Tag Archive for dopamine

Why It’s So Important to Balance Your Child’s Brain This Summer

Balance Your Child's Brain This Summer

Summer is the perfect time to balance your child’s brain. Research shows that so many children struggle when they head back to class in the fall due to poor diets, lack of brain boosting activities and more time indoors. Avoid the summer’s ‘brain drain’ and help your child develop optimal brain chemistry before the first day of school.

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What You Need to Know About L-theanine

L-theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid used to treat anxiety, promote relaxation and improve focus and concentration. For many, it can help their mental and physical health in a profound way. Here is what you need to know about L-theanine before trying it.

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Sugar Addiction and Obesity Starts in Childhood

A new study led by researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine finds that the brains of obese children literally light up differently when tasting sugar. Published online in International Journal of Obesity, the study shows that children who are overweight have an intense psychological reward response to food. » Read more..

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Why the Scariest Part of Halloween is the Candy

Let’s face it there is a certain amount of dread parents have around the Halloween festivities. The cuteness of kids costumes wears off after they have ingested their weight in sugary sweets: tantrums, hording away snack-size candy bars, and sneaky behavior are bound to happen. Are you ready for the Halloween mania? Sugar rushes, hyperactive kids (maybe some adults too), not to mention exposure to dyes and allergens all impact your child’s brain chemistry. » Read more..

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Willpower: Why You Can’t Resist The Donut

willpower

By Emily Roberts MA, LPC

Do you ever wonder why it’s so hard to have self-control at a morning meeting, when the plate of delicious donuts are practically asking you to eat them? Isn’t it interesting that after the 20th time you have told your child “don’t touch that” they seem to forget and do it anyway?  Saying “no” to the sweet treat or controlling the impulse isn’t just about self-control, it’s more than willpower. You can learn right from wrong, but your brain can be much more powerful than logic.

Think of willpower like a muscle, if it’s not developed fully it can be weak; it can get exhausted by overuse, but just like our other muscles, we can repair it.

“It is as if self-control is a limited resource that ‘runs out’ if it is used too much,” said Chandra Sripada, the lead researcher in a study published last week in The Journal of Psychological Science.

Therefore all the effort in the word can’t keep little Timmy’s hands from reaching to touch the object of his affection or that sweet treat from hitting your lips. Researchers found that increasing levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine can help to reduce urges and increase self-control.

The study, published April 22 in The Journal Psychological Science, indicates that when one has the right balance of these two neurotransmitters it can help prevent the depletion of self-control.  If you overuse the “muscle” the chemicals in your brain are too tired to say no.  Medications or supplementation may be the missing link by giving a boost to specific brain circuits that are often depleted after attempting to maintain self-control for long periods of time.

What is even more interesting and notable is that ones mood plays a vital role in impulsivity and aggression.

Research published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) found that loss of self-control is also due to nutrition. When blood-glucose levels dropped, subjects were more likely to act on an urge.

“Self-control requires energy, and that energy is provided in part by glucose,” wrote lead study author Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University.

“Glucose is made from nutritious intake that becomes converted into neurotransmitters that provide energy for brain processes. Low glucose levels can undermine self-control because people have insufficient energy to overcome challenges and unwanted impulses,” wrote Bushman and his colleagues.

willpower

Wish you or your child could resist the urge to act on their impulses? As you can see it’s more than knowing right from wrong, it also takes a bit of a brain workout to build up that muscle.

  • Test the brain.  A simple urine analysis can show which levels are off, and results will suggest what supplementation will help increase self-control Neurotransmitters.
  •  What you eat effects willpower. What you feed your body affects how much energy the prefrontal cortex has to work with, where many of our impulsive decisions are made.  If you are not absorbing nutrients from the food in your gut, your brain is going to be cloudy.  Making sure that your blood sugar stays balanced, requires eating right and often, this means every 3-4 hours. For more self-control, stick to the foods that you know fuel your brain. Click Here for some great backpack snacks that boot brain power!
  • Talk with your health care practitioner about medications or supplementation that may be impacting your willpower. Notice what is difficult for you to resist, or what you wind up regretting later on in the day.  These actions are examples of what a boost of self-control could help you resist.
  • Repetition.  Although you may not get it on the first try, continuing to say no or practicing a new behavior, instead of the problematic one, can help rewire the brain.  That is, if you have enough power to run the system.

