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Healthy Living August Issue
THE FRONTAL LOBE: The Crown of the Brain


Function of the Frontal Lobe

Damaged Frontal Lobe Caused Deterioration of Character

Before the accident Phineas was a well-loved, responsible, and intelligent worker and husband. He was known as a person with high morals and was described according to one account as "a pious and reverent churchgoer." So excellent was Phineas’ character that work records lauded him as "the most efficient and capable foreman" employed by the Rutland and Burlington Railroad. After the accident, Gage seemed to be physically just as fit and mentally just as intelligent. He could work and speak just as well as he could before the accident. His memory was just as good.

But some major things were different after the accident. His moral decline was immediately evident. He became very emotional about things and would get angry quickly. Not long after his injury he lost interest in church and spiritual things. Phineas became irreverent, and prone to excessive profanity. He lost all respect for social customs and became totally irresponsible. He went from a prized employee to the unemployment rolls. His company dismissed him when he could no longer responsibly discharge his duties. Dr. John Harlow, his physician, stated that the accident destroyed Gage’s "equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intellectual faculty and his animal propensities." He ended up forsaking his wife and family and joining a traveling circus. Phineas Gage’s traumatic frontal lobotomy cost him his personality, his moral standards, and his commitment to family, church, and loved ones.

Phineas died about 13 years after the accident. Dr. Harlow found out about his death some five years after the fact, and apparently for the sake of science, made an unusual request. He asked Phineas’ family if they would allow his body to be exhumed and his skull kept as a permanent medical record. The family agreed, and to this day the skull along with the tamping iron (which was buried alongside Phineas) are housed in the Warren Anatomical Medical Museum at Harvard University.1

Since no autopsy was done, speculation has continued throughout the years as to where precisely the injury occurred. The landmark status of this illustrious case was further testified to in 1994, when one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals, Science, devoted its cover story to Phineas Gage.2 The journal featured an article co-authored by scientists at Harvard, the University of Iowa, and the Salk Institute in San Diego. These researchers used advanced computer modeling and X-ray studies of the skull to try to pinpoint the exact part of the brain that actually had been damaged. They concluded that Phineas Gage had lost an important area on both sides of the front part of his brain, known as the left and right regions of the frontal lobes.

What do we learn from Phineas Gage’s unique case? It demonstrated that a section of the brain, the frontal lobe, is responsible for moral reasoning and social behavior.



Lifestyle Factors Can Also Damage the Frontal Lobe

This area of the brain has taken on even greater significance today for at least two reasons. First, there is a growing emphasis on personal development and mental performance. Second, many feel that societal norms and moral reasoning are crumbling. Some neuroscientists are wondering if there are physical reasons to explain such purported changes. Can there be lifestyle factors that may damage this critical part of the brain and affect, in essence, who we are? The answer is definitely "Yes."

Our daily lifestyle practices can indeed affect our temperament, our emotions, and our behavior. The front part of our brain can either be enhanced or compromised by our habitual choices. This revelation of brain science has profound implications for all of us. By understanding the factors that affect our frontal lobes, we can improve our performance in work or school, develop better social skills, be more responsible parents, neighbors, or spouses-and the list goes on. Although most people do not pick up a health book to read about their frontal lobes, this may be the most important chapter in my entire book. I encourage you to read what follows carefully. Your ability to successfully implement the healthy lifestyle changes advocated in this book may well depend on your frontal lobe operating at peak efficiency.



Functions of the Frontal Lobe

The brain is divided into several sections, or lobes. Each lobe has specific functions. Behind the forehead are the frontal lobes. For convenience, we refer to both the right and the left frontal lobes collectively as "the frontal lobe." It is the largest lobe of the brain.3 It is the seat of judgment, reasoning, intellect, and the will.4, 5, 6 It is the control center of our entire being. Some scientists refer to the frontal lobe as the "crown" of the brain. Studies show that this so-called "crown" performs a variety of vital functions. Some of these are listed in Figure 2: The Frontal Lobe - The Crown of the Brain.7

Spirituality, character, morality, and will are the characteristics that give us our unique individuality. Therefore, a person with a damaged frontal lobe may look the same as they always did, but if you interact with them, it is usually apparent that they are "just not the same." The Book of Books alludes to the significance of the frontal lobe in knowing God. The last book of the Bible makes a provocative statement, quoted in Figure 3: Revelation 22:4.

This text suggests that God’s character ("His name") is reproduced in our character (exemplified by the frontal lobe, which is just behind our forehead).



