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Hurtful Words Damage the Brain

Nov 15, 2016

In this week’s spotlight I wish to discuss the power of words on our brains. We all remember the
old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Well the fact
is, this old stale saying is not only false on its face, but research has shown that words can indeed
physically alter your brain.

Words that Change

Neuroscientists Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman have observed changes in the brain
due to the words we use, including those that arise in our thoughts. Think of that for a minute.
Words like peace and love can strengthen areas in the frontal lobe, giving rise to increased
cognitive function and even arguably influencing the expression of our genes.
Conversely, negative hostile words like hate can influence the production of neurochemicals,
increasing the production of stress producing hormones. Additionally, angry words have been
shown to interrupt the optimal operation of our logic-reason centers in the frontal lobe.
In their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, Newberg and Waldman report their findings this
“By holding a positive and optimistic [word] in your mind, you stimulate frontal lobe activity. This
area includes specific language centers that connect directly to the motor cortex responsible for
moving you into action. And as our research has shown, the longer you concentrate on positive
words, the more you begin to affect other areas of the brain. Functions in the parietal lobe start to
change, which changes your perception of yourself and the people you interact with. A positive
view of yourself will bias you toward seeing the good in others, whereas a negative self-image will
tend you toward suspicion and doubt. Over time the structure of your thalamus will also change in
response to your conscious words, thoughts, and feelings, and we believe that the thalamic
changes affect the way in which you perceive reality.”
Verbal Abuse
In a paper published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Martin Teicher and colleagues at
Harvard Medical School share the results of a new study that revealed:
“. . . those individuals who reported experiencing verbal abuse from their peers during middle
school years had underdeveloped connections between the left and right sides of their brain
through the massive bundle of connecting fibers called the corpus callosum. Psychological tests
given to all subjects in the study showed that this same group of individuals had higher levels of
anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, dissociation, and drug abuse than others in the study.” 1
Bottom line, what you think, how you talk to yourself, the way you verbalize your feelings—all of
this has a very real influence on your brain and therefore your body/mind being. Not only that,
but the way you express yourself to others may have a lasting effect on both of you!
Mind as Healer or Mind as Slayer
For years I have taught the importance of the thoughts we hold, our self-talk, that inner dialogue
that goes on almost incessantly, because these thoughts can and often do become things. Our
thoughts, our mind, can be seen as our best friend or our worst enemy, and we have the ability to
develop it either way. Mind as healer or mind as slayer—it’s really up to you.
My advice, tend to the thoughts you have. Cancel those you do not wish to claim. Replace them
with a positive set of self-affirming, life-affirming words. Look for beauty, awe, love, and joy in
everything and when you catch a glimpse of it, hold it in your thoughts, dwell on it, enjoy it, and
accept the miracle that life is.
Now one more thing, remember that the research clearly shows that it is our subconscious that
makes our decisions, so remember to work on actively changing the self-destructive programming
that may exist there.
As always, thanks for the read and I appreciate your feedback.
Eldon Taylor
1. Fields, R. D. 2010. “Sticks and Stones–Hurtful Words Damage the Brain.” Psychology

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Strengthen Your Brain Through The Power of Prayer

