A year in review: Top ten blog posts from 2015

Brain

2015 has been an exciting year for HealthScopeNews.com. We officially launched the first blog post on February 3, 2015, to discuss how media multi-tasking might be killing your gray matter. We then debated your favorite health topics, such as, why you shouldn’t feel bad about drinking one of life’s guilty pleasures-your beloved coffee, to what exactly was the World Health Organization talking about when it linked processed meat with cancer?!?

The goal thus far? Is to empower you with the knowledge to help you understand better your day to day health.

Be sure to check out all of them and share with us your favorite in the comments on our blog or by tweeting @drcjaffe

Click on the links to take a quick look at your favorite top 10 posts:

Is the era of coffee as a guilty pleasure over?

Drinking that warm cup of coffee to get a jump on your day may not be all that bad for you-in fact, it may actually be the drink to impact your overall health. Turns out one of life’s guilty pleasures may not be so guilty after all.

 

E-books or real books? You decide

Reading e-books instead of “real books”? Maybe your reading more but your re-telling-less. Learn what studies have to say about the shortcomings of the digitized word. You may begin to feel different about that meaty, thick, you can firmly grasp in your hands and very dusty book on your shelf.

 

Measles: Outbreak reignites the Vaccine-Autism Debate.

The Disneyland measles outbreak prompted a frenzy of public and media attention to the hyperbole of the vaccine-autism debate. Find out how the scientific community weighed in on the matter.

Study: Media multitaskers could be diminishing their brain’s gray matter

If you are among the majority that simultaneously multi-task with a lap-top, mobile phone or another media device, you may want to read what it’s doing to your brain.

Does Acetaminophen use in pregnancy lower testosterone in the male fetus?

Planning a pregnancy? This post takes a deep dive look at one of the most commonly prescribed drugs during pregnancy Acetaminophen, and how it could affect your male baby.

Womb transplants give hope to women born without a uterus

Women who are born without wombs or have lost their wombs to cancer are hailing this new procedure.

 

Does your eye color indicate your risk of disease?

An increasing amount of research has linked the color of your eyes to some health concerns and alcoholism is the latest reveal.

 

What can you do to change the bystander effect?  

The 1964 historic bystander event, the Kitty Genovese slaying, sparked a furor and transformative effect on the nation. Still echoing through the decades: When the number of bystanders increases in an emergency, the less likely they are to come to your aid.

Tick-Tock: The fertility war on women over 35

Top fertility experts staunchly at odds with delaying parenthood- warning of the fertility risks and reliability of IVF in older women.

Does the WHO’s latest cancer warning have any meat on its bones?

Processed meat, like bacon, causes cancer?!? I would not think that this dog could hunt based on the fact that “bacon goes with everything.”

This post was written as part of the Nurse Blog Carnival. More posts on this topic can be found at http://nursecode.com. If you are interested in participating find out more details and sign up.

Nurse Blog Carnival - The Nerdy Nurse - 300x300

 

 

 

Preparing for the holidays? Give your health a headstart

holiday turkey

So you’ve been busy preparing for the holidays – buying food, arranging travel, and making plans with family and friends. But is your body prepared? Here’s a seven-day countdown, seven point action plan to help you make plans with your body.

Diet always matters. But during the holidays, our unquestioned commitment to gorge ourselves on foods we’ve waited all year to eat, beckons us to forego a healthy diet once at the table. Turkey drenched in gravy, walnut sausage stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes, pumpkin and apple pie. Appetizers galore, and of course, those holiday drinks and cocktails.

It’s the traditional apocalyptic-style food free-for-all that comes with each meal or party feast that can finish you off, both in terms of your diet and energy levels. But neither do you need to deny yourself of traditions to keep yourself healthy during the holiday. Instead, the key is to plan ahead!

So a week prior to, and then throughout the holiday, remember these seven pointers for a healthy holiday:

Hydrate.

Be sure to drink at least 1.5-2 liters of water daily. Drinking water is super important to flush your body of toxins and rehydrate both your body and skin. Get a jump on your 2-liter requirement by drinking a large glass of water when you first wake up in the morning. And then be sure to drink and keep drinking more water throughout the day.