Brain Size and Function

It is fascinating to observe how the size of the frontal lobe differs among men and various beasts. It is the frontal lobe that largely sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, as shown in Figure 4: Frontal Lobe Size of Humans vs. Animals.8

Those with the smallest frontal lobes have limited instinct-driven ways of life. Those with larger frontal lobes are able to perform more complex functions. Cats, with only 3.5 percent of the brain in the frontal lobe, are limited in judgment and reasoning power. They have a very limited capability to analyze information and make judgments based on new information; thus, they basically rely on instinct. Dogs are more trainable because 7 percent of their brain is in the frontal lobe. Among the animals, chimpanzees have the largest frontal lobe-up to 17 percent of their brain. Humans, on the other hand, have 33 to 38 percent of their brain in the frontal lobe.

Some animals have other portions of the brain that are more developed than human beings. For instance, compared to humans, chimpanzees have much larger cerebellums-the brain area that controls coordination. This stands to reason, because chimps need well-honed balance and agility to swing from tree to tree. Birds also have very well developed cerebellums for flying, landing, and hunting. All of these activities require a high level of coordination. Other animals may have a much more generous occipital lobe-the brain center where vision is housed. Hence, their eyesight is generally much better than that of humans. Still other animals have more developed parietal lobes. However, for humans, the difference is clearly our much larger frontal lobe. Thus, we have the capacity for elevated spiritual reasoning and superior learning ability. To fully appreciate the significance of the frontal lobes, it is valuable to examine a few more cases from the annals of medical history. One of the reasons for this is that Phineas Gage only lost part of his frontal lobes. Lifestyle choices can affect our entire frontal lobes-albeit in less dramatic ways than Phineas’ loss.



Frontal Lobe Impairment from Drugs, Nicotine,Alcohol, Caffeine, and a Toxic Chemical.

What Lifestyle Factors Affect our Frontal Lobes?

To maximize the efficiency of our frontal lobes we must focus on both the positive things we should be doing and the negative things we should be avoiding. In fact, by fully recognizing the ways that we often compromise our frontal lobes, we can better appreciate how the healthful factors can aid us in expanding brain capacities. From this perspective, I will begin by looking at lifestyle habits that impair frontal lobe function. I will later address some of the key factors that are calculated to improve frontal lobe function.

A list of drugs to avoid in order to protect our frontal lobe is shown in Figure 11: Drugs that Damage our Frontal Lobes.



Effect of Drugs on the Frontal Lobe

Many Americans have been wringing their hands of late regarding our nation’s heavy and increasing use of drugs. There has been a sharp upturn recently in both the acceptance of illicit drugs and the use of those drugs among American youth according to many widely publicized surveys.31 Parents are afraid their children will use illicit drugs because of their addictive nature and the physical, mental, and social implications of that addiction. They also fear what their children might do while "under the influence," such as engaging in high-risk behaviors that could ultimately cut short their young lives. This last concern is especially important. Even a person who does not appear to be intoxicated can have blunted frontal lobe function. Such impairment predisposes to risk-taking behaviors that can result in an automobile accident, contracting HIV infection, or some other life-changing or life-shortening event.

Drugs other than illicit drugs impair frontal lobe function. Many feel cheated if they pay to see a doctor and do not walk away with at least one prescription for a medicinal drug. Television, radio, and magazine ads bombard us with our need for over-the-counter remedies. Caffeine and alcohol are culturally accepted drugs. Nicotine use is socially stigmatized in many settings, but is still treated legally as a lifestyle choice, not a powerfully addictive mind-altering drug.



Illicit Drugs and Mental Impairment

The dangers of illicit drugs on mental performance are well recognized. There seems to be little need to belabor how such "mind altering" drugs alter the mind-including the frontal lobe. This problem, however, is even worse than previously thought. There is growing evidence that drugs of abuse affect the brain long after their acute effects have worn off. Recent research funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that college students who were regular marijuana users had defects in their attention, memory, and learning even 24 hours after their last use of the drug.32 Long after the high was over, the brain was still struggling along in low gear. Marijuana, like its cousins alcohol and nicotine, has now been demonstrated to harm the brain of the developing fetus. A mother who uses marijuana gives her child a lifelong legacy of brain impairment.33 The message from marijuana research applies to the use of alcohol, which is covered later in this chapter; namely, the brain performance of those who use alcohol and other mind-altering drugs can be impaired long after the user thinks the effects have worn off. For optimal frontal lobe function, leave illicit drugs out of the picture.