At the end of the day it takes gas and mechanics to keep a car running, the same is true for your brain.  Everyone needs help behaviorally and neurologically to make changes stick.

 

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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant.  Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.

 

 

 

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Toddlers and Technology: How Screen Time is Impairing Brain Development

Toddlers and Technology

By Emily Roberts MA, LPC

It can be tempting to hand your toddler or 10 year old a tablet to keep them occupied while out to eat.  Or turn on the TV to help distract your infant while you, take a phone call. Even let your child read on a Kindle before bed.  But what is this technology doing do your child’s brain? According to research, impairing their development. » Read more..

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Procrastination – Is Dopamine to Blame?

dopamine

By Emily Roberts MA, LPC

Could your Candy Crush addiction be due to more than your lack of willpower? Perhaps you put off that project until the last minute or feel lazy instead of motivated at the thought of another monotonous task.  Your brain chemistry, not laziness may be to blame.   Dopamine, the neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure, has been found to be a major component in procrastination, motivation, and impulsivity.

Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder published a recent study in The Journal of Psychological Science showing that procrastination and impulsivity is genetic, and link dopamine levels to one’s avoidance or impulsive responses to tasks. Pleasurable activities or pushing away the things that top your to-do list are ways dopamine effects your life. Whether you are addicted to instant gratification activities, such as refreshing your Instagram feed, or avoiding your taxes like the plague, your dopamine and your genes are to blame.

If a task has a higher historical likelihood (or perceived future likelihood) of producing dopamine, our brain becomes addicted to reproducing these activities… and avoiding the others. We’re a society that’s addicted to dopamine.

We also consume too much of addictive stimulants: chocolate, caffeine (coffee, energy drinks, tea), sugar and cigarettes, which further impact the production of this neurotransmitter. Almost all abusive drugs and addictive substances influence it. Alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, even prescription medications such as amphetamines alter our dopamine balance.

Why do smokers eat more when they are trying to quit? Or video game junkies consume soda and sugary snacks when they are not glued to the screen? Because both food and nicotine share similar dopamine reward pathways, their brains are wired to crave pleasure. When less dopamine is stimulated as nicotine or the pleasurable activity is reduced, food and sugar cravings naturally kick in to overcompensate.Unfortunately, stimulating dopamine consistently, with medication, foods, nicotine, or any unnatural substance, can cause a depletion of dopamine over time.

How to Balance Your Dopamine

1.      Test Your Levels of Dopamine. Without testing it is difficult to know which neurotransmitter is out of balance and, making it a guessing game to treat. According to Dr. Oz’s, Alternative Health Expert Bryce Wylde   the best way to know if your dopamine levels are imbalanced is to have your neurotransmitters tested. The way to do this is easy and uses cutting edge science. Urinary neurotransmitter testing – a simple pee-in-a-cup test – is reflective of total-body neurotransmitter activity.

2.     Create a Dopamine-Friendly Environment. Setting small goals, breaking up tasks and rewarding effort can help rewire the brain.  A 5-1o minute Facebook feed session after an hour of doing that dreaded task, can stimulate the reward center.  Turn off distractions – for example television, or put your cell phone ringer on silent while working on a task.

3.      Positive feedback. Allow yourself to experience frequent positive feedback as you work towards goals. Dopamine will flow as a result of your brain’s positive reinforcement every time you complete a step and meet a challenge. People who provide positive reinforcement can help you to push through the blocks that keep you stuck in your behaviors.  A trainer, nutritionist, AA sponsor, therapist, or anyone to help push you along the way.

