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Brain Resilience: 5 Steps to Healthy Gray-Matter and Avoiding Alzheimer’s

 

We all talk about slowing down as we get older, but Alzheimer’s and other brain-degenerative conditions don’t have to be part of the package. Far from being part of the natural ageing process, Alzheimer’s, as with every other dementia and memory loss is an acquired condition with definite contributing causes. Don’t believe it? Then check out this article after reading this blog post. Here are some simple approaches you can take to maintain the health of your brain.

 

Free Radicals

 

No, we’re not talking about anarchists. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that are produced naturally in the metabolic process and that the body uses as part of the immune system. Your body has mechanisms to neutralize excess free radicals, but when too many of the molecules build up, that system is overwhelmed. Because of their reactive quality, free radicals tend to destroy cells, including those in the brain and nervous system.

 

Sources of excess free radicals in the modern world include:

– Radiation from x-rays and microwaves;

– Toxic metals such as aluminum and cadmium in food preservatives, cosmetics, antiperspirants, aluminum cookware, and even public water supplies and flu vaccines; autopsies on Alzheimer’s patients often reveal abnormally high levels of aluminum;

– Chlorine and fluoride in drinking water, toothpaste etc.;

– Cigarette smoke;

– Hydrogenated oils, such as shortening, deep-fryer oil and non-dairy creamers; these fat molecules have been modified through long-term exposure to heat or chemical process. They act like a silver bullet going right to your brain and nervous system, where they oxidize much more quickly than ordinary fat molecules, releasing free radicals at a rate that kills or damages the host cell.

 

What can you do besides limiting your exposure? Antioxidants are nature’s counterbalance to free radicals. Vitamins C and E, Beta Carotine, D3 and B complex, as well as certain amino acids either act as antioxidants or stimulate antioxidant production. The herbs ginko and ginseng and the spice turmeric likewise have antioxidant effects, and certain fruits, such as wild blueberries, are high in antioxidant content. Increasing your vegetable intake also helps.

 

 

The 3-6 Balance

 

Your body needs a certain amount of dietary fat. Unfortunately, modern diets tend to be weighted toward Omega 6 fatty acids rather than Omega 3, while our bodies are designed for the opposite. This is of particular concern, because there is evidence that one particular kind of Omega 6 molecule is associated with memory loss and neural degeneration. Arachidonic acid overstimulates the brain’s nerve cells. We get Omega 6 from grain-fed factory-farm animal products, but especially from vegetable oil (corn, sunflower, canola and soybean), which is the main source of this imbalance in our diet. These are present in most processed foods.

 

Conversely, Omega 3 is quite important for brain health. It can help to break down the plaques associated with Alzheimer’s and reduce brain inflammation. Dietary sources can be supplemented by krill oil or fish oil capsules, but beware of eating too much fish, as fish in our food chain is often contaminated with mercury.

 

Exercise

 

Exercise plays a major role in regenerating the brain and nervous system. Less active people are much more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s. By exercising three to four times a week, you can promote cell and tissue repair mechanisms in your body, as well as increasing production of compounds that protect the nervous system. It increases the flow of blood in your brain and improves the health of your cardiovascular system.

 

Sleep

 

Getting a good night’s sleep is critical to memory, as you know if you’ve ever been a university student. There is also evidence that a healthy circadian rhythm is critical to the long-term health of your brain. Working nights over a long period does serious damage to the health of your brain, since it is that regular biochemical cycle that keeps your neural pathways in good working order.

 

 

The Diabetes Connection

 

Diabetes and insulin-resistance have a very high correlation with Alzheimer’s. Diabetics have up to a 65% higher chance of developing the disease. As such, the same approaches you’d take to avoid diabetes, such as reducing your sugar and grain intake, are also helpful in promoting brain health. Going to a diet richer in proteins is one of the first steps recommended to Alzheimer’s patients by natural health experts.

 

 

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


The Society of Future Happiness

There are few things we love more than predictions of what the future will hold. And predicting the future is a major industry, despite the obvious fact that most predictions turn out to be wrong. Yet now matter how much fun it is, there’s an insidious side to our love affair with the future and it’s one that’s sapping our mental and emotional resilience constantly.