Legal Drugs Can Also Assault the Frontal Lobe

Many prescription and over-the-counter drug medications can also depress frontal lobe function. If you go to a library and read a drug reference about the effect that various drugs have, you will find that many have an influence on the central nervous system, and one of the most commonly affected areas of the central nervous system is the frontal lobe. Many people are on medications that are not actually necessary, and their side effects may be harmful to the personality and character. This is why, before deciding to take medications, the benefits need to be carefully weighed against the risks. A list of classes of drugs that commonly affect the mind is shown in Figure 12: Drugs that Commonly Affect the Mind.34If you are currently on one of these drugs, do not stop it abruptly. Instead, work with your doctor. After all, it is not an easy decision to know what to do with many of these medications. A good case in point is provided by the high blood pressure drugs. Some of those medications may impair frontal lobe function. However, if the high blood pressure is not adequately treated, a stroke may be the result, causing much more profound frontal lobe impairment. For this reason, many physicians are advocating lifestyle therapies as the optimal means of controlling blood pressure. Chapter 6, "One Nation Under Pressure," presents such therapies. More information is given later in this chapter on the importance of controlling blood pressure for maximizing frontal lobe function.

It is now becoming a part of mainstream medical practice to help people get off drugs rather than adding new medications to their program. Research on older Americans shows that they are at higher than normal risk for impaired mental function, drug side effects, and also deleterious effects from high blood pressure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently pointed out that Americans 65 and older have nearly twice the risk of adverse drug reactions compared to those that are younger.35 Furthermore, they highlighted the fact that high blood pressure drugs frequently cause adverse side effects in this population group. The CDC from this perspective asserted: "íŽone important strategy for preventing adverse drug reactions among elderly persons is to limit the number of drugs used." 36

Of course, concerns for drug side effects and a resulting advocacy of lifestyle change for disease treatment have existed long before this recent CDC proclamation. One of the more interesting historical statements along these lines was written by Ellen White. Her words are quoted in Figure 13: Lifestyle in Contrast to Drug Treatment.37

Social drugs often interact with prescription drugs to produce side effects. For example, alcohol adds significantly to the risk of adverse consequences of drugs-including effects on mental clarity. In a study of over 100 recently hospitalized individuals who represented a broad cross section of the population (men and women, 14 to 88 years old), 10 percent had interactions between alcohol and the medications they were given upon leaving the hospital.38



Alcohol Injures the Frontal Lobe

Alcohol has direct effects on the frontal lobe in addition to it worsening the risk of medication side effects. In fact, it is one of America’s most popular frontal lobe assailants. Let us examine some illuminating research along these lines.

Several years ago, alcoholics and non-alcoholics were studied by two modern diagnostic tests: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission topography (PET scanning). The MRI is a now-familiar scan that can look at the actual structure of the brain. Among the alcoholics, it revealed a striking amount of loss of frontal lobe gray matter. The gray matter is where the bodies of the brain nerve cells are concentrated (in contrast to the deeper lying white matter where the nerve fibers leaving those cells predominate). Technically called "cortical atrophy," this condition of gray matter loss indicates an actual loss of brain cells that are involved in critical frontal lobe functions. On the other hand, PET scanning looks at brain function. In this testing, the alcoholics showed a lower glucose metabolism-indicative of less frontal lobe activity.39

These frontal lobe-impairing effects are not confined to heavy alcohol users. Researchers found a measurable decrease in abstract thinking ability among 1300 men and women who were social drinkers. These individuals drank as little as one alcoholic beverage per week. The average man in the study only had about two drinking occasions per week and consumed two or three alcoholic drinks on those occasions. The women drank even less. On the average, they only drank every fifth day and consumed two alcoholic drinks. Even with these low levels of use, assessments of mental functioning showed impairment. In fact, as alcohol intake increased, their ability to think abstractly (a measure of frontal lobe performance) decreased even more.40 These changes could not be explained by acute alcohol effects or intoxication, because all assessments of mental function were done at least 24 hours after the last consumption of alcohol.

Many people believe that automobile accidents are more frequent among drinkers primarily because of the profound effects on coordination, judgment, and alertness seen in "drunks" and others who are manifestly intoxicated. However, in many cases the problem may actually relate to more subtle deficits in judgment that occur in apparently unimpaired social drinkers. Such alcohol-using drivers may have no impairment in coordination. Their speech may well appear normal. However, a few moments later they may find themselves skidding off the highway or involved in a collision. The reason? Their impaired judgment failed to provide adequate warning about the speed to successfully negotiate a curve or stop in time in the face of an impending roadway emergency. Individuals with a blood alcohol level of 0.05-0.09 percent, less than the legal limit in most states, have at least nine times the risk of a fatal traffic accidents than at zero.41 This is largely due to the fact that alcohol impairs the frontal lobe long before it impairs other parts of the brain such as the coordination center.

