Neurotrophins: Fertilisers for your brain!

Neurotrophins: Fertilisers for your brain!

Happy Psychology week!

Happy Psychology week!

As the nation goes through a messy haze, filled of negativity biases left right at your doorstep or television screen. It feels refreshing to  promote psychology week.
In between all the Trump & Clinton concoctions, horrific weather and so-forth. Psychology week, promoted by the Australian Psychology Society  is another wonderful intervention to promote health and well being. One is going to discuss the power of social connection; and the importance on combating disease and social isolation.
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Pain, immunity and your well being!

Pain, immunity and your well being!

Picture these two scenarios:download

1) You have just been rejected for a date with someone you’ve been very fond off….(sad face)


2) Your last rep of your deadlift; has left you with a stabbing sensation in your lumbar spine…

Why have I asked you to think about the two contrasting scenarios? Do you think they can be interrelated?

YES! Pain can be driven emotionally and physically!
The feeling of rejection, or mechanical irritation in a exercise lights up the same area in brain, the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC). In fact a study by Eisenberger and colleagues (2003) participants were placed in functional MRI and asked to playing a game against a partner. It showed that when the participant experienced “social rejection”  because their partner stopped playing,  the ACC lit up.

And then you watch  ‘that guy’ at your local gym, who lift’s weights rather poorly (to use more kinder words). He looks like he might snap his spine in half every squat. You scratch your head and wonder, “how the heck do you not get pain?”.

That is the complexity of pain ladies and gentleman. Pain is specifically, biologically innate to protect the organism of threat and danger. One’s organism has a highly sophisticated computer (Thalamus) that relies on multiple pieces of stimuli and memory to decide whether or not danger is present. Now; this happens faster than you you can cognitively process. Remember the last time you burnt your hand? Did you have to think about pulling your hand away? No way! A-Delta nerve fibers reflex your hand away from danger. And the latent onset of pain is due to your C-Fibers (thermal and chemical). And don’t get me started on the Periaqueductal grey matter and free nerve endings:/

So; by now you can see pain is complex. And pain is needed for the survival of the organism. So why do 1 in 5 Australian’s (including adolescents) and 1 in 3 over the age of 63 experience chronic pain? Research has been looking closely at a important inhibitory neurotransmitter (GABA) and again your sophisticated computer the Thalamus. You can say there is a disconnection with specific communicative pathways in the brain (Thalamocortical rhythm). To put this in easy Spanglish, your brain learns to poorly discriminate, what is danger and what is not. And hence how chronic pain sufferers have widespread symptoms such as Fibromyalgia, with question marks over one’s etiology.

Let me teach you how to keep your Thalamus happy.
It is all about your well being and immunity!

There is increasing evidence in a growing field (psychoneuroimmunology) that shows that well being and lifestyle influence our immunity and susceptibility to illness.  In research, endotoxin’s are used intravenously to increase inflammation (without a pathogen) to study the behavior of organisms (including humans). What I’m getting at, is psychologically/metabolically healthy individuals were imunosupressive to the endotoxin. So not only were there increases in pro-inflammatory’s (IL-6, IL-10, TNF), but  the participating individuals did not get SICK. Pain, especially when chronic is highly inflammatory. And thus being psychologically stressed, obese, lacking social connection and the big ONE lacking physical exercise can increase pain signals.

Have I answered your questions? Probably not.
Why? Because there is no magic pill.

Science is learning more about genetics and so forth. The big BUT is…. that your well being is so important. Social connection, nutrition, mindfulness and of course EXERCISE are going to keep your vagus nerve happy and an abundance of serotonin and oxytocin to keep the chronic pain away.


James Smith




Eisenberger , NIE, 2012. The pain of social disconnection: examining the shared neural underpinnings of physical and social pain.. Nat Rev Neurosci. , 2012 May 3;13(6), 421-34.

Henderson , LA, 2013. Chronic pain: lost inhibition?. J Neurosci, 17, 0174-13.

Lasselin, JL, et al., 2016. Well-being and immune response: a multi-system perspective. Current Opinion in Pharmacology, 29, 34–41.

Happiness: What is science telling us?

Happiness: What is science telling us?

9-not-need-happyIt’s surely coincidental that I have been given the task to write about the “science” (I’m a nerd) and “happiness” (I like hugging people).

For some time scientist were unable to measure happiness. And you can hypothesis all you want, but if you can’t lay down the hard evidence then science or in this case psychology will debunk you. Dr. Sue Johnson a counselling psychologist debunked the critics that love could never be measured. With functional MRI showing us nerds the nitty gritty of the brain. Dr. Johnson could indeed show us with a little bit of oxytocin that love can be measured, and we all know that love/bonding is ever so important for the survival of human kind (for more references for Dr. Johnson, read her book “Love sense”) 

So you have gathered I like science and hugging people….BUT! this blog is to celebrate International day of happiness. And how to measure your own happiness.

On the 28th of June 2012  Jayme Illien a United Nations adviser proposed  happiness as a human right and a “fundamental human goal.” Jayme himself was a rescued orphan by Mother Theresa’s International Mission of Hope charities (for more on Jayme,  And what a noble idea it was. And so on the 20th of March every year, International day of happiness is a day to promote, well….happiness!

So there is your sneaky background check. Now to the “science” behind happiness.

There is really one psychologist that has put positive psychology on the map, and there might be a confirmation bias here as I have read all of his books. Quickly,  Positive psychology investigates what brings satisfaction to ones life. Without treating the pathology of mental illness. Professor Martin Seligman is the father of positive psychology and is famous for his previous investigation into learned helplessness. Professor Seligman defied and even challenged the likes of Sigmund Freud with his investigation and methodology. Prof Seligman hypothesised that you can measure happiness and well being. And along with his books Learned optimism and Flourish came about a measuring stick for happiness and well being. Prof Seligman developed a measuring questionnaire called PERMA through the university of Pennsylvania. Which scientifically measures your optimism and well being in life. A pessimistic outlook in life has been linked to poorer immunity, inability to bounce back from setbacks and even presidential speeches that were pessimistic, were less likely to get voted for (true story).

Prof Seligman has done wonderful work here at SAHMRI with the Wellbeing and resilience centre. Setting up PERMA programs through schools, workplaces and within the community with huge success. If you don’t feel inclined to follow up on the links, here is a a TED talk done by the man himself. 

PERMA stands for….

Clicking on the above headlines will direct you through to PERMA in more depth along with .

I’m known to ramble on, so I will leave the links above and below for you wonderful people to investigate in your time. But as you can see (if you read the links) a splash of positive emotion (being optimistic) and a little sprinkle of engagement (nourishing activities) and you are well on your way to a “flourishing” meaningful life.

Happy international day