Eat fish, fish, and more fish.

Eating fish for at least one meal a day for seven consecutive days will get you red carpet-ready before any big event, including the holidays. The omega three essential fatty acids found in fish will not only give your skin a beautiful glow, but the anti-inflammatory properties can help you feel your absolute best.

Get rid of the bad stuff.

Cut right back on bread, pasta, rice, foods made with refined flour, and high sugar content foods. You will be grateful you saved those calories when it comes time for your holiday meal.

Cut back on alcohol.

If you must partake in evening cocktail hour, limit yourself to one glass of wine or one measure of clear spirits. Your body will always thank you for it the next day.

Keep moving.

Although the holidays are a very busy time, don’t let your exercise fall by the wayside. Instead, hit it hard the week before the holiday. Wake up 30 minutes earlier to get your workout in. And don’t stop! Stick to the same schedule every day.

Grab extra ZZZs.

Be sure to bank up some extra sleep the week before the holiday. You will need it in reserve to get you through the holidays, as the hustle and bustle will likely disrupt your biological sleep clock. Staying up late, drinking more alcohol, and those heavy-hitting carbohydrates can all interfere with your rest.

Smile often

We all know the holidays can be stressful. Being thrown together into a house full of people who haven’t spent so much time together for a while isn’t easy for anyone. When gifts don’t arrive on time or your least favorite relative annoys you, be mindful and try and find the humor in the situation.

The effects of smiling and laughter not only will help you to de-stress, but it’s contagious in the best way. It shows that you are truly thankful, and enjoy celebrating life with your family and friends.

So keep in mind these seven pointers, and you and your body will be just fine.

Oh, and one more thing. Remember to pick up the turkey.

That’s all folks, and I wish you a very happy, healthy holidays!

 

Does the WHO’s latest cancer warning have any meat on its bones?

Beef post

If you are a meat-eater, you have probably heard the latest ‘beef’ with beef. According to the World Health Association (WHO), there is convincing evidence that eating processed meat, and potentially red meats, is associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Embroiled in controversy, the recent WHO report – developed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and published in The Lancet – generated much noise and confusion in the media. At the heart of the issue remains a question that the report leaves unanswered – just how bad for our health is red meat and processed meats?

How did the WHO come up with the report?

To produce the WHO report, 22 international scientific experts from 10 countries gathered at the IARC headquarters in Lyons, France. Their job was to analyze and weigh up the evidence on how likely it is that meat can cause cancer.

The group reviewed 800 epidemiologic studies and classified them by strength of evidence into carcinogenic classification groups. The classification didn’t take into account the level of risk that each study found, nor various other differences between the methods or outcomes of individual studies.

In other words, the categories do not tell us exactly how much meat you need to eat, or anything about the other variables that could play into your overall lifetime risk of developing cancer. The classification was found on the strength of evidence, not the degree of risk.

How was the meat – and the evidence – classified?

According to the IARC press release, the experts classified the ‘carcinogenicity’* of processed and red meat in the following groups, according to the strength of the evidence they analyzed:

Processed meat – meat that has been preserved by curing, smoking, or adding salt and preservatives to extend the shelf life and give the meat a distinctive taste. Bacon, canned meats, hot dogs, sausages, beef jerky and luncheon deli meats such as ham or turkey are processed meats.

The IARC report classified this as Group 1: ‘carcinogenic to humans’, meaning “based on sufficient evidence in humans that consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.”

Red meat – refers to all types of mammalian muscle meat, such as beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat.

The IARC report classified this as Group 2A: ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’, meaning “based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect.”

What does carcinogenic mean?

*A carcinogen is a substance that can lead to cancer. The report suggests that some types of meat contain these types of molecules and therefore put us at an increased risk of developing cancer.

So, what is my risk of cancer if I eat red or processed meat?

According to the report, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that some types of meat can lead to cancer; mostly colorectal, but pancreatic and prostate cancers were also associated.