Alcohol also interferes with the development of the fetal brain. It is well recognized that women who use alcohol during pregnancy adversely affect their offspring for life. The Alcohol chapter (Chapter 17 entitled "Want a Drink?"), explains this further. This has been demonstrated in animal tests as well.42 The animal research is particularly interesting-and sobering-because it points to another risk factor for childhood brain impairment: paternal alcohol use.43 Fathers who drink are likely impairing their children’s frontal lobes. Ellen White decades ago wrote about the importance of the influence of such paternal factors. Her comments are quoted in Figure 14: The Unborn are Afflicted by Parental use of Alcohol.44, 45



Effects of Diet and Nutrition on the Function of the Frontal Lobe.

Enhancing Brain Function through Breast Feeding, Polyunsaturated Fats, And Vitamins.

Our earliest dietary choices are not really ours to make. Those who were fortunate enough to have mothers that chose to breast feed them were bequeathed a precious frontal lobe legacy. Research shows that children who are breast-fed have a mental edge that persists at least for years and probably for a lifetime.77, 78 All of the reasons for the breast-milk advantage are not clear. However, one factor appears to be the fat content of breast milk. Dr. Yokota of Japan showed that newborn rats need adequate amounts of omega 3 fats in their diet. Without those fats, learning is impaired.79 Other international research teams such as Bourre and his French colleagues80 have made similar discoveries in animal tests. All have demonstrated the vital need for the omega 3 fats in the developing mammalian brain. It is well recognized in research circles that traditional human infant formula provides substandard amounts of omega-3 fats when compared to breast milk.81 Supplementing the child’s diet with foods other than formula cannot reasonably make up the omega-3 deficit. One group of researchers came to this stunning conclusion: "It is concluded that it is virtually impossible to supplement the diet of formula-fed infants to match the long-chain PUFA intake of breast-fed infants with currently available whole foods."82

The superiority of breast-feeding is obviously important information for expectant parents. However the proper type of fat also seems to be necessary for short term learning in adults. Dr. Coscina and colleagues demonstrated this fact a decade ago.83 They fed two groups of adult rats diets that had identical amounts of fat. However, the fat came from different sources. After only three weeks, rats given a diet based on a moderate amount of vegetable fat (20 percent polyunsaturated soybean oil) exhibited improved learning skills compared to those fed a diet based on 20 percent saturated fat (lard). The authors saw this as solid evidence "that short-term variations in the quality of dietary fat can enhance mammalian learning." Israeli researchers have also found that animals on a diet that is adequate in such plant fats as alpha linolenic acid and linoleic acid can improve memory and help the brain tolerate pain better.84

Dr. Bernell Baldwin suggests one explanation for why the type of fat may make a difference. The saturated fats that are typically found in animal products may make brain nerve communication more difficult. His hypothesis is that the membranes where brain communication takes place (called synapses) are rendered more rigid by a diet rich in saturated fat; while unsaturated fats from vegetables, seeds, and nuts induce more flexible membranes that promote more efficient brain communications. 85 Some of the most recent research has continued to demonstrate the harmful effects of saturated fat on brain performance, but has not found evidence to suggest that such membrane changes are responsible.86 Another possibility is that some of the unsaturated fats actually have beneficial effects that may be blocked by their saturated cousins. If this is true, unsaturated fats such as the omega-3 fats may be especially important for adult learning as well. Fortunately, for adults, there are other sources of these high quality fats besides breast milk. In Chapter 5, "The Truth About Fish," explores a unique class of fats called Omega-3 fats, and lists a number of excellent vegetarian sources of these nutrients.

Ingestion of polyunsaturated fats are not the only nutritional keys to optimal brain function. Adequate vitamin and mineral intake also appear to be essential for human brain performance. Some of the micronutrients that have a role in improving our brain’s achievements include thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, B12, folic acid, the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E, and iron.87, 88, 89 The growing list of such nutrients argues for a well-balanced diet that is rich in a broad array of these compounds.



Lessons from Carbohydrates

Other parts of the body can use fat, protein, or carbohydrate for energy, but not the brain. The brain uses glucose, a simple carbohydrate, almost exclusively as its source of energy.90 Apparently as a result of the brain’s very rapid metabolism, it is dependent on minute-to-minute supplies of this simple carbohydrate. This becomes easier to appreciate when you understand that the brain has a metabolic rate 7.5 times greater than the average body tissue.91 Although it makes up only 2 percent of our body’s mass, the brain accounts for 15 percent of our total metabolism. The brain, however, does not have much room to store nutrients-space is extremely limited by the hard shell of the skull. Only a two-minute supply of glucose is available to the brain cells-and this is in the form of glycogen-the storage form of sugar. Thus, for peak performance, the frontal lobe requires blood with a steady and adequate glucose level. In the chapter on sugar and diabetes (Chapter 8), I point out how a diet containing lots of refined foods can cause the blood sugar to rise quickly, and then fall below normal. Such food options abound at snack machines and dessert counters. They are best left out of our diets. It would be better to eat liberally of a wholesome variety of complex carbohydrates such as those found in potatoes, rice, whole grain breads, and cereals. Simple sugars are carbohydrates too, but it is important to understand the distinction between the simple sugars in concentrated snack foods and those found in natural fruits that come packaged with a wealth of fiber.

