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The Neurobiology of Stress: The Human Brain Likes to Be in Balance

(Editor’s note: below you have part 5 of the 6-part The Neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gy of Stress series. If you are join­ing the series now, you can read the pre­vi­ous part Here.)

Stayin’ Alive

Under­stand­ing the Human Brain and How It Responds to Stress

The Human Brain Likes to Be in Bal­ance

For­tu­nate­ly, the brain has some built — in safe­ty sys­tems. Too much cor­ti­sol in the blood sig­nals the brain and adren­al glands to decrease cor­ti­sol pro­duc­tion. And under nor­mal con­di­tions, when the stress is over­come or brought under con­trol (by fight­ing, flee­ing, or turn­ing into an immo­bile stat­ue, or by mas­ter­ing the threat), the hypo­thal­a­mus starts send­ing out the orders to stand down. Stop pro­duc­ing cor­ti­sol!  Event over!  Under con­tin­u­ous stress, how­ev­er, this feed­back sys­tem breaks down. The hypo­thal­a­mus keeps read­ing the stress as a threat, furtive­ly send­ing mes­sages to the pitu­itary gland, which screams out to the adren­al glands to keep pump­ing out cor­ti­sol, which at this point begins to be neu­ro­tox­ic — poi­son to the brain. Read the rest of this entry »

The Neurobiology of Stress: The Stress Response Explained

(Editor’s note: below you have part 4 of the 6-part The Neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gy of Stress series. If you are join­ing the series now, you can read the pre­vi­ous part Here.)

Stayin’  Alive

Under­stand­ing the Human Brain and How It Responds to Stress

THE STRESS RESPONSE EXPLAINED

Stress was put on the map, so to speak, by a Hun­gar­i­an — born Cana­di­an endocri­nol­o­gist named Hans Hugo Bruno Selye (ZEL — yeh) in 1950, when he pre­sent­ed his research on rats at the annu­al con­ven­tion of the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion. To explain the impact of stress, Selye pro­posed some­thing he called the Gen­er­al Adap­ta­tion Syn­drome (GAS), which he said had three com­po­nents. Accord­ing to Selye, when an organ­ism expe­ri­ences some nov­el or threat­en­ing stim­u­lus it responds with an alarm reac­tion. This is fol­lowed by what Selye referred to as the recov­ery or resis­tance stage, a peri­od of time dur­ing which the brain repairs itself and stores the ener­gy it will need to deal with the next stress­ful event.

Read the rest of this entry »

10 Brain Tips To Teach and Learn — Ideas for New Year Resolutions

My inter­est in the brain stems from want­i­ng to bet­ter under­stand both how to make school more palat­able for stu­dents, and pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment more mean­ing­ful for fac­ul­ty. To that end, I began my Neu­rons Fir­ing blog in April, 2007, have been doing a lot of read­ing, and been attend­ing work­shops and con­fer­ences, includ­ing Learn­ing & the Brain.

If you agree that our brains are designed for learn­ing, then as edu­ca­tors it is incum­bent upon us to be look­ing for ways to max­i­mize the learn­ing process for each of our stu­dents, as well as for our­selves. Some of what fol­lows is sim­ply com­mon sense, but I’ve learned that all of it has a sci­en­tif­ic basis in our brains. Read the rest of this entry »

10 Brain Tips To Teach and Learn

My nat­ur­al rhythms are in cycle with the school cal­en­dar. Jan­u­ary 1st takes a back seat to my new year, which gets ush­ered in with the month of Sep­tem­ber when there is crisp­ness in the air that grad­u­al­ly shakes off the slow­er, more relaxed pace of summer.Conveniently, my career in teach­ing mesh­es with my nat­ur­al cycli­cal year. And as this year draws to a close, I am re-ener­gized by the pace of sum­mer, know­ing that any­thing may pop in to my mind as I engage in activ­i­ties not direct­ly relat­ed to school. But before that hap­pens, I’d like to reflect on this past year, in par­tic­u­lar as it was my first year of blog­ging about the brain.

My inter­est in the brain stems from want­i­ng to bet­ter under­stand both how to make school more palat­able for stu­dents, and pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment more mean­ing­ful for fac­ul­ty. To that end, I began my Neu­rons Fir­ing blog in April, 2007, have been doing a lot of read­ing, and been attend­ing work­shops and con­fer­ences, includ­ing Learn­ing & the Brain.