The researchers concluded that if you eat 50 grams (less than 2 ounces, or, less than two slices of bacon) of processed meat a day, your chances of developing colorectal cancer are increased by 18%, relative to the group who is not eating 50g a day. However, this is a relative risk; not an absolute risk. There is a big difference.

Absolute and relative risk

According to Cancer Research UK, relative risk tells you how much more, or less, likely the disease is in one group compared to another. For example, if you say “One drink a day increases breast cancer by 5%.” This tells you that 5% is the relative risk of developing cancer in the group who is drinking one drink a day.

But crucially, the statement does not tell us anything about the overall likelihood of the disease happening to you at all. This is what’s known as the absolute risk – your risk of developing the disease over a time period, often your lifetime.

According to the American Cancer Society, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is 1 out of 20 or 5%.

If we take the 18% risk found by eating processed meat daily, by the 5% lifetime risk , our risk for colorectal cancer over our lifetime is now increased by 1% giving us a 6% lifetime or absolute risk.

Although the researchers determined that eating red meat was ‘probably carcinogenic’, the risk from eating 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of red meat was found to increase the risk of colorectal cancer about the same.

What the WHO report brings to light, is that we need to understand what the risks actually mean and what risks we are comfortable living with.

So, should we stop eating meat?

From a nutritionist point of view, I don’t think so. If we look at all the facts, cutting meat from our diets could mean we are missing out on their documented health benefits. Red meat strikes an impressive nutritional chord. As a source of protein, your body uses red meat to build and repair bones and muscle. It contains many important vitamins and minerals, including heme iron (more bioavailable than plant-based non-heme iron), creatinine, zinc, phosphorous, vitamin D, and the B-vitamins – niacin, thiamine, riboflavin and vitamin B12.

Red meat is also one of the best food sources of lipoic acid, a powerful antioxidant. Cutting it out could even put you at risk of other health conditions, such as vitamin B12 deficiency or iron deficiency anemia.

How much meat is safe to eat?

When asked by NPR, Dariush Mozaffairan, Dean of the School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, Massachusetts, stated that, “there’s not enough evidence to give meat eaters a specific amount that is OK to consume.” Instead he recommended “no more than one to two servings per month of processed meats, and no more than one to two servings per week of unprocessed meat.

Rather than cutting out red meat, the evidence points towards cutting back our consumption of red meat and re-thinking our love-affair with processed meats. I know, you’re thinking, “But… bacon is great with everything!” But the evidence suggests that we do need to reshuffle the cards, and cut back on our carnivorous ways. Our health will thank us for it in the long term.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cynthia Jaffe, D.C., NP Joins NurseGail.com’s Health Writer Team

Cynthia Jaffe, D.C., NP has joined the health writing team for NurseGail.com

NurseGail.com is the first health and wellness website authored solely by nurses.

Learn why waking up and going to bed at the same time each day is important to your health here– it’s one of Cynthia’s posts!

 Read the rest of Cynthia’s article’s on NurseGail.com

nursegail_com-profile-picTo connect with NurseGail:

Could Your Heel Pain Be Plantar Fasciitis?

heel pain march newsletter

 

Do you suffer from heel pain, especially noticed when you first get out of bed in the morning? Does getting up from a seated position, climbing stairs, running or walking cause sharp pain on the bottom of your foot? You may have a condition known as plantar fasciitis.

What is Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is an ‘inflammation’ of a flat band of tissue that runs from your heel to your toes. Technically, it is an overstretching of the plantar fascia that causes the tissue to thicken and usually leads to partial or micro tears.

Plantar fasciitis is well known as one of the most common causes of heel pain, especially in runners or people active in sports who have flat feet, or tend to hyper-pronate or supinate the foot (roll the foot inward or roll the foot outward as the heel strikes the ground). Sports that cause repetitive stress to the foot such as sports with side to side motion and landing hard on the heels of the foot are particularly vulnerable.

Excessive load to the foot such as prolonged periods of standing or walking can put you at risk as well as individuals who are overweight, have tight calf muscles, or wear shoes with poor support.