Years ago when scientists first discovered that the brain functioned best with carbohydrate fuel, some people began referring to candy bars as "brain food." Eventually we learned that, for sustained performance, refined sugar was not brain food at all; it was just the opposite, as stated in Figure 19: Sugar and the Frontal Lobe.

One study of 46 five-year old boys was particularly revealing.92 Boys with little sugar in their diet had superior attention spans and more accurate responses than their high-sugar consuming peers. The difference could not be explained by IQ or the parent’s social or education status. When tested, the boys on a low refined-sugar diet performed the equivalent of one whole grade letter higher in school. This provocative study suggests that a better diet will help transform a B-student into an A-level scholar.

If sugar is a carbohydrate and carbohydrate is the frontal lobe’s preferred fuel, then how could a high sugar diet impair brain function? Let me try to give you the best explanation I have found of this apparent paradox. Our bodies were created to eat foods such as fruits and grains in a natural, unrefined state. These foods help to keep our blood sugar at a fairly constant level. However, when refined sugary foods enter the digestive system, the blood sugar rises dramatically, and the body reacts as if it were just exposed to a great volume of natural food. In response, the pancreas produces a large amount of insulin. However, the rapid rise in blood sugar is deceptive. Unlike natural plant foods, foods rich in refined sugar tend to be quickly absorbed. The result is that the rapid rise in blood sugar is short-lived. With insulin still present and no more sugar coming in via the digestive tract, the blood sugar level can plunge. It is not unusual for the blood sugar to drop well below where it was before the sugary food was eaten. If a person’s blood sugar level falls low enough, frontal lobe functions can suffer due to inadequate fuel supplies.

To make matters worse, probably the most common response to hypoglycemia is to eat yet another sugary snack. Although this will drive the blood sugar up quickly again, research demonstrates that it takes the brain another 45 to 75 minutes to regain normal intellectual function after the blood sugar returns to normal.93,94 The message I take away from this research is that adults as well as school children need to make correct dietary choices if they want to function at peak mental efficiency. Each day should begin with a high-quality breakfast that includes a balanced selection of plant sources of nutrition. I prefer a variety of fruits and whole grains along with a few nuts. These items tend to keep the blood sugar in the proper range throughout the entire morning without a need for snacks. I explain more fully the importance of eating a wholesome breakfast in Chapter 1, "Principles for Optimal Health."

A liberal supply of fruits, vegetables, and grains provides the best nourishment for the frontal lobe. All of these foods contain a healthy quantity of carbohydrates. On the other hand, essentially every type of meat is devoid of carbohydrates. If you look at food tables, you will see a recurring theme-whether it is red meat, fish, or chicken-they all score a big zero (or very close to it) in the carbohydrate category.95 These foods are generally high in fat and protein, but deficient in carbohydrate, which may be one reason why meat appears to be associated with subtle frontal lobe impairment.

There is, however, irony in all this data. Because the brain is very adaptable and becomes used to the lifestyle you are on, even healthy changes may cause a short-term decline in brain efficiency before any improvement occurs. It is analogous to the situation with nicotine that I describe in Chapter 16 in kicking the smoking habit. Despite nicotine’s deleterious brain effects, when a person stops smoking, sleep quality and mental agility tend to get worse before they get better. The same is probably true with diet. Research suggests that when people dramatically increase their intake of fat or even carbohydrate, mental performance can suffer in the short term. However, continuing with the better lifestyle will bring the expected benefits in time. The message is: no matter how difficult it may be in the short term, develop new health habits and stick with them.96



Effects of Hypnotism, TV, and Music on the Frontal Lobe.

Hypnosis and the Frontal Lobe

Let us now move from the field of diet and nutrition to another area that can impact the health of our frontal lobes. We now turn our attention to a very popular method for dealing with things ranging from common bad habits to emotionally devastating childhood trauma. That method is hypnotism. Despite its innocent demeanor cultivated by circus performances, media presentations, and mass smoking-cessation programs, hypnotism can cause some serious side effects. Among the down sides of this popular "therapy" is frontal lobe impairment.

