Tony Brown, BA, EMT – Brain Blogger Health and Science Blog Covering Brain Topics Wed, 30 May 2018 15:00:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Uneasy Alliances – Faith and Health Wed, 19 Jul 2006 16:44:11 +0000 Alternative_Medicine2.jpgWe live in a world in which medical researchers design double-blind trials of prayer, ministers talk about the brain and the immune system from the pulpit, monks meditate inside brain imaging machines, and studies of “the placebo effect” and “positive attitude” frame discussions about the “science” of “miracle” healings.

Explore how this strange world came to be and what is possible when science and religion develop constructive alliances in the service of human experience.

Excerpted from uctv.

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Do Brains Make Minds? Sun, 09 Jul 2006 15:52:39 +0000 Neuroscience_Neurology2.jpgHow does the brain work? What’s the latest in brain research? And what’s the relationship between the thoughts in our minds and the brains in our heads? Is gray matter all that matters? It’s called, “The Mind-Body Problem” and it has enticed philosophers for centuries: Is there something more to the human mind than what resides in the human brain? Is Mind Stuff different from Brain Stuff? Modern brain research — called “neuroscience” — gives deep understanding of how we sense, think, feel. But can neuroscience solve the Mind-Body Problem?

For videos, please visit the Closer To Truth Video Archive.

Excerpted from uctv.

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How the Brain Functions, Painkiller Addictions, Brain Food, Hives Thu, 22 Jun 2006 15:02:21 +0000 Neuroscience_Neurology.jpgLearn how the brain works when sensing danger or learning social behavior. And painkillers make you feel better, but can many lead to addiction? Explore the mystery behind those itchy, red bumps called hives.

Excerpted from uctv.

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Working Memory Key to Breakthroughs in Cognitive Neuroscience Sat, 17 Jun 2006 12:00:22 +0000 Neuroscience and Neurology CategoryWorking memory is a system used for temporarily storing and manipulating information needed to perform various cognitive tasks. This article allows an insight into how the input from different fields, could present us with a more thorough understanding of this significant cognitive ability.

To read the full article, go to Washington University in St. Louis.

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Arnold Pick’s Disease Fri, 16 Jun 2006 18:00:28 +0000 Neuro_Nerds.jpgPick’s Disease is a rare and fatal degenerative disease of the nervous system. Clinically there are major overlaps with Alzheimer’s presenile dementia.

Arnold Pick was born of German-Jewish parents in a village called Velke Mezirici (Gros-Meseritsch) in Moravia. He studied medicine at Vienna and as a student was assistant to the neurologist Theodor Hermann Meynert (1833-1892). He obtained his doctorate in 1875 and subsequently was assistant to Alexander Karl Otto Westphal (1863-1941) in Berlin, at the same time as Karl Wernicke (1848-1905) worked in that unit. All three of them influenced Pick’s work on aphasia. Late 1875 Pick left Berlin for the position as second physician in the Grossherzogliche Oldenburgische Irrenheilanstalt in Wehnen. This institution later played a disreputable part in the German politics of euthanasia, which began in the 1920s and culminated with mass murders and sterilisations of the “racially inferior” and “unworthy lives”.

Pick undertook extensive pathological studies of patients with neuropsychiatric diseases, and his work on the cortical localization of speech disturbances and other functions of the brain won him international acclaim. In addition to more than 350 publications, many of them on apraxia and agrammatism, Pick wrote a textbook on the pathology of the nervous system.

Pick’s ability to record the history of a psychotic or even mute patient was legendary. His secretary was a manic-depressive and an inmate of the asylum in which he worked.

Pick collected an enormous library which gave him great pleasure. At his home they reached to the ceiling and were piled on the floor. When he started on a vacation, some volumes of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Thomas Carlyle went into the large case of medical books. He was also a great music lover.

Arnold Pick died of septicaemia in 1924, 73 years old, following a bladderstone-operation.

Article excerpted from

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Neurology and the Passion for Art Fri, 09 Jun 2006 16:59:00 +0000 Neuroscience_Neurology2.jpg

Why is it that great works of art seem to have a universal appeal, transcending cultural and geographic boundaries?

— V.S. Ramachandran, Director of UCSD’s Center for Brain and Cognition.

To learn about what art really is in the eye of Ramachandran, watch his interview and read John Hyman’s Art and Neuroscience.

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Health Matters – Schizophrenia Sat, 03 Jun 2006 13:34:00 +0000 Psychiatry_Psychology.jpgSchizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disease. Approximately 1 percent of the population develops schizophrenia during their lifetime — more than 2 million Americans suffer from the illness in a given year. Dr. Kristin Cadenhead, UCSD Department of Psychiatry discusses this mysterious and devastating disease.