How is it diagnosed?

Typically by history and physical examination. Palpation of the inside or medial side of the foot and heel will be tender as well as pulling your toes and foot toward you in ‘dorsiflexion’ of the foot. Ultrasound and MRI are usually reserved for more stubborn to treat cases or to rule out other pathologies of the foot. X-rays are a go to if you are ruling out a stress fracture.

What are some other common disorders that could cause heel pain?

Heel spurs are another cause of heel pain and are typically seen in conjunction with plantar fasciitis. As the plantar fascia pulls away from the bone, calcium deposits form on the heel to ‘wall off’ or protect the heel from repetitive stress.

Stress fractures can occur if constant stressors occur to the foot without sufficient rest or unstressed periods.

Fat Pad Syndrome is typically heel pain that is felt in the middle of the heel; much worse on weight bearing. Usually, you will see this condition in the older individual as the bottom of the heel degenerates leaving less padding for shock absorption.

Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome is a painful condition from compression of the posterior tibial nerve that travels through a narrow space behind the medial malleolus (bump on the inside ankle bone) from hyper-pronation of the foot. Tingling and numbness across the bottom of the foot, often at the sole or first toe is the most common complaint

 How is Plantar Fasciitis treated?

Rest, analgesics, ice massage and stretching exercises are the first line approach for several weeks. Treatment ultrasound and Kinesio Taping of the heel and bottom of the foot to increase circulation can also be successful, as physical therapy techniques. A good 90% of people will respond to conservative care. If a limited response is seen, then foot orthotics, night splinting and steroid injections should be considered. Plantar fasciotomy, a surgical release of the plantar fascia, or extracorporal shock-wave therapy is reserved for chronic cases lasting over 6 months that fail to respond to conservative care.

Physical therapy stretches

The best time to stretch is first thing in the morning before getting out of bed and before prolonged standing or sitting. Stretch your calf muscle by using a therapeutic band or towel to pull the ball of the foot toward you while your leg is straight hold for 30 seconds and repeat for 5 reps. Stretch your plantar fascia by grabbing your toes for an extra pull while your leg is straight. Hold for 30 seconds for 5 reps. Stretch at least 3 times a day. Roll a ball under the foot to help break up adhesions and loosen the plantar fascia. Use enough pressure to give a deep massage.

stretch plantarfasciafoot on ball march newsletter

Finish stretching with a frozen water bottle rolled under the foot to act as both an analgesic and to help control inflammation.

water bottle frozen march newsletter

If pain still persists, be sure to follow up with your physician.

http://www.aafp.org/afp/2011/0915/p676.html

https://www.athletico.com/2012/05/09/plantar-fasciitis-solutions/

http://injuryfix.com/archives/pronation-supination.php

Q and A: Cynthia how do I keep Seasonal Affective Disorder in Check?

SAD

Cynthia, I have seasonal affective disorder that lasts until around May every year, especially since I moved to Chicago. Is there anything I can do to keep it in check?

Hang in there another month or so. Spring is just around the corner. March is a very tough month for people with the “Winter Blues” or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as the “blues” build up to a crescendo by the end of the season. Usually by spring the depression associated with SAD begins its descent and dramatically improves in the summer, although there are people who experience the disorder in the spring and summer while actually feeling at their best in the winter.

It is important to treat SAD as the condition is a subset of depression. It should be evaluated by a health care professional prior to trying any therapies to determine if pharmacotherapy or counseling is warranted. The condition when severe enough can affect people’s daily lives at work, with interpersonal lives taking the hardest hit.

The symptoms of SAD are the same as depression except that it usually comes and goes with the seasons. Symptoms are typically feeling fatigued, depressed and sluggish all day almost every day. Other symptoms specific to SAD are oversleeping, irritability, feelings of guilt and hopelessness, craving food high in carbohydrates and weight gain.

