aid in treating a variety of ailments, from psychological / emotional to the purely physical.
Many Westerners have begun to seek it out in hope of ridding themselves of limiting beliefs, letting go of the past, and moving on from negative imprints left from troubled periods of their lives.
Others are desperately seeking an alternative treatment for chronic illnesses like MS, diabetes, Parkinson’s and cancer.
Recently, a number of personal healing stories are beginning to surface that, if true, are very promising indicators of Ayahuasca’s curative potential.
But how does this jungle brew work?
It’s one thing to experience the benefits, but it’s another to figure out what actually transpired to heal us, or at least got us going in the right direction again.
Here’s an inside look at how Ayahuasca affects the human organism.
The Spirit Molecule
First of all, Ayahuasca is made from two main jungle plants: the actual Ayahuasca vine, orBanisteriopsis caapi, and the leaves of another plant, usually called Chacruna, or Psychotria viridis. The Chacruna contains a substance called Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is the chemical that induces hallucinations. We naturally have small amounts of this in our bodies, and it exists in most green leafy vegetables. When taken by itself, nothing really happens, because the Monoamino Oxidase (MAO) enzymes that live in our gut naturally break down the DMT before it ever gets into our blood stream.
However, the Ayahuasca plant contains beta-carboline alkaloids including harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine that block the MAO enzymes from doing their job, and essentially keep the DMT active. This allows it to cross the blood-brain barrier after it’s ingested, and once that happens, the countdown to an altered state of reality has begun. Once the DMT reaches the receptors in your brain, the neurons begin to fire.
Activating and Reconnecting the Brain
When the effects of Ayahuasca start to take hold, multiple areas of the brain are triggered. It activates the amygdala, which holds early emotional memories, usually traumatic ones. It also activates the neo-cortex, associated with our perception and ability to reason and make decisions. For those who have experienced this sacred potion that many called “Grandma”, it probably comes as no surprise that it also activates the insular cortex, which plays a major role in awareness and consciousness.
Unlike psychedelic experiences with other substances, in which a person may not know what’s happening while they are under the influence, participants in an Ayahuasca ceremony are generally very alert and aware of what they are experiencing. The combination of this heightened awareness and fingertip access to emotional and sometimes long-forgotten memories allows an individual to begin “the deep work”. Everything can be processed through a new lens, often times without any re-traumatization, and with an expanded capacity for mindfulness and empathy.
We also know that Ayahuasca has a calming or quieting effect on a group of interacting regions of the brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN). When this complex system is too active, symptoms include anxiety or depression. Meditation has been show to work with the DMN in the same way to counteract those symptoms, and as we know, there’s plenty of scientific research and study on the benefits of meditation.
Binding Agent: The Cellular Link to Diseases
Another important aspect of Ayahuasca is how it works to manage stress at the cellular level, specifically with the Sigma-1R receptor – a protein that binds to DMT. Found in the brain and organs including the heart, lungs and liver, as well as the immune system in general, it helps other proteins to align into their proper shapes. Many diseases are associated with proteins like this that don’t work properly, and malfunctioning Sigma-1R is linked to depression, Alzheimer’s, addiction, cancer, Parkinson’s and traumatic brain injuries.
This study on the possible effects of Ayahuasca against various diseases, suggests that as DMT binds to Sigma-1R, what transpires is an effect that protects the cells by restoring neurons and regulating immunity.
If Ayahuasca truly does regulate the causes of cellular stress, it is a promising and suitable candidate for interfering with the conversion of environmental and psychological stress into cellular stress.
Now that you’ve got an idea of the “how,” it’s important to remember that the indigenous cultures who created this brew believe that there is far more at play here than mere chemistry. A shaman will tell you that for the experience to produce the strongest result, it must be done with the right surroundings (usually in nature) and under the supervision and care of the right “administrator” (usually referred to as an Ayahuascero or Curandero). Other things to take into account are the dosage, admixtures with other plants or ingredients, and even the condition or past history of the person taking it.
An interesting observation cited in the study mentioned above is that the South American tribes hit the nail on the head when it comes to finding a broad-spectrum remedy. But the ingenuity and intimate knowledge of herbalism that these cultures possess is just the tip of the iceberg.
Considering that Shamans have been experimenting and working with Ayahuasca for thousands of years, the next logical line of questioning would be “How did they discover this?” and “How did they know how to prepare it?”
There’s one major detail about the two primary ingredients in Aya that has anthropologists and botanists baffled. They grow hundreds of miles away from one another, in completely different microclimates tucked into a green sea of over 60,000 plant species.
The improbability of these native tribes knowing which two plants to boil together in a pot for hours and hours and exactly how to administer the thick liquid that results is almost too much to ponder.
Was it intuition? Curiosity? Trial and error? Were they actually communicating with the plants, which some say have their own consciousness, or were they guided by some ancestral force?
This is all part of the mystery that this sacred drink holds. It’s a mystery that many say can only be understood via one course of action. Taking a sip.
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