Friday, September 18, 2015

Stress, Mindfulness, Brain Changes, and Inflammation: Putting the Pieces Together

In my neuroscience research life, I talk a lot about brains, stress, de-stressing, and what happens to your brain and your body under those conditions. Some people are interested in just one aspect...but what I most often hear is, "But Adrienne, how does it all fit together?"

So one day I sat down and scribbled a map of sorts, with lots of lines and arrows and sticky notes on pieces of paper scotch-taped together. My desk looked like something out of A Beautiful Mind, and I was on top of the world when I finished. And also reaching the non-stop work point where I start talking to my house plants. The fruition of that labor is now in a much more readable format, so here's some food for thought:


Ask questions. Send me your wild theories. Fill in any holes.

What am I most interested in now? Adding the effects of physical activity & sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous system balance to the equation. To be continued...

- AT

7 comments:

  1. Very cool - though I only understand some of it. Would be interesting to have translation for ordinary folk/athletes in terms of event/effect (& manifestatons), possible mitigations....

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    1. Added to the list. Goal is always to make things accessible - science is most useful when you can apply it!

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    2. I'd also like to see this piece that you thought you were going to do "Adding the effects of physical activity & sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous system balance to the equation." I have an interest in this as a runner, with some medical conditions that may be affected by the parasympathetic system.

      Sort of off-topic Q - have you run into anything useful on self-hypnosis as a tool for stress reduction or helping the body stay out of certain states? (like heart arrhythmias, panic/anxiety, maybe other situations too, like the pain situations ) Assuming self-hypnosis exists, safe, may work, which I don't know...but I couldn't see letting someone else hynpnotize control-freak, untrusting me, so if such did exist, I'd want to know if I could do it on my own. Though when I type that it sounds a little bit like "doctor who treats self has fool for patient" kind of thing ;)

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    3. Hi M - no recent work that I know of on self-hypnosis for stress reduction & etc, unfortunately - however, there is a ton of evidence for mindfulness exercises and meditation for this. If you look at the ways mindfulness has been shown to re-wire your brain circuitry (e.g. reduced functional connectivity between stress-related and prefrontal regions -> reduced stress reactivity), it's reasonable to make the leap that it will help your body stay out of fight-or-flight mode. I'm guessing (given your self-description) that using these techniques is the closest you may get to self-hypnosis anyway ;)

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  2. Physical activity is a form of mindfulness as I perceive it, and would occur in the same spots on your diagram, for me I think.

    One thought: rOS are a beneficial product of exercise, blocking their formation with resveratrol seems to blunt benefits of exercise. So it's good rOS vs bad rOS?
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/23878368/

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  3. Good thoughts & thanks for the reply (and for reminding me I need to get to work on an update!)

    Partially agree on physical activity being a form of mindfulness. The way (unfortunately, in my personal opinion) the majority of people go about physical activity - plugged in, headphones, staring at phones/TVs - does not encourage mindfulness. However, exercise/PA undertaken while focusing on movement, sensations, breathing, etc can be wonderfully mindful. I observe this particularly in yoga practitioners and swimmers, although you can certainly do any form of movement mindfully. Would be interesting to see whether mindful movement vs. sitting meditation had different effects. Couple of interesting avenues to take this thought train now: had been mostly considering mindfulness -> physiology -> exercise effects, but also important is physical activity + mindfulness -> physiology.

    Great point on the rOS - resveratrol as well as (if memory serves me right) high dose Vit C/E blunt some beneficial effects of exercise (same for ice baths, NSAIDs), since they signal the body to adapt to that stress. I'll have to do a little more research into the brain/nervous system vs. cardiovascular/musculoskeletal system effects of specific rOS.

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    1. Excellent point. If your head was caught up in TRS hilarity while running, it's unlikely counting toward your mindfulness totals. rOS have also driven me a little nuts with their status change from apoptosis assassins to loveable anabolic Devils. BTW, found your blog via the TRS reporting, thanks for that!

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