Anything traumatic can trigger a fight or flight response within our bodies. Most people recover from PTSD as it’s known, but some people wind up with a stress disorder that causes a part of the brain that controls emotions to be overactive. It also lowers the activity of the front of your brain a decision-making area. This area of the brain is called the amygdala. There is also an effective part of the brain which keeps memories called the hippocampus. An example of PTSD would be a very bad fire in a house where someone had been burned severely. A fireman who rescued that individual might have flashbacks and nightmares when confronted with future fires. Such flashbacks and bad memories can prevent clear thinking and take a physical toll on the victim. PTSD is regularly treated by psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.

Why are some people depressed?

Clinical depression as we know it can actually change the character of your brain. In depression certain parts of your brain have lesser activity, these include the frontal lobes which are involved in things like reasoning, personality, and judgment. Of interest to all of us is brain inflammation that can happen in people who are depressed. Brain cells are lost during the inflammatory process and would make memory problems and even dementia more likely. Depression requires the assistance of a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. A patient with clinical depression may require antidepressant medication, which basically changes the way certain aspects of the brain function. Anyone who believes that they are seriously depressed should seek medical help.

What does frequent use of alcohol do to the brain?

Physicians know that alcohol has a direct effect on the brain. Chronic alcoholism has a long-lasting effect on the brain, but social drinking and a glass of wine or two during the week is not the amount of alcohol that I’m talking about. Alcohol as we know causes blurry vision, slurred speech and memory loss. Alcohol can kill brain cells over time. People with chronic alcoholism have brain damage as well as damage to other organs like the liver. Research shows that chronic use of alcohol can shrink certain parts of the brain and reduce the ability of an alcoholic to calculate, share emotions, and learn. All of this is in addition to the acute effects of alcohol which blur judgment, eye hand coordination, and awareness. This is precisely why people under the influence of alcohol should not drive.

Do migraine headaches affect the brain?

Migraine headaches do affect the brain. Most people believe that migraines occur because of faulty wiring within the brain and results from an overreaction to triggers such as stress, bright light, or even dietary ingredients like chocolate. Once a trigger occurs a wave of activity begins which causes chemicals to narrow the blood vessels of the brain. That brings severe headache and other symptoms. In fact, I have seen symptoms of migraines which mimic strokes. Over time chronic migraines can cause you to lose gray and white matter in the brain. There are many medications available to migraine sufferers, which in many cases can cause total relief.

We hear so much about brain injury in professional sports. Can you tell us the effects of concussions in athletes?

There is a thing that everyone has heard about called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a condition associated with repeated blows to the head. It is also associated with the development of dementia and many professional football players have great concerns about that in their later years of life. CTE involves problems with thinking and memory, changes in personality, and behavioral that includes aggression and severe depression. CTE is to be differentiated from a simple concussion. A concussion might occur as a result of a car crash or a bump to the head. During impact the brain slides and bumps on the inside of the skull. The brain can be bruised and even nerve tissues can be torn, so nerve cells are harmed during concussions and often times inflammation ensues. For the most part the brain heals on its own after one or two insults, but getting multiple concussions can result in CTE.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Sometimes genetic factors produce what is called developmental ADHD. However, some ADHD symptoms like inattention and hyperactivity can come from brain injury, not simply because of inheritance. All networks of nerve cells work differently and send signals to the brain that play a role in attention and focus. Most children can work past the effects of ADHD. Adults who have CTE can develop ADHD in unusual circumstances and this is very worrisome as a sign that there’s been some permanent brain injury.

Traumatic brain injury or TBI can predispose a youngster to the development of ADHD as the child grows. It’s important to note that traumatic brain injuries can also result in CTE if the injuries continue over a long period of time.

What are some of the things that we can do to boost our mental health?

This is a commonly asked question and one of which I am extremely interested. There is a mind-body connection that used properly can ease stress and boost mental health. In fact, researchers believe that meditation, yoga, and exercise can change the structure of the brain. Meditating for two months increases gray matter in parts of the brain that control emotions and learning, and it also strengthens connections between the brain cells. Meditation can ease inflammation in the brain and current research suggests it can protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

Exercise is really good for the body and the brain. Aerobic exercise like running or swimming increases blood flow to the brain, delivering oxygen and nutrients. Proteins that keep brain cells healthy can come from exercise and new neurons can form new networks within the brain. There are also hormone shifts during exercise that increase sex drive. So exercise is one good way to enhance and protect brain function.

Let’s now talk about Dietary facts for the holidays.

How many grapes are in a bottle of wine?

A standard 750 mL bottle of wine has 736 grapes or about 2.6 pounds of fruit. That number varies depending on the size, type, and water content of the grapes and how much wine you had before you started counting of course. Everybody knows that wine is produced from a process called fermentation which involves taking yeast and sugar and pressing grapes to juice. Two waste products result: alcohol and carbon dioxide. The remnants of the squished grapes are removed and filtered and the liquid that results is bottled immediately or aged in barrels and called wine.

What’s the difference between white and red wine?

It’s a very simple answer. Red wine is fermented with the skins and white wine is fermented without the skins of the grape. Fermenting with the skins gives red wine more antioxidants called polyphenols, and an additional beneficial substance called resveratrol. These polyphenols and other byproducts of fermentation bring the bitterness, color, and the fruity taste that one gets when drinking wine. Red wine has about seven times the number of polyphenols than white wine. White wine also has more sugar in it than red wine.

What are some foods that have “empty calories” and make you hungry soon after eating them?

When we give our bodies high-quality nutrients, we receive enduring energy that wards of hunger. But low-quality nutrients burn more quickly requiring us to eat again very soon. There are four foods that can make you hungrier as you go forward during the day. The first is yogurt, second is cereal, third is refined grains like white bread and white rice, and the last is foods high in sodium or salt. All in all sugars and refined grains like white bread and white rice can feel filling at first, but they lack the sustainable hunger fighting powers of the whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread and brown rice. That is the reason people prefer the latter when they’re on a diet.

You may be stuck on the idea that yogurt while a healthy snack is one that makes you hungry again. Yogurt has very little protein (usually just about 5 g per serving a cup of sweet yogurt) and leaves you feeling hungry again in no time because of the high sugar and low protein content. Added sugars to anything are notorious for being replete with empty calories or foods that do a poor job satiating hunger. This is because they are high in calories but offer few or no other nutrients. In most sweetened yogurt you will not find much protein. So, when you buy yogurt check the container to see how much protein is included.