The connection between hypnotism and the frontal lobe comes as no surprise to those who understand this technique. Hypnosis, by design, bypasses the frontal lobe as it helps the subject enter into a trance-like state. Dr. Freda Morris, a former professor of medical psychology at UCLA, has written several books on hypnosis. In her words, hypnosis is a state characterized by a single-minded focus on only one thing, "like a bird watching a snake."133 While hypnotized, the subject is inattentive to all other environmental cues. A hypnotist can often induce such a state first by helping the subjects to remain quiet and still, free from all outside diversions. Next, the hypnotist helps them develop that new focus "on a certain point." Once they enter a hypnotic state, they are encouraged to follow the hypnotist’s mind.

If brain waves were measured with an EEG (electroencephalogram) during this process, we would see that the hypnotized person loses beta waves from the brain. This beta activity indicates sound thinking that involved dynamic frontal lobe activity. In the hypnotized state, however, an alpha brain pattern is operative,134 during which we do not critically analyze incoming information.135 Alpha waves are brain waves of a lower frequency than beta waves. In this state, an individual will record information and suggestions without interpretation and without frontal lobe filtering.

A flickering light that trains the eyes to focus in one place has been noted to easily induce a hypnotic state. During the hypnotic state, individuals can receive information of various kinds, and can mentally record the duties the hypnotist asks them to perform. Indeed, their memory works well, their emotions work fine, and they can laugh and cry. But as they continue to focus on the flickering light they do not critically analyze the information they receive.136 None of the information is filtered according to their sense of values or moral worth; their very reasoning powers are being bypassed. The frontal lobe has been short-circuited.

Humans have been given large frontal lobes for a good reason. To compromise this control center of the brain, even temporarily, is dangerous. Today, hypnotism has become quite popular and comes in several forms. The medical literature is filled with examples of hypnosis being used for psychiatric and/or behavioral problems, spanning a broad spectrum from traumatic events of childhood to current problems with overeating or nicotine use.

There are other more subtle forms of hypnotism: Eastern meditation, or yoga, is promoted for stress control, but Dr. Freda Morris points out that in many cases it is really a technique of self-hypnosis.137 For this reason, such meditation is potentially dangerous. The parallels between Eastern meditation and hypnotism are examined in Chapter 14,

"Stress Without Distress." Differences between Eastern and Christian meditation can be found in the same chapter.From my perspective, stress control can be obtained in a much safer way by entering into an experience of meditation and prayer to a personal God, speaking to Him as we would a respected friend. One of the reasons I make such a recommendation is because of my understanding of the mental effects of different types of spiritual disciplines. For example, if you connect stressed individuals to a biofeedback monitor (a stress-measuring device), whether they practice yoga or Eastern meditation, or pray to God, they will all very likely show significant stress reduction. However, only those who are praying still have their reasoning powers fully intact. The healthy, thinking beta brain waves will be present during prayer at the same time measurable stress reduction is occurring. Thus, communicating with God in prayer provides a more balanced form of meditation.



Television Weakens Brain Power

The effects of television are far-reaching. One of the greatest concerns in academic circles is that the TV viewer’s interest in reading is markedly reduced. The more television watched, the greater the interest in reading suffers. Children who spend many hours each day watching TV tend to be poor readers. Their reading ability and reading comprehension scores both suffer.152 Learning other subjects such as history, geography, mathematics, and English is based on reading; thus, poor readers have a general learning handicap. The result has been a consistent decline in the average reading skills of our youth since TV began to be influential in the 1950’s. Television affects more than reading skills. It weakens brain power in general. This is true at any age, from early childhood to the "golden years." A recent study revealed that certain activities of retired persons increased mental capacity while other activities decreased it.153 The results are shown in Figure 23: Brain Power - Use it or Lose It.

These results are encouraging: by avoiding mind-numbing activities like watching television and engaging in challenging activities, even people of retirement age can improve mental ability. Retirement does not mean that your brain has to waste away.

Another way that television undermines health is by encouraging poor lifestyle habits. As we explored earlier in the chapter, nutrition is important for the brain to function properly. Many children and teenagers are not functioning at their full frontal lobe capacity because of their eating habits. If you view a few children’s programs (and some adult programs for that matter), you will notice that a variety of sugar-laden, high fat foods are frequently advertised.154 Large sections of our supermarkets are loaded with these television-advertised snack foods, not because they are good for us, but because they sell well. As we have already seen in this chapter, these items are really "anti-brain foods." This research demonstrates a principle commonly seen: compromise of the frontal lobe by one activity (in this case, television) favors poorer choices (for example, junk food consumption) which in turn lead to further compromise of the frontal lobe.