Futurism (the activity of predicting the future, not the Avant-garde art movement) is a ubiquitous activity of our society. It’s in our newspapers and magazines, our scientists and engineers are trained to spout it, it’s built into the strategies of major corporations from Google Glasses to Google Cars. In science fiction, it arguably has a major industry of its own.

But futurism is also a major narrative force. It tells us how to understand our present, and why we should look forward to the future. It was the cornerstone of the state-sponsored religion of materialism in the former Communist bloc, justifying a repressive political system with reference to the bright future it was supposed to create.

It continues to perform a similar function today, justifying the present with reference to the future happiness of mankind through advancing technology and never-ending economic growth. And that is why it can be so damaging to our resilience, as individuals and as a society.

The Futurism Game

Futurists have one of the world’s best jobs. They get to sell people a vision of the future, and neither they nor their descendants have to give refunds if they’re wrong.

Jules Verne, one of the founding fathers of both science fiction and futurism, managed to get a great deal right, from submarines to the moon landing. The record since then is a little spottier. FE Smith, former cabinet minister and friend of Winston Churchill, prior to his death in 1930, wrote, “The man of 2030 will set off for the weekend, after his work, in a small, swift aeroplane, as reliable and cheap as the motor-car on which we depend today.”

This widespread prediction of personal aircraft and jetpacks replacing the car, stoked by the rapid development of aviation technology between World War I and the 1960s, was the bread and butter of futurism for quite some time. Even if you happen to own a personal ultralight aircraft today, chances are that your local municipal and aviation authorities would have some views on using it to make your daily commute.

Aviation technology has long since settled into a more incremental pace of improvement. While today’s futurism has gone off personal aviation, it works in exactly the same way. It looks at whatever areas of technology are currently advancing and projects from there, whether it’s artificial intelligence, brain-body interface or genetically-engineered humans. The game stays the same.

If projecting the future from the present is hit and miss in the technological arena, it is nearly always a miss in the geopolitical arena. Who in 1900 would have imagined the obscene toll taken by the World Wars, let alone the rapid decline of colonialism, the fall of the British Empire or the decline of great power competition in Europe? Who in 1980 could have imagined the end of the Cold War or the fall of the Soviet Union happening the way they did?

 

Postponed Happiness

You may remember this post in which we outlined the development of postponed happiness as a major theme in Western life. First, we were taught to think of happiness as something external to ourselves, something that could only be fully enjoyed after death. Then, with the rise of Protestantism, we couldn’t even take solace in good works as an indication of our eternal happiness. Yet, we reasoned, God would bless the elect with prosperity. As capitalism became our new religion, we retained this idea of external, postponed happiness.

We have created a system of eternal movement in which happiness is always relative to material things which we can never have enough of. Happiness will come, we are told, with the next paycheque, the next promotion, the next business deal, the next product… But futurism uses scientific and technological development to reinforce this projection of happiness upon the ever-increasing technology of the future. In futurism, the naïve dreams of the Victorian era live on, from the pill to cure all illness to the industrial production of limitless food.

Even more problematic are the new dreams being sold- genetically-engineered transhumans, brain-computer interface technologies for everyday use, pervasive artificial intelligence. These are justified not by a sane analysis of cost and benefit or by principled application of logic, but simply because it is change.

 

Out of Control

The cumulative effect of all of this messaging is to justify whatever happens as part of the inevitable march of progress, sanctifying new technologies, new industrialisation, new de-industrialisation with the stamp of future happiness, whatever present problems it may bring.

Let’s look at some of the most recent changes that we have allowed to slip into our society without exercising any form of collective, conscious control over our destinies. We have accepted pervasive surveillance both physical and electronic, by government and industry alike, touching every aspect of our lives, from the apps on our smartphones to the televisions in our living rooms to the onboard systems in our cars.

To quote the Federation President in Star Trek VI, “Let us redefine progress to mean that just because we can do a thing, it does not follow that we must do that thing.”