Excerpted from uctv.

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Sergei Korsakoff’s Psychosis Mon, 29 May 2006 14:19:00 +0000 Neuro_Nerds2.jpgKorsakoff was one of the greatest neuropsychiatrist of the 19th century and published numerous works in neuropathology, psychiatry, and forensic medicine. Apart from his studies on alcoholic psychosis he introduced the concept of paranoia and wrote an excellent textbook on psychiatry.

Sergei Sergeievich Korsakoff (January 22, 1854, Vladimir – May 1, 1900, Moscow) was a Russian neuropsychiatrist.

Sergei Korsakoff was the first of great Russian neuropsychiatrists. He studied medicine at the University of Moscow, graduated in 1875 and subsequently became physician to “Preobrazhenski” mental hospital. From 1876 to 1879 he gained postgraduated experience in the clinic for nervous diseases under Aleksey Kozhevnikov. His thesis “Alcoholic Paralysis” won him the medical doctorate in 1887. In 1892 he was appointed professor extraordinarius at a new university psychiatric clinic. During this time he visited Vienna where he was a pupil of Theodor Meynert. He was ordinarius of neurology and psychiatry from 1899 until his death the next year.

Korsakoff was one of the greatest neuropsychiatrist of the 19th century and published numerous works in neuropathology, psychiatry, and forensic medicine. Apart from his studies on alcoholic psychosis he introduced the concept of paranoia and wrote an excellent textbook on psychiatry. Korsakoff studied the effects of alcoholism on the nervous system and drew attention to several cases of alcoholic polyneuropathy with distinctive mental symptoms. An able organiser, he was instrumental in founding the Moscow Society of Neuropathologists and Psychiatrists. The “Zhurnal nevropatologii i psikhiatrii imenia Korsacov” (Korsakoff’s Journal of Neuropathology and Psychiatry) was named after him.

Excerpted from Wikipedia.

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The Origin of the Human Mind – Insights from Brain Imaging and Evolution Sun, 28 May 2006 14:19:00 +0000 Neuroscience_Neurology.jpgUCSD cognitive scientist Martin Sereno takes you on a captivating exploration of the brain’s structure and function as revealed through investigations with new advanced imaging techniques and understandings of evolution.

Excerpted from uctv.

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Brainy Kids’ Brains Develop Slowly Fri, 26 May 2006 13:56:00 +0000 Neuroscience and Neurology CategoryDo larger brains correlate with higher intelligence? Or does higher intelligence run parallel with the more diverse environmental experiences encountered? This research of nature versus nurture in intelligence, in humans especially, has been a complex and a persistent debate. This article about the brain’s rate of development in children provides yet another face to this multifaceted speculation.

To read full story go to CNN.

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A Westerner’s Pilgrimage – Chrysanthemum Tea Sat, 20 May 2006 05:40:00 +0000 Alternative_Medicine2.jpgWhen last we met I was standing in a Chinese herbal store with plastic bag full of dried chrysanthemum flowers in my hand. The pharmacist instructed me to combine the flowers with something called Wolfberry fruit an herb that resembled a little like a red crystal rock. In typical Western style, I asked the clerk for the exact number grams of each ingredient to be added to the tea. Her polite but revealing smile told me that my cover had been blown, she knew me for the rookie I was. “I have given you enough for five servings” she answered confidently. She added that it should cure my symptoms which obviously fit the pattern “Arrogant Liver Yang Ascending.” She explained that the pattern combines aspects of both Excess Fire (elevated yang), and Empty Fire (deficient yin).

I learned a lot from my pharmacist friend that day. Courteous to my curiosity, she entertained questions of all sorts from me. I was particularly seduced by the concept of the “Confucian Physician” who benevolently practiced medicine as an extension of philosophy. There were other concepts that I found familiar to my heart, but foreign to my experience, like the notion of “sugar-free” medicine, the biopsychosocial approach to medicine. Admittedly some ideas were a little more difficult for me to immediately grasp, like the Chinese physician’ philosophy of being more concerned with improving life than delaying death — logic found in the argument that that supports the right of a Chinese physician to refuse to take on a seemingly hopeless case.

Of course, once I returned home I couldn’t resist querying the Internet to get more information on my chrysanthemum and wolfberry fruit tea. I didn’t spend much time on the chrysantemi moriflorii, already slightly familiar with it uses. Rather, I was more interested in the berries of the wolfberry fruit, grown in Lanzhou in the Gansu Province of China. This beautiful area serves as the chief production area for Chinese herbs. In the end, I realized that neither Latin terms nor geographical beauty would serve to help me appreciate the medical utility of this newfound tea-only a sip could do that.