4.      Embrace a new goal and take small steps toward it every day. That may be saving money or stopping the nicotine. Putting a dollar away every day and watching the jar grow, creates incentive.   The less puffs you take and the less frequent you stop to pick up a new pack the more your brain rewards itself. With dopamine each time you take a step. The repetition can help reinforce new behaviors by assisting in building the dopamine pathway until it’s big enough to compete with the habit you are trying to get rid of.

To learn more about dopamine and balancing your neurotransmitters please visit www.Neurogistics.com

 

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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant.  Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.

 

 

 

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What Are Amino Acids Anyway?

By Emily Roberts MA, LPC

All to often, unless your in this industry, we forget about what our 7th grade biology teacher that taught “amino acids are the building blocks of life.” What does that really mean to us as adults?  Amino acid imbalances can effect us all.  Due to diet, trauma, genetics, fatigue, stress, and GI issues, some of our children are at a neurological disadvantage from the get go, and many adults become at risk do to many of life’s circumstances.  A stressful job, athletic training, depression or anxiety, or stress at home can literally hijack your Neurotransmitter levels, which amino acids create.  Wouldn’t you like to be able to do something about this naturally?  Here are the basics on Amino Acids and how they effect you and your child.

What are Amino Acids?

Amino acids are the breakdown products of proteins, some of which are not readily available in diet and need to be supplemented in a concentrated form.  They are the building blocks of proteins.  Proteins play a very important role in maintaining our health and make up a big part of the diet. The three main macronutrients found in food include carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Proteins are required in our diet, as they are an important building block of muscle and brain tissue.

Amino acids, derived from protein intake, are precursors to brain chemicals such as serotonin, a natural anti-depressant-like chemical produced in the brain. Without the proper amino acids in our brains can become depleted of these crucial chemicals, otherwise known as neurotransmitters. However, often times we cannot get amino acids from diet alone. Neurotransmitter depletion can be the root cause of many mood and health issues; depression, insomnia, Attention Deficit Disorder, anxiety, memory loss, weight gain and addictive disorders, aggression, and increased sensory sensitivities.

The History of Amino Acid Therapy

There is a long, well documented, history of using amino acids for depression and other issues related to brain chemistry imbalances.  Discovered in the early 1900s, amino acids were used up to the late 1980s as the physician’s mainstay for treating these types of conditions.  While the advent of pharmaceutical medications all but eliminated this natural treatment option from the allopathic repertoire, amino acids have continued to be a popular option for complementary / alternative medicine modalities and an essential for those seeking natural methods for brain chemistry balancing.

Can’t You Get Amino Acids From Food?

The amino acid profile of various proteins varies greatly. Foods that contain protein, whether they are vegetarian or animal in origin, contain different combinations of amino acids. While we do need to keep up our overall daily intake of protein in order to maintain our health, proper neurotransmitter balance cannot always be achieved through diet alone.  Stress, trauma, ones GI issues, and physical exertion can all play a role. Protein intake increases the level of amino acids circulating around in the blood stream. Once proteins are broken down into amino acids by the digestive system, they are then released into the blood stream. In order for these amino acids to be taken up into the brain, they have to be carried across the blood-brain barrier using a specific transport system. This transport system will not help to correct amino acid imbalances within the brain. For example, if you have become depleted in serotonin because of high stress, dietary deficiencies or other lifestyle factors, the tryptophan uptake will not increase in any capacity across the blood-brain barrier.

Why We Need Amino Acid Supplements

Amino acid therapy is often used to help address many of the symptoms listed in Table 1.  Each neurotransmitter has a specific amino acid, which is required for its synthesis and plays a particular role within the brain and body.