 

The Never-Ending March

You may have read recently of Stephen Hawking’s pronouncement that humanity must be careful to ward off extinction level events for the next few centuries, until we have developed the technology to colonise other worlds and so perpetuate our species. This is the underlying theme of so much of modern futurism- man, or his technological creations if the Singularity theory proves correct, must live on forever, jumping from planet to planet until the stars have burnt out, and then presumably finding a way to exist in the universe full of black holes that will follow. That never-ending march of progress, which will so change humanity as to ensure it will have virtually nothing in common with ourselves, is the ultimate justification for never-ending, unchecked technological, scientific and economic growth.

Whether we destroy Earth’s biosphere in the process matters less if we can hop from planet to planet like a virus looking for a new host.

This is exactly the creed of C.S. Lewis’ villain, Weston, in Out of the Silent Planet. Weston, who has come to an inhabited Mars with the intention of taking over and colonising a world which he sees as primitive, argues the right of civilisation to expand without limit across the universe by any means necessary, pushing aside all lower cultures. He admits that those people of the far future for whom he imagines he is acting would be virtually unrecognisable to him in any respect. Ransom, the protagonist, translates Weston’s high-flying self-justification into the natives, but cannot make it sound less than utterly ridiculous.

The reply of the spiritual being who leads the peoples of Mars has the beginnings of a brilliant deconstruction of this brand of progressive materialism. He says that an evil spirit has taught us to abandon all moral values except for one- the love of one’s own kind. And this is exactly the state of modern materialism. All moral values that can stand in the way of the “progress” desired are deconstructed, and yet the reason why we should care about some far-distant future iteration of the human race long after we are dead is never brought up.

 

The Unfulfilled Promise

The reason why there is not and will never be enough progress to bring us happiness is that the real sources of unhappiness are internal to human beings.

As an example, global agribusiness has long promised that industrial food production would yield more than enough food to feed the world’s population. We currently have the capacity to feed everyone on the planet. Why doesn’t it happen? Quite simply, the global food system is designed around the profit margins of global agribusiness. In that world, food aid in the form of wheat products discourages local farmers from growing the much healthier variety of crops that they previously depended on, leaving countries dependent on a nutritionally deficient global system. Farmers throughout the world are losing access to land and water as corporations take over more and more of it. That corporate land is not used for local food production, but for export to the developed world. Meanwhile, throughout prosperous countries, excess food is discarded in vast quantities, and excess agricultural production is destroyed to keep prices at the desired level.

The source of global hunger is a system designed around unlimited greed, a system that continues to justify itself as the vanguard of the fight against hunger on the basis of what it produces rather than what it delivers to the world as a whole.

And this is exactly what futurism does that is so damaging to our resilience. We are encouraged to invest our hopes, our identity, our money, our lifestyle in a future of unlimited growth, underwriting a system that does nothing to resolve the true sources of human misery. From chemical contamination of our food, water and soil to the growth of economic inequality to the offshoring of production to the countries with the most miserable working conditions to the increasing unemployment resulting from automation, anything can be justified under the all-excusing rubric of progress.

 

Counterfeit Happiness

In Buddhism they say that any “happiness” that depends on external stimuli and is not stable within a person is the result of dualistic thinking. They call it, “contaminated happiness,” and contaminated happiness contains within it the seeds of misery. So long as we seek happiness from material things, we will never have enough. The seeds of greed, anger, fear, all the human qualities that generate so much of our collective misery, are contained in this approach.

It is only in addressing the inner causes of unhappiness first that the world’s problems will truly begin to resolve. When we can develop technology not as a panacea but as an aid, when we can think through its impact dispassionately, at that point, we will have truly made progress.


What Christianity Needs to Know About Its Own Decline

Paralleling the experience of so many cities throughout North America, Ottawa is marking the closure of one of its oldest and most iconic churches, the 127-year old St. Matthias Anglican Church. In a building intended to hold 600, the average congregation has dipped to 75. It’s an everyday, almost unremarkable phenomenon of modern life, that even as people are willing to cross continents and look to traditions from the Himalayas and the Far East in search of meaning, the churches that were once the religious backbone of our society seem to exert almost no attraction at all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A lot of people have said a lot of things about this from many different viewpoints, and I’m not going to repeat most of it, because, frankly, none of it gets to the heart of the matter. It is no secret that Christianity is in numerical decline in the developed world, or that the most successful churches at this point tend to be on the radical side of the Evangelical movement. Many, long lists of contributing causes have been compiled by writers either seeking to bandage the sucking chest wounds or gleefully celebrate the death of a personal bogeyman.