To learn more about Traditional Chinese Medicine visit that National Library of Medicine.

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A Westerner’s Pilgrimage – The Professional Sector Thu, 11 May 2006 19:45:00 +0000 Alternative_Medicine.jpgLast week we discussed the Popular Sector of Traditional Chinese Medicine. This week we continue to trace my pilgrimage through the Chinese medical system as I leave the Popular Sector and move to the Professional Sector. The Professional Sector is populated by those healing professions that have organized themselves in such a way as to receive formal recognition by providing a viable service to society. Examples include osteopathic and allopathic physicians, chiropractic and naturopathic practitioners. My choice was to enter the sector by seeking the help of a Chinese herbal pharmacist.

Having done no more than a little background reading on the subject of Chinese medicine, I felt awkward talking to the store clerk trying to speak in the vernacular–asking for an herb to increase the vitality of my eyes. Contrary to my Western expectations, the clerk did not ask me one single question about related signs and symptoms. While I attributed this protocol to her expertise, in retrospect I realize that she may have assumed that knew exactly what I was talking about. In fact, the latter would be in keeping with the Chinese tradition in which family members may take responsibility for many aspects of a patient’s medical care.

Next, the clerk led me to a collection of dried chrysanthemums. While listening to her explain the preferred method of decoction for the flowers, I gazed at the package she’d handed me, focusing on the words “for liver vitality.” I knew from my cursory background reading that she was simply using a different approach called “systematic correspondence” to interpret my symptoms.

Systematic correspondence is not uncommon to the Professional Sector. As an evolutionary descendant of “magic” correspondence,” this idea reflects the Chinese culture’s tradition of basing “its understanding of the relationships between all phenomena on the empirical evidence that indicated that much in the surrounding world is dualistic or complementary in nature.” (Unschuld, 55) A superficial interpretation would focus on its expression in the Chinese yinyang concept in which yin roughly denotes characteristics of cold, dampness and interior origin, while yang reflects those of hot, dry and exterior. Specific to my situation, sickness in the eyes is considered to be symptomatic of a liver abnormality. Dr. Ted Kaptchuk elaborates, stating “When the whites appear unclear or turbid, it is a sign of Dampness.” (Kaptchuk, 339) It is the philosophy of systematic correspondence that distinguishes the Professional Sector from others.

To learn more about Traditional Chinese Medicine visit that National Library of Medicine at


Unschuld, Paul U. Medicine and China: A History of Ideas (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985)

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The Bane of Pain Is Plainly in the Brain Sun, 07 May 2006 14:57:00 +0000 Neuroscience_Neurology.jpgPain is generally considered a symptom of disease. The uniqueness of the disease of pain, of course, is that it cannot be seen by the physician. It is experienced and reported by the patient. Understanding how pain is generated and more importantly, how to treat pain, is the focus of this lecture. Among the topics to be discussed are the many different types of pain that can be produced, the difference between acute and chronic pain, whether placeboes really work and if so, how, and where in the brain is pain perceived.

Presented as part of the UCSF Mini Medical School. Excerpted from uctv.

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A Westerner’s Pilgrimage – The Popular Sector Mon, 01 May 2006 05:08:00 +0000 Alternative_Medicine2.jpgThe Chinese medical philosophy is at once alien and similar to the system of Western medicine. Superficially, the systems seem to have very little in common with regard to history, diagnostic approach, evaluation of information and most glaringly, treatment regimen. In an effort to examine Chinese medical reasoning, I will document my journey through the system, hopefully inspiring instructive debate and input about the topic of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

I’ve decided to attempt to resolve a chronic but trivial problem with my eyes that has plagued me for 20 years. Specifically, the whites of my eyes constantly appear unclear, turbid and sometimes reddened. Though painless, this condition is rather annoying in that people often comment that I appear to be suffering from some sort of seasonal allergy. My journey will be divided into the distinct stages described by Arthur Kleinman in his study Patients and Healers in Context of Culture.

There are three divisions according to Kleinman, the “popular, professional and folk sectors”. The first division, the “popular sector” is an arena of non-specialists, non-professional, laymen. It is within this context that illness is first defined. According to Kleinman, “in the United States and Taiwan, roughly seventy to ninety percent of all illness episodes are managed within the popular sector.” (Kleinman, 50) I start my journey, rather started it twenty years in this sector, accepting advice from like-afflicted friends, well-intended relatives and even talkative physicians on the subway.