The poorer lifestyle habits fostered by TV appear to be a major factor in the epidemic of childhood obesity. Many studies reveal that television watching and obesity in children are directly related: the more TV a child watches, the heavier he or she tends to be. In addition to causing poorer food choices, University of Tennessee researchers helped to clarify some other reasons for this relationship. They studied the effect of television viewing on 31 children between 8 and 12 years old. Fifteen of the children were obese and sixteen were normal in weight. Each child’s metabolic rate was measured both during television viewing and when at rest doing nothing. The findings are shown in Figure 24: T.V. or not T.V.? - Fat is the Question.155

Television viewing requires no physical involvement, yet occupies an average of 26 hours a week for most children. They are spending many hours without any significant mental or physical activity.156 In addition to increasing passivity in this way, the medium of television itself actually slows metabolism more than if you were just sitting in a room resting.157 This provides a further argument in favor of the altered "trance-like" state that television is able to induce. All of these factors contribute to the rise in childhood obesity, which has become epidemic in the U.S., affecting over 25 percent of our kids.158 Obese children often become obese adults. To further compound matters, obesity in adults increases the risk of "sleep apnea"159 with its frontal lobe and overall brain impairment. When an individual with sleep apnea relaxes during sleep, the "overweight" airway often closes, causing up to a minute of apnea-literally no breathing-bringing about a dramatic fall in oxygen saturation. Such individuals not only snore loudly, but they do not obtain a restful sleep, and thus are frequently found unintentionally falling asleep during daylight hours. If the individual loses weight, the sleep apnea is often cured and the brain and frontal lobe abilities improve.





Summary List of Seven Actions to Take for Enhancing the Function of the Frontal Lobe. 1.Protect the Frontal Lobe from Mechanical Injury

Mechanical injury can inflict permanent brain damage. Boxing, football, and motorcycle riding are examples of high-risk activities. Blows to the head while boxing frequently damage the tiny blood vessels, particularly in the frontal lobe. A boxer with these injuries is sometimes referred to as being "punch drunk." Other sports can lead to similar injuries. All such avocations are best avoided by those who want to protect good frontal lobe function.

Frontal lobe injury by mechanical means is not limited to sports participants. Head injuries from automobile collisions can inflict frontal lobe damage. For this reason, car seat belts and shoulder harnesses are a must. Furthermore, work place injuries are not confined to the Phineas Gages of yesteryear. Take all reasonable safety precautions on the job.



2.Prevent Diseases That May Damage the Frontal Lobe

The proper use of preventive medicine principles can also help you to preserve frontal lobe function. A number of diseases can lead to loss of frontal lobe capacity. Many of these maladies are potentially preventable. Strokes are among the most worrisome; yet, they can often be prevented by controlling risk factors such as high blood pressure. Independent risk factors for stroke in people between the ages of 16 and 60 include: high blood pressure, diabetes, current tobacco use, heart disease, and alcohol consumption (within 24 hours preceding the onset of the stroke).190 Women need to add oral contraceptives to this stroke risk factor list.191

Recent research indicates that high blood pressure itself can affect brain efficiency.192, 193 In one of these studies, 42 hypertensives (high blood pressure patients) were compared with 42 people without high blood pressure. They all underwent MRI scanning, a widely available procedure that takes detailed pictures of the brain. Intelligence tests were also given to the subjects. The results are shown in Figure 31: Hypertension and Intelligence.194

Note that high blood pressure inflicted visible frontal lobe white matter damage as well as damage to the subjects’ intelligence. The white matter portion of the brain is involved with nerve impulse conduction and is rich in nerve fibers. Its color comes from these nerve fibers that are insulated with a white substance called myelin. Note, furthermore, that the white matter lesions were present no matter how successfully the blood pressure had been treated with drug therapy. This research suggests that only by controlling blood pressure with lifestyle can such brain damage be prevented. Chapter 6 explains how high blood pressure can be addressed or avoided by natural means, without medication. Still other research has documented another brain damaging effect of high blood pressure; namely, brain atrophy, or brain shrinkage. Brain size as measured by MRI is smaller in those with high blood pressure. This is described in Figure 32: Hypertension and Brain Shrinking.195

High blood pressure and strokes are not the only conditions that can jeopardize the frontal lobe. Physical conditions often affect brain performance. Heart conditions can lead to problems that later affect the brain. Nervous system disorders of many sorts compromise brain function. In fact, just being ill with any serious disease will tend to have measurable brain effects. The bottom line is to follow a healthful lifestyle that addresses your body’s total needs.