One Cause

There is only one ultimate cause of the decline of Christianity, without which all the others either would not exist or would not matter. It’s not science or modernity or consumerism or hedonism or any other external factor. It’s not church scandals or liberalism or ecumenism.

The one and only cause of Christian decline is the fact that the real spiritual tradition of Christianity and its understanding of the world is not only dead in most churches, it is so far gone that they it sounds utterly foreign to them.

Libs vs. The Hardcore Crowd

Let’s look at the most basic dichotomy among Christian churches today, which is between those teaching niceness and inclusion and those teaching moralism and exclusion. You can see this dichotomy between the mainstream liberal and evangelical branches of Protestantism, between the modernising and traditionalist parts of Catholicism and so on.

If we look at the Protestant churches of the developed world as a case study, we can see three basic trends that are fairly undeniable, statistically speaking.
1. Liberal Protestant churches are in sharp decline
2. Evangelical Protestant churches are still attracting followers
3. Overall, Protestantism is in decline, whether measured by absolute number of adherents, attendance or by percentage of population

How did this situation come to be? On the one hand, Protestant roots going back to the likes of John Calvin and the Puritans emphasised a particular interpretation of strict Christian practice against the corruption of the Catholic Church. This practice was extremely harsh in its denial of pleasure and its emphasis on hard work, to the point where the Puritan Oliver Cromwell banned the celebration of Christmas. This kind of alleged Godliness could only hold the imagination for so long. As Protestantism embraced more social causes in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it became a driver for social change based on the morality of the New Testament- helping those in need, redistribution of wealth, equality of all people before God and the acceptance of everyone.

That shift was a much-needed relief to societies that had long been burdened with a rule-heavy morality and a rather Old Testament conception of a judgmental God. But without the rules that had held sway for so long, it brought on a crisis of what it meant to be Christian. After all, you don’t need to embrace any particular religion to be a nice, tolerant person. From this comes the view of Jesus as a moral teacher of enlightened values. But if that is all Christianity has to offer, then why do we need to go to church, and what, if anything, is the purpose of Christian practice?

The reaction to the resulting crisis of purpose was an inevitable revamping of old Protestant values. We’re not here to be nice! the Evangelical Churches proclaim. We have sinned and can only be saved from damnation because Christ paid our debt to God by dying as a man! Now we have to obey the rules so we don’t fall on his bad side again!

What rules? Well, there’s the rub, there are so many possible rules in each tradition, so many ways in which the rules contradict and so many interpretations that there really is no moral consistency to be had. But that doesn’t matter to the “rules club,” the hardcore Evangelical Protestants, “traditionalist” Catholics and Orthodox. No, they want rules for rules’ sake. We are saved for adhering to a particular ideology and obeying a checklist of rules- the one they happen to be emphasising this week- and anyone who doesn’t can expect fire and brimstone.

Selling Points

So why are these people so successful in marketing their petty, vengeful God and his inhuman checklists of rules? For two reasons.

First, because they’re serious about it. They seem to be offering exactly what the liberals never did- a thoroughgoing approach to Christian life. People are attracted to seriousness, because it feels like they’re actually doing something, like their faith is not superficial.

Second, because they trade on fear. You may remember our post on the difference between religion and spirituality. The core of the religious illness is the attempt to exert control over our destinies by performing ritual and moral actions that will get the deity on our side. Religious rules are a means of exerting control over the universe, of feeling like we’re justified or on the right track. They’re also a means of sorting the good people from the bad people, and we all know how much humans like to have bad people on whom to blame their problems.