There are a number of “natural” treatments available. Increase your consumption of fish to start. A 2000 Am J Psychiatry study by Magnusson, looked at Icelanders who consume a diet high in seafood. They found a lack of seasonal affective disorder in Icelanders, a compelling finding, compared to other countries of similar latitude. Other studies in mood disorders show that fish oil has marked mood stabilizing and anti-depressant activity.

Another important nutrient is vitamin D. Researchers have linked a deficiency in Vitamin D with increases in seasonal affective disorder as well as depression. Vitamin D affects depression by playing a role in the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine that are linked to depression when in short supply. Ask your physician to check your Vitamin D levels by a simple blood test to see if you are deficient.

Because of decreased seasonal exposure to light in the winter, circadian rhythms become altered along with the resultant change in Serotonin and Melatonin levels in susceptible individuals. Light therapy in the form of a light box usually for 30 minutes in the morning can improve Serotonin metabolism. According to a study by Lurie and 3 others, 2006 Am Fam Physicians, earlier in the day was preferred for light therapy as the early morning light regulates Melatonin secretion vs. later in the day. It is important to use a light box that is specific for SAD therapy for best results and to minimize exposure to ultraviolet rays. Interestingly, the researchers also commented that “like drug therapy for depression, light therapy also carries some risk of precipitating mania”. So do consult with a specialist before working with a light box at home.

Exercise is an important component in combating SAD. The endorphin boost and glow that accompany a good workout can only help. Yes, winter is a hard time of year to keep active and most folks don’t want to leave the house, even for the gym, so buying a treadmill for home can be a great solution.

Lastly, take advantage of days when there is full sunshine. Sit in a room that has let the most light in it and be sure to partake in a winter sport that you can do outside. Even going for a walk for 30 minutes on a sunny day can help.

The above statements are for informational purposes only and are not meant to treat any disorder or disease. Always consult first with your physician if you think you suffer from either depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder before trying any therapies.

http://www.aafp.org/afp/2006/1101/p1521.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/if-youre-feeling-the-winter-blues-eat-fish/2015/02/17/24194fc2-b169-11e4-886b-c22184f27c35_story.html

http://www.optune.com/?s_mcid=ba-adpr-brain-ldr-patient

Q and A: What do you think of the Paleo Diet?

paleo diet

The Paleo diet is a pretty simple diet. If the cavemen ate it you should eat it.  If it wasn’t found in a caveman diet then you shouldn’t eat it. For instance sugar, salt, grains, legumes and dairy are not allowed. Plenty of protein from lean meat, poultry and fish and plenty of veggies. One of the major theories critics take issue with, is that by adopting a caveman diet we should thus, see less disease. Here’s their beef: Unless you pay extra for grass fed cows, our meat remains primarily fed on grain, giving us approximately 6x less the Omega 3’s, or healthy fats. Cavemen also didn’t eat genetically altered vegetables and plants, the soil was much different, cavemen exercised and toxins were not in the environment helping to drive disease. What do I think about it? I think that if we can do anything at all to decrease the amount of salt, processed foods, sugar and simple carbohydrates, while increasing fruits, vegetables, and lean meats in the diet, then it’s a really great start. Critics will always come out of the woodwork, no matter what diet you get started on. It’s much easier to be critical than correct -(Benjamin Disraeli).

 

.http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM198501313120505

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-paleo-diet-half-baked-how-hunter-gatherer-really-eat/

E-Books or Real Books? You decide

looking at kindle on book

 

 

 

 Reading e-books instead of “real books”?  Maybe your reading more, but you are probably re-telling-less

If you are curling up with your favorite pair of ripped blue jeans, warm cup of tea and your favorite Dostoevsky novel in hand, did you really just miss the e-book explosion or do you know something about reading a “real book” that the rest of us don’t?

Do old technologies ever die?

In 2010, sales of e-books had already risen to extraordinary double-digit rates of 252%. But recent data shows their levels no longer rising as they had before, with 28% in 2012 and sales up only 5% in the first quarter of 2013. Is it just because old technologies never really die? Or does science have some great news for people who have kept their unwavering loyalty to printed books?