3.Improve the Quality of Your Brain’s Blood Supply

Enhancing the quality of our brains’ blood supply is important. Again, this factor stands to help the entire brain, not just the frontal lobe. How can we provide it? By breathing clean, fresh, well-oxygenated air. I discuss in some detail the benefits of fresh air on mental performance in Chapter 20, Beyond the Leading Causes of Death. There I discuss the body of research suggesting that negatively charged ions in fresh air enhance mental performance. However, more than air quality may well be affecting mental performance. Our habits of breathing may also make a difference. In a classroom or office setting we may not realize that most of us tend to take shallow breaths. This may be one reason why after 30 minutes we may find it somewhat more difficult to concentrate. Shallow breathing may have such deleterious effects by allowing our blood oxygen level (called "oxygen saturation") to dip below the level necessary for optimal frontal lobe performance.196 Consciously taking deep breaths periodically may help to counter this tendency. By taking deep breaths, particularly of fresh air, we may be able to boost oxygen saturation sufficiently to improve frontal lobe function. In addition to taking deep breaths while sitting, regular aerobic exercise (outdoors preferably) will cause the heart to pump vital, oxygenated blood to the brain.



4.Provide Good Nutrition

I have focused a large portion of this chapter on the role of good nutrition in optimal frontal lobe function. A total vegetarian diet that is free from all stimulating agents appears to be the best diet to improve the abilities of our front brains. Nursing infants should be breast-fed.



5.Get Adequate Sunshine

Sunlight may increase serotonin production in the daytime. This, in turn, can help prevent depression and fatigue.197 I deal with some of these relationships in the context of sunshine’s sleep-enhancing role in Chapter 9 on melatonin. Further details of sunshine’s benefits on whole person health are chronicled in Chapter 20, "Beyond the Leading Causes of Death."



6.Challenge Your Frontal Lobes

By all means, exercise the thinking power of your brain! Just as our muscles shrivel if we do not use them, so it is with our frontal lobe. Challenging mental tasks will help to maintain our mental acuity by stimulating the frontal lobe. Serious reading, the study of nature, asking questions about the vast world surrounding us, and other wholesome uses of our mental capacities tend to produce salutary frontal lobe effects. One recent study found that imagining a certain activity stimulated 80 percent of the brain circuitry that would be used to physically perform the very task imagined.198 Such mental practice strengthens the brain cell connections, and when the time comes to execute the activity, the individual is better prepared.

Mental activity in children and teenagers is especially important in enhancing the ability to learn. Scientists have now discovered the first strong evidence that intellectual stimulation can significantly increase the number of brain cells in a crucial region of the brain. Previously it was thought that the number of active brain cells was more-or-less set early in childhood. This landmark study was performed at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.199 There, young mice were provided with an enriched environment, with more games and toys, and room to roam in extra large cages. When the results were in, those mice had developed 15 percent more brain cells in a key part of the brain responsible for memory and learning than genetically identical mice living in sparse surroundings. The extra brain cells enabled them to negotiate complex mazes faster and more efficiently. Researchers say that there is every reason to suppose that similar results would hold true for humans. The important conclusion is that the environment we provide for our children and teenagers may actually influence their number of brain cells and their ability to learn.

Ellen White described the effects of challenging the brain as quoted in Figure 33: Exercising the Brain will Expand It.200



7.Control What We See and Hear

The final point on the list is related to the previous point. Exposing our minds to great inspirational material will enlarge the mind and strengthen the intellect. Since spirituality, morality, and the will are centered in the frontal lobe of the brain, the inspirational material chosen should ideally appeal to our spiritual and moral being. The study of the Word of God fills this requirement like no other can. Ellen White outlined the impact of studying the Scriptures on the mind, soul, and intellect, as quoted in Figure 34: Read the Bible and Strengthen the Intellect.201 I have used considerable space in this chapter making the point that proper physical and mental habits are important for optimal frontal lobe function. Clearly, right mental habits promote mental excellence. At the same time, "right physical habits promote mental superiority."202 These are the laws of nature, laws that the Creator has put into our being. "Intellectual power, physical strength, and longevity depend upon immutable laws. There is no happen-so, no chance, about this matter. Heaven will not interfere to preserve men from the consequences of the violation of nature’s laws."203



Conclusion

God has provided each one of us with the power to freely choose how we will live. And He usually does not interfere, even when we make bad choices. Truly, "there is much truth in the adage that every person is the architect of his own fortune."204 In view of this tremendous power that you have been given to shape your own future, won’t you take some time today to again seriously look at your lifestyle. I challenge you to reflect on your current health habits and ask yourself what you can do to take advantage of what you have learned from this chapter. Try to identify some concrete steps that you can take within the next week to help protect and enhance your frontal lobe-and of course with it, your entire body. A healthful lifestyle makes sense. Do not merely follow your old ways of doing things just because they are comfortable, or "because everyone else is doing it." In the words of Scripture, "Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." Romans 12:2.



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