The Lost Pearl

And that brings us to the real core of the problem here. From the very beginning, there was a tension in Christianity between principled spiritual life and rules. You can see one of the earliest instances of this in the Acts of the Apostles, when the church in Jerusalem had to decide whether to admit Gentiles. On the one hand, the Jewish Law forbade them to associate with Gentiles. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit had already acted to transform the lives of these people. In that case, the Spirit won, but it has been an uphill battle ever since.

The tradition of theosis, of the transformation of the human person in cooperation with the divine energies of God, is a demanding one. It requires us not to follow a checklist of rules, but to enter upon a deliberate journey into the centre of our being, to face and heal the very sources of our misery, to change the way we as human beings exist. It also requires us to exercise moral discernment rather than depending on rules. Here is what it has to say about the God of juridical Christianity:

“Far be it from us that we should ever think so wicked a thing as that God could become unmerciful. For God’s attributes do not change as those of mortals do.”

“As a handful of sand thrown into the ocean, so are the sins of all flesh as compared with the mind of God.”

– St. Isaac the Syrian

But following the rules is much easier than self-transformation, and certainly much more convenient for an institution governing a large body of followers.  The idea of a divine judge gained almost universal currency in Christianity, while the tradition of theosis was obscured. What the Evangelicals and other rule-bound types embrace is not Christianity, but the rule of rules, the neurobiological sickness of religion which allows people to be assured that if they follow such and such a set of rules, if they associate with the right group and believe the right things, they can control their eternal destiny without in any way challenging the many mental afflictions that they have grown comfortable with.

But today, our society is growing much more aware of the limitations and harmful effects of moralistic rules, and so it is often the case that those who enter strict rule-bound parts of Christianity or their children end up leaving it for good.

The alternatives those alienated ex-Christians and our alienated society look for are those with fewer rules, but a genuine and thoroughgoing approach to self-transformation- in short, those offering real substance up front.

The Challenge

What’s really dying here is not Christianity, but the husk of a shadow of Christ’s teachings. Without a real path of spiritual development that is not overshadowed by the bankrupt morality of juridical Christianity, nothing else will take for very long. In order to change this dynamic of decline, Christians would need to do three very difficult things:

1. Confront the moral inconsistencies of the inherited rules and replace them with consistent adherence to divine love and personal integrity,
2. Rediscover the ancient tradition of self-transformation (theosis) and put it into practice, and
3. Build a community around it that is willing to teach it and live it out.

No existing church is even close to doing this, certainly not the Orthodox Church which claims the tradition of inner prayer as its own. In fact, although the knowledge of the ancient tradition survives only in the Orthodox Church, that illustrious institution largely ignores it in practice. After all, it’s much easier to celebrate the lives of the transformed human beings (saints) of the past than it is to actually do what they’ve told you.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger
~ Anthony S. Rodger, M.A.


The Optimism Trap (yes, really!)

First published February 2012

Here is a simple truth: you control your life. And your thoughts and feelings color your experience like nothing else. How do you view your life? Through rose-colored glasses or with a more negative outlook? This is important because it affects your life in every possible sense. Therefore, remain conscious of the emotions that you cultivate as you go through your day. And you are always deciding which emotions to cultivate as you move through your day. So do you think perhaps making those decisions consciously would be a good idea?

For a long time, we were advised to be optimistic. “Think positive!” was everywhere. Optimism does have some real merit. Research has shown that optimism has positive benefits when applied to ventures such as entrepreneurship – it’s difficult to even imagine taking the risk of starting a new business venture in the face of harsh statistics such as that less than half of new businesses succeed beyond five years. But they do – thanks to optimism. Or take the job hunter who shows up to interview after interview despite the harsh economic climate – he or she has to believe that this next job will be the one! Who would ever take a chance if they didn’t think positively?

Think of the geniuses of recent centuries: from Nicola Tesla to Beethoven, there is one particular trait they had in common. They kept trying where others gave up. Only blind optimism could have led to the discoveries and the music they produced. Here’s a video that details some other famous people who failed at first:

The final line from the above youtube clip, “life = risk”, is the truth. Optimists turn their gaze away from the big possibility “of crashing and burning” and focus instead on the gleaming trophy of success they hope to attain.