If you agree that our brains are designed for learn­ing, then Read the rest of this entry »

10 Highlights from the 2007 Aspen Health Forum

AspenThe Aspen Health Forum gath­ered an impres­sive group of around 250 peo­ple to dis­cuss the most press­ing issues in Health and Med­ical Sci­ence (check out the Pro­gram and the Speak­ers bios), on Octo­ber 3–6th. It was the first con­fer­ence, by the way, where I have heard a speak­er say: “I resus­ci­tat­ed a woman yes­ter­day”.

Key high­lights and trends:

1- Glob­al health prob­lems require the atten­tion of the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty. Richard Klaus­ner encour­aged the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty to focus on Glob­al Prob­lems: mater­nal mor­tal­i­ty rates, HIV/ AIDS, nutri­tion, can­cer, clean water.  Bill Frist, for­mer Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader, added to that list the increas­ing epi­dem­ic risks of glob­al zoot­ic dis­eases (trans­mit­ted between humans and ani­mals), sup­port­ed by 2 inter­est­ing data points: at any one moment, there are 500,000 peo­ple fly­ing world­wide; in a year, air­lines trans­port the equiv­a­lent of 2 bil­lion pas­sen­gers.

2- “Let’s get real…Ideology kills”. Mary Robin­son, for­mer Pres­i­dent of Ire­land, on what it takes to stop HIV/ AIDS: “I am from Ire­land, a Catholic coun­try. And I am Catholic. But I can see how ide­ol­o­gy kills..we need more empa­thy with real­i­ty, and to work with local women in those coun­tries who need things like female con­doms.” She was implic­it­ly crit­i­ciz­ing the large bud­get devot­ed to unre­al­is­tic absti­nence pro­grams. This ses­sion includ­ed a fas­ci­nat­ing exchange where Bill Frist rose from the audi­ence to defend the role of US aid, explain­ing how 60% of retro­vi­ral drugs in African coun­tries have been fund­ed by the Amer­i­can tax­pay­er, high­light­ing Pres­i­dent Bush’s courage to make HIV/AIDS a top agen­da item in many devel­op­ing coun­tries, and crit­i­ciz­ing oth­er coun­tries for not doing enough. Which made Nobel Prize Lau­re­ate Peter Agre, also in the audi­ence, stand up and encour­age the US to real­ly step up to the plate and devote 1% of the GDP to aid, as a num­ber of Euro­pean coun­tries do, instead of 0.1%.

3- Where is the new “Sput­nik”?: Basic sci­ence is cru­cial for inno­va­tion and for eco­nom­ic growth, but it is often under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed. Sci­en­tists are not “nerds”, as some­times they are por­trayed in pop­u­lar cul­ture, but peo­ple with a deep curios­i­ty and dri­ve to solve a Big prob­lem. Many of the speak­ers had been inspired by the Sput­nik and the Apol­lo mis­sions to become sci­en­tists, at a time when the pro­fes­sion was con­sid­ered cool. Two Nobel Prize Lau­re­ates (Peter Agre, Michael Bish­op), talked about their lives and careers try­ing to demys­ti­fy what it takes to be a sci­en­tist and to win a Nobel Prize. Both are grate­ful to the tax­pay­ers dol­lars that fund­ed their research, and insist we must do a bet­ter job at explain­ing the Sputniksci­en­tif­ic process to soci­ety at large. Both are proud of hav­ing attend­ed small lib­er­al arts col­leges, and hav­ing evolved from there, fueled by their great curios­i­ty and unpre­dictable, serendip­i­tous paths, into launch­ing new sci­en­tif­ic and med­ical fields.  Bish­op list­ed a num­ber of times where he made deci­sions that were con­sid­ered “career sui­cide” by men­tors and col­leagues, and men­tioned “I was con­fused” around 15 times in 15 minutes…down to earth and inspir­ing.

4- We need a true Health Care Cul­ture: Mark Ganz sum­ma­rized it best by explain­ing how his health provider group improved care when they rede­fined them­selves from “we are 7,000 employ­ees” to “we are a 3 mil­lion strong com­mu­ni­ty”, mov­ing from Read the rest of this entry »

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