Let’s first look at what happened to vinyl records back in the 80’s. It seems that radio and e-books followed the same trend. Vinyl records took off in WW ll after playing a significant role for the armed forces. They ruled the roost until music sales fell flat in the 80’s.

It was the CD, born in 1982, that re-ignited excitement of buying music again. CD’s exploded everywhere until vinyl was soon nowhere to be seen. But late last year, according to the Wall Street Journal, vinyl was called the “biggest music comeback of 2014,” surprisingly, by young indie-rock fans who appreciated their superior music quality and the “ritual” of putting the needle to the groove. But it’s not just “rituals” that have kept us from burning our books, there’s intuitively something more.

An “E-book moment”

The ongoing transition of reading from printed words to digitization, such as computers, tablets, e-books, and smartphones began to leave some fundamental questions of the ability to comprehend texts viewed on a screen versus when viewed on the printed page.  And according to consumer reports,  many of us are resistant to the transition, not only because of the high costs but because of the shortcomings or e-book technology.  One of them is people beginning to notice that screens make it harder to remember what they just read.  Are we having problems focusing or could we be simply experiencing what should be called, an “e-book moment”?

What the research says

Researchers gave the matter thought. A 2012 Norway study determined that subjects reading comprehension were significantly lower when the text was viewed on a digitized screen versus read from the printed page.

According to the study, there were several reasons comprehension was lower via the digitized screen. With the digitized screen, scrolling with your finger is inevitable which affects the ability to remember the text.

Other habits acquired from reading on screens such as skimming a novel to look for key words and ideas leads to rushed and disjointed reading. Your eyes may be passing over the words, but the reality is your comprehending very little.

A string of other studies on attitudes towards digital learning listed distraction as the number one problem while surfing the internet.

So what exactly is it about print that makes a difference? According to the Norway study, reading the printed word from an actual book, allows the reader to mentally visualize the physical layout of the text on the page which supports recall, memory, and comprehension.

Printed books by giving access to the entire book versus one page at a time on the digitized screen, affects the overall organization and flow of the text, the study concludes. Tactile sense also comes into play to anchor your memory. Even just the weight of the book in your hand acts as an inroad to durable learning.

But don’t get me wrong, e-books do have some benefits. They have made reading more convenient, they’re easier to obtain, and the success of devices such as the Kindle, through the collision of technology and culture, has most likely increased our desire to read.

I don’t think die-hard “real book” aficionados have much to worry about, as old technologies maybe fade a little but never really die.

Today, an actual book, a meaty thick, you can firmly grasp in your hand- kind of book, with its new paper smell, neatly folded sheets, printed words and perfectly straight spine has resoundingly survived the e-book revolution.

And unlike Vinyl Records that smoked the music industry from the 1950’s-80’s, and largely replaced by the CD, “real books” won’t need Indie-rock fans to revive them.

 

 

Some Hair-raising news! Science comes one step closer to the holy grail of curing baldness

guy looking at hairFinally, at last. Receding hairlines in men and thinning hair in a woman, will no longer be a“deal breaker” affecting self-image and emotional health. 2 new studies bring hope to curing baldness.

A breakthrough study by a team of international researchers will potentially transform the medical treatment of hair loss in both men and women. The researchers have cloned human cells that sprout hair growth when transplanted back onto human skin in a technique that could offer a “cure” for baldness

Researchers at the Durham University, UK and Columbia University Medical Center took clumps of hair growth cells from the base of hair follicles, known as dermal papillae, from 7 human donors and then transplanted back into human skin. The skin sprouted human hair that lasted at least 6 weeks.

Currently, the only treatments for hair loss have been hair transplants, which work by redistributing available hair, and medications which may work better in some and have disappointing results in others. Besides potential side effects, current medications offer no cure and may not work as well in men over 40.

The new method being studied actually regenerates new human hair cells instead of redistributing hair from one part of the scalp to another and offers the potential to produce a large number of hair follicles or rejuvenate existing follicles. It can also offer therapy for women with female pattern baldness and hair loss due to burns.