Yet as absolutely vital as optimism is to your overall health and to your ability to bring about positive change in your life, there is such a thing as stupid, naive optimism, an optimism that’s self-destructive. This false optimism may give you a false sense of security. Have you ever heard of the expression, “Plan for the worst, hope for the best”? It’s harder than it sounds. Many people just do the second part, and optimistically expect to lose weight or to find their dream job without putting concrete steps into action that will make it happen. The New Orleans politicians knew the levies wouldn’t hold against the sea water in a hurricane, but optimistically thought it couldn’t happen to them. Likewise, many in the current younger generation assume that a fulfilling, well-paying job and a beautiful home will fall into their laps. After living with high expectations all their lives, they grow up to confront a harsher reality in their twenties. Just google “new generation entitlement” to see what I mean.

Optimism can work against us – an MRI scan showed that optimistic people’s brains lit up when told positive statistics, and barely processed negative ones. In many ways, it makes sense that the brain works this way, otherwise how could we get through our daily lives with mortality staring us in the face? But thinking that disaster won’t happen to you can actually endanger your health and safety! Thinking about the worst that could happen can help you think twice about doing that cliff dive or trying a drug “just this once”.

Martin Seligman, psychologist and author of Authentic Happiness, says that, “The idea that optimism is always good is a caricature. It misses realism, it misses appropriateness, it misses the importance of negative emotion.” A huge financial scandal at the head office of my Church is a great illustration. This scandal, which turned out to be a 2 million dollar embezzlement of funds that had been earmarked for victims of 9/11, the Beslan massacre and the Armenian earthquake, was reprehensible and yet many were afraid to stand up and demand justice and transparency. We were told we should “forgive” the perpetrators and “move on”. Well, in that situation, anger was a most appropriate emotion! It was the people who were NOT angry that you had to worry about! And there was one member of the clergy who would just smile and say, “It’s all good” and refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation. So inappropriate “positive” emotion, if you can call it that, can actually be a sign of complacency, sycophancy and an appalling lack of personal integrity. When confronted with injustice, tyranny, genocide and other hideous and obvious evils, righteous anger is the appropriate response of a true human being.

However, not all so-called “negative” emotions are not necessarily synonymous with pessimism. Pessimism is often intertwined with crippling and truly negative emotional states such as self-doubt, shame, guilt, a sense of unworthiness, self-image issues and more. Whereas stupid optimism can blind you to real danger, “stupid” pessimism is often a self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to self-created disastrous outcomes.

Yes, it’s true that no matter how intelligently optimistic you are, you will suffer occasional “reversals” of fortune. The funny thing is, though, that for those who are intelligently optimistic, these reversals almost always turn out to by huge blessings in disguise. Hence the wisdom of an ancient Taoist parable where the neighbors of a certain farmer continually pronounce every event in the farmer’s life to be unequivocally “good” or “bad”. The farmer, though, is a wise man, so when his son breaks a leg he says “maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad”. Then, when the emperor’s soldiers come by a week later, they find the lad unable to walk and do not draft him into the army. So what had appeared to be a purely negative event had a very positive outcome.

People who have enjoyed success use pessimism to avoid becoming lazy and overconfident about their situations, and to prepare and motivate themselves. But on the other hand, optimism can also motivate, by helping you forget about all the things that could go wrong and helping you keep your eyes on the prize. As a 2011 article in Psychology Today put it: “Optimism can buoy us up when things go wrong; deluged by feelings of hopelessness and despair, optimism is the raft we cling to until the skies clear.”

Bottom line? Both intelligent optimism and intelligent pessimism are positive psychological states and you can use them to improve your daily life now. All you have to do is discern and distinguish them carefully from their counterfeit equivalents – a naive and stupid optimism and a self-defeating pessimism. In the end, this viewpoint will be much more helpful to you than the simplistic idea that all optimism is “good” and all pessimism is “bad”.

As an exercise, try taking stock of your own internal optimistic and pessimistic states over the next week or so – are you using them wisely or destructively?

Good luck!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Jedi for Real Food

The struggle against the Dark Side of the grocery store continues in this outrageous Star Wars-themed battle of the foods.


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