Table 1:  Amino Acid Precursors

Neurotransmitter Neurotransmitter plays a role in:
Serotonin Sleep cycle, depression, anxiety, carbohydrate cravings, PMS (inhibitory)
Dopamine Focus, attention, memory, motivation/ drive, mood, addictive disorders (inhibitory/excitatory)
Norepinephrine Energy, drive, anxiety, focus, metabolism, mood (excitatory)
Epinephrine Energy, drive, anxiety, focus, metabolism, mood (excitatory)
Gaba Reduces excess stimulation (inhibitory)

Since each of us has a unique neurotransmitter profile, recommended supplements in any program should be specific to your imbalances which are derived through testing, without testing it becomes a “guessing game.”  While single amino acids can work to balance the brain, testing for these imbalances is the only way to know for sure what is out of balance. Using this method often requires several different products and should also include mineral cofactors, vitamins and a high quality omega-3 fatty acid.  Protocols that are created after your results are received incorporate your individual requirements and provide a program of highly targeted amino acids specific to your imbalances.  All of your brain nutrient needs are combined into a few products making it easy and convenient to buy and use.  Individual protocols can make the difference when based on proven testing methods. Restoring neurotransmitter levels and achieving your correct balance can change your life.

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What Technology Does to Your Child’s Brain

When I was growing up, we had crayons and a kids menu to keep us occupied while going to restaurants with our parents.  We were mildly engaged, yet also able to let our parents have “adult conversations” without throwing a tantrum or getting bored (often resulting in a tantrum). Now, I have noticed an alarming trend with parents, and every time I see it I can’t help but shake my head in sadness, the trend of toddlers and technology.  Parents who are allowing their three year olds use iPads and smart phones as an overt way to keep them quite, distracted and occupied while in public places, including restaurants. Turns out, I’m not the only one who is noticing the dependence of preschool aged children and technology.  Adweek new article, The Next Great American Consumer; Infants to 3-Year-Olds discusses marketers new target audience, your baby. This article is SHOCKING as Adweek examines advertising aimed at infants to 3 year olds.

 I get it, hungry child + loud environment + boredom = tantrum and embarrassment.  But what are you doing to your child’s brain? A recent study conducted by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center found that 80 percent of kids under the age of 5 use the Internet weekly, and 60 percent of kids 3 and younger are now watching videos online. At an obvious level this teaches kids that they can distract with the use of video games and television; at a much deeper level it allows children to learn to self-sooth through technology rather than using age appropriate coping skills and processing emotions. Does any parent want their child to throw a tantrum in public, of course not, but would you rather know that something is bothering your child rather than shutting them up with an iPad application, I hope so.

I know many of you are very careful about what your child is exposed trough technology.  This is sort of my “soap box” as I am very passionate about the effects of technology on our youth. I speak to many schools and parents about technology and our children.  I really want parents to be educated on the advertising techniques of and the outrageous ages at which they are targeting our kiddos.  Its fascinating tome that children as young as 2 and 3 years old have brand recognition and are influenced by this; thus influencing where your money is being spent and what brands are in your household.  In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that baby’s shouldn’t have ANY time in front of the screen before age 2, why?  Because their brains and neurons are rapidly developing and this can hinder development; not to mention the over-stimulation of what they are exposed to whether it be auditory or visually overwhelming this can impact or hinder brain development.

One of the interesting things we have found from through testing neurotransmitters, is that once a child is expose to video games or television (even for a few minutes) their dopamine and excitatory neurotransmitters increase, and this can actually effect their results.  One of the suggestions we have for parents when testing is to avoid video games and any sort of stimulating activity prior to testing as it may alter their results.  It’s no wonder that children who are exposed to television at a younger age have higher levels of dopamine, and not in a good way; more like they are getting a “fix” from the stimulation and then what we generally see is a decline in behavior as they are craving more- keep in mind dopamine plays a huge role in addiction, much like an addict needing his or her fix from drugs.  Have you ever told your child that they have 5 minute left of a show or computer game and they still meltdown?  Not all of this is neurochemical, but it’s remiss to say that it can partially be to blame especially if neurochemically they are already unbalanced, imagine what a huge spike of dopamine will do…

My suggestion, modification and view technology with your child.  Do not leave children unattended while watching television or using game that have could expose your child to advertising.  I would hate for their first word to be iPad, but I am sure Apple wouldn’t mind…

 

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