The effectiveness of this stage is difficult to discern because of the various components that contribute to its structure. The popular sector is influenced by cultural, social, community, family and individual factors. Determination of the efficacy of this sector could go a long way towards discerning its implications on the effectiveness of the overall health care system. For those who are afflicted with ailments that require professional medical attention, it is the popular sector that helps to identify the presence of an illness, thus convincing the would-be patient to advance to the next sector. In fact, if a person too long treats a condition as a mere illness instead of a disease, s/he might discover that medical practitioners may be unwilling or unable to help. So, while the recognition of illness ushers the individual into the first stage of TCM, it is disease that propels them to the next one. Let’s examine this illness-disease distinction more closely.

Kleinman distinguishes the two concepts by claiming disease refers to a malfunctioning of biological and/or psychological processes, while “illness” suggests the psychological experience and meaning of perceived disease. (Kleinman, 72) It is possible in cases such as acute trauma for disease to exist without illness, just as it is possible for the manifestations of illness to increase while those of the disease process decrease, e.g., cancer remission. A person’s acknowledgment of his/her own illness is greatly influenced by the popular sector. For example, an individual does not become what Kleinman terms a “sick family member” until someone acknowledges the presence of a physiological or psychological anomaly. Unfortunately, it is possible for one social arena to recognize a person’s illness while another denies it.

I was not classified as a sick family member for various reasons. First, the lack of any medical professionals in my family meant that no one was particularly aware of my eye condition or it relevance to illness. Also, since my family saw me on a daily basis, the gradual change in my eyes went unnoticed. My family delay in classifying me as sick delayed my own recognition of illness. Again, this is important because as Francesca Bray explains in her article “Chinese Medicine,” In the early… phases of a disorder, it is possible to treat the imbalance and disruption and restore the patient to health. Once it reaches the life-threatening… phases, the damage to the system may be irreversible, and a physician may refuse to take on the case. (Bray, 738) Next week, we discuss my voyage into the “professional sector.”

To learn more about Traditional Chinese Medicine visit that National Library of Medicine


Bray, Francesca. Chinese Medicine, pp. 728-753, Bynum and Porter 9eds), Companion Encyclopedia of the History of Medicine (New York: Routledge, 1993)

Kleinman, Arthur Patients and Healers in the Context of Culture (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1981)

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The Osteopathic Psychiatrist and Depression Mon, 24 Apr 2006 04:12:00 +0000 Psychiatry_Psychology.jpgOsteopathically informed psychiatry recognizes the biopsychosocial principle that the body is able to affect the mind. Consider for example the phenomenon of chronic disease-related depression that asserts when depression is analyzed in the context of preexisting disease, its prevalence is much higher than the typically stated 5% of the world’s population. Interestingly, 8-27% of patients with diabetes mellitus, 20-30% of cardiac patients, and 40-50% of patients with oropharyngeal or pancreatic cancer manifest a depressive disorder.(1)

Of course, a thorough analysis of this phenomenon reveals that depression may be the result of something other than a bodily disease process. In fact, virtually every class of medication includes some agent that can induce depression.” (2) For example, anti-hypertensive medications such as calcium channel blockers and to a greater extent, beta-adrenergic blockers tend to elicit depressive mood changes. Another possibility is that a depressed mood may result simply from psychological stress as a part of the coping process. These two etiologies however,are outside the scope of this post and will be dealt with in detail at a later date. Today we focus on how the body affects the mind.

It is instructive to begin our study by focusing on the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands that sit atop the kidneys on both sides. A few of its many uses include upregulating glucose metabolism and regulating blood pressure. So it is easy to see why the body boosts cortisol production during “flight or flight” situations because of the increased need for energy and blood circulation. Blood levels of cortisol typically peak around 8:00 a.m. (waking us up) and fall continuously throughout the day.

So, what does this have to do with how our body affects our mind? Well, many people suffer from a condition of constantly elevated cortisol levels called hypercortisolism. This condition has a variety of causes, but the resultant high cortisol levels often manifests in signs like hypertension and mental changes. An example of the mental changes would be increased anxiety, that is, a low level but continuous “fight or flight” state due to high cortisol levels. So here we have a direct body-mind relationship-increased cortisol leads to increased anxiety.

Interestingly, Eric Kandel, the Noble prize winning psychiatrist cites a correlation between depression and increased evening cortisol levels. In other words, the typical depressed patient that feels worse in the morning and better at night is really experiencing a perversion of the normal diurnal cortisol pattern. Further, the characteristic insomnia, early morning rising and agitation can all be attributed to the same cortisol abnormality. In fact, Kandel asserts that over 40% of depressed patients may be diagnosed by simply measuring their cortisol levels.


1. Kasper DL, et al (ed). 2005. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. New York McGraw-Hill, 2551-2552

2. Ibid.

3. Kandel, ER, et al (ed). 2000. Principles of Neural Science. New York McGraw-Hill, 1220

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