That’s not all in the works. Another study is almost ready for human trials:

According to Science Daily, January 2015, researchers at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute developed a method using human stem cells to generate new hair. Again, this is another improved technique vs transplanting hair cells from one location to another. Due to the unlimited source of cells from the patient, the patient isn’t limited to the availability of hair follicles. The study has been completed in mice and is awaiting partnerships to implement trials in humans. Stay tuned.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150127095919.htm

https://www.dur.ac.uk/news/newsitem/?itemno=19001

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2885921/Here-s-hair-raising-news-New-hope-baldness-cure-scientists-way-trigger-growth-using-white-blood-cells.ht

http://www.medicaldaily.com/cure-baldness-spanish-scientists-use-stem-cells-restore-hair-growth-315446

 

Study:Media multi-taskers could be diminishing their brain’s gray matter

BrainHow many of you multi-media task while performing your daily job, watching T.V., or even while eating dinner?

You might be thinking, “sounds pretty normal, I could box-check all of the above.” But before you check your Facebook page, your Twitter feed, text and scan your emails, STOP!- and take a break. You might want to hear about a 2014 research study in the journal PLOS ONE, suggesting that high media multi-tasking might be shrinking their grey matter.

Your brain on technology

Researchers at the University of Sussex, UK, found that people who use multi-media, defined as “simultaneously using mobile phones, laptops and other media devices”, have less grey matter in a part of their brain involved in emotion; however, the neural changes responsible have yet to be determined.

MRI brain scans performed by researchers Kep Kee Lo and Dr. Royta Kanai at the University of Sussex, UK, were compared with those people who multitask with multiple devices and people who occasionally use media devices.

The scans showed that those who used the highest number of media devices had lower amounts of grey matter than the occasional users in a region of their brain involved in cognitive function, impulse control, reward anticipation, decision-making, empathy and emotion.

Logic dictates the brain is on overload. That may not only be hindering your productivity, but studies have also shown that heavy media multi-taskers have higher rates of depression and anxiety, difficulties with focusing on tasks and more reported stress than non-media multi-taskers.

Here is one of the major problems. People think that media multi- tasking gives them a leading-edge or increases their productivity. Research has shown quite the opposite. Not only is it counterproductive, it can be addicting; it’s like cotton candy for the brain.

RAS overload

Performing a focused task requires us to activate a part of our brain known as the RAS or reticular activating system , which plays a role in our consciousness, breathing, heartbeat, sex and behavioral motivation. The RAS importantly filters the bombardment of sensory stimuli, allowing us to focus on a single stimulus without sensory overload.

But herein lies the problem: The RAS thrives on novelty. And the problem with novelty in the multi-media world? It’s on “steroids.”

By the time 10 am happens, we are already on overload. We are looking at a computer with two screens with 37 open windows going on behind the scenes. And our smartphone? No less than five instant messages, six texts, ten twitter alerts and five unrelated work calls to add insult to injury throughout the day. And worse yet? Your RAS has to filter out Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, video games, YouTube, and Fox News.

The RAS is supposed to filter out what is important, but it really has no clue about priorities, only novelties. Why is that addicting? Because novelties are fun. They give us a “sugar” rush.

Every time the phone rings, you receive a text message or you get a Twitter alert, it could be something interesting or something “new.” What could it be? It causes your brain to release dopamine, which feels really great and thus, the addiction.

Fractured thinking

According to Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse and one of the leading brain scientists, “technology is rewiring our brains.” Although technology has many benefits, too much digital technology is counterproductive and can have negative consequences in excess.

It struck a chord with Matt Richtel, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his series of articles on the deadly consequences of distracted driving while multi-tasking . And the heavier the multi-tasking, the more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information. “Scientists have found fractured thinking and lack of focus remains after multi-tasking; in other words, this is your brain off computers”, Richter states.

Until further studies

Studying the neural pathways of the brain while media multitasking remains largely unexplored. Further longitudinal studies are needed to unambiguously determine a time line for cause and effect in regards to our grey matter. Until then? I’ve drawn a line in the sand. I’ve just limited the iPhone usage in my home with my teenage daughters.