The Mind Health Report interviews Dr. Andrew Newberg
Dr. Newberg is one of the founders of the field of neurotheology, the study of the
relationship between the brain and religious and spiritual phenomena. His research has
included studying the brain scans of more than 150 people to observe the various
changes that take place during different types of religious practice and meditation.
The research goes on to describe how such experiences relate to our feelings, thoughts,
and behavior toward others.
In his studies, Dr. Newberg seeks only to understand what happens in the brain when
we engage in religious activities, and how it impacts our health, quality of life, and
He does not attempt to evaluate or question religious beliefs or the underlying concept
of faith. In fact, Dr. Newberg has identified faith in one’s religious and other personal
beliefs as the most powerful way to maintain a healthy brain.
Religious beliefs and activities can have a profound impact on our mental and physical
well-being by reducing stress, improving resistance to diseases, enhancing memory and
mental function, and helping us to lead longer lives.
“There is not just one part of the brain or body that is the religious center of who we
are,” he says. “Instead, the whole ‘self’ seems to be very deeply affected by religious
ideas and practices.”
Dr. Newberg’s studies show that various parts of the brain are affected in different
ways by prayer and other religious rituals and ceremonies.
Here is the article as published in Mind Health Report:
Since its founding, the United States has always been a deeply religious nation. Prayer, especially,
is an integral part of American culture; even today, statistics show that three out of four
Americans pray on a daily or weekly basis.
Prayer helps us deal with the many trials and tribulations we face, providing a source of comfort
and a foundation for hope, as well as improving our outlook and our emotional well-being.
In recent years, studies have shown that there is also a connection between religious practice and
less depression, lower blood pressure, an improved ability to deal with financial strain and
physical pain, better overall health, and a longer life.
Less is understood, however, about just how prayer confers such health benefits. For instance,
how do prayer and other forms of religious activity affect the brain?
To answer this question, The Mind Health Report spoke to Andrew Newberg, M.D., who has
studied the impact of religious practice and meditation on the human brain for more than 17
Dr. Newberg is the director of research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at
Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Medical College in Philadelphia. He is the co-author of,
among other books, How God Changes Your Brain, as well as dozens of scientific articles on
prayer and brain health.
The Whole ‘Self’ Is Affected By Religious Practice
Dr. Newberg is one of the founders of the field of neurotheology, the study of the relationship
between the brain and religious and spiritual phenomena. His research has included studying the
brain scans of more than 150 people to observe the various changes that take place during
different types of religious practice and meditation.
The research goes on to describe how such experiences relate to our feelings, thoughts, and
behavior toward others.
In his studies, Dr. Newberg seeks only to understand what happens in the brain when we engage
in religious activities, and how it impacts our health, quality of life, and relationships.
He does not attempt to evaluate or question religious beliefs or the underlying concept of faith. In
fact, Dr. Newberg has identified faith in one’s religious and other personal beliefs as the most
powerful way to maintain a healthy brain.
Religious beliefs and activities can have a profound impact on our mental and physical well-being
by reducing stress, improving resistance to diseases, enhancing memory and mental function, and
helping us to lead longer lives.
“There is not just one part of the brain or body that is the religious center of who we are,” he
says. “Instead, the whole ‘self’ seems to be very deeply affected by religious ideas and practices.”
Dr. Newberg’s studies show that various parts of the brain are affected in different ways by prayer
and other religious rituals and ceremonies.
How Prayer Affects the Brain
Although the brain has many components, Dr. Newberg’s studies show that certain areas are
distinctly affected by prayer and other religious experiences. The overall result is an improvement
in brain function and well-being, and an increase in the person’s capacity for compassion.

1. The Frontal Lobe is activated by prayer and focused attention. Activities that engage this area
protect it against age-related deterioration that is associated with dementia.
2. The Anterior Cingulate is activated when we feel compassion, have an awareness of other
people’s feelings, and empathize with them.
3. The Parietal Lobes are deactivated by religious experiences, such as singing hymns at a
religious service, making us feel a connection with God and other people.
4–8. The Limbic System, the primitive or “reptilian” region of the brain, is deactivated by prayer
that gives us comfort and reduces stress. This region includes the amygdala, hippocampus,
hypothalamus, septal area, and cingulate cortex. The limbic system is associated with anger,
guilt, anxiety, depression, fear, resentment, and pessimism.

The “Regions of the Brain” diagram (above) illustrates the key components of the brain that are
influenced by prayer.
The frontal lobe, located just behind the forehead, becomes activated when we focus our
attention, plan, reason, read or speak, and move voluntarily.
This area shrinks with age, and its deterioration is associated with loss of memory and overall
mental functioning. Greater deterioration of the frontal lobe is associated with dementia.
Prayer, if done for at least 12 minutes daily on a regular basis, may slow the age-related decline
of the frontal lobe.
The anterior cingulate, just behind the frontal lobe, is activated when we are aware of others
and empathize with them, when we sense how they feel, and when we feel compassion for other
Prayer increases activity in this area, which is considered to be the part of the brain that most
clearly distinguishes human beings from animals. Dr. Newberg calls it the “neurological heart.”
The parietal lobes, above and slightly behind the ears, are activated when we feel a sense of
ourselves as separate from other things in the world.
Activity in this area drops during religious experiences; our sense of self actually diminishes,
enabling a feeling of being more “at one” with God, other members of a congregation, or the
universe at large.
The limbic system is made up of several components located at the top of the spinal cord; this
is sometimes called the “reptilian” or primitive part of the brain because reptiles, birds, fish, and
mammals all have this type of brain system.
The limbic system is the oldest and most rugged part of the brain, designed to fight for survival in
harsh, primitive environments that existed long before we lived in the type of society we have
today. It becomes activated when we feel anger, resentment, and other destructive or pessimistic
One part of the limbic system, the amygdala, turns on a fight-or-flight response which reduces
regard for others and deactivates compassion.
Prayer can prevent negative emotions in the limbic system from becoming activated, and can help
turn on positive emotions.
Effects of Different Kinds of Religious Activity
As a general rule, prayer activates the more “human” (anterior cingulate) and rational (frontal
lobe) parts of the brain, and deactivates the more primitive region (the limbic system). This brings
about a sense of comfort and reduces stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions.
Specific activities have different types of impact. Brain scans show that when individuals speak in
tongues, for instance, activity in the frontal lobe decreases. Most likely, says Dr. Newberg, this
happens because the frontal lobes act as a type of gateway that keeps information organized and
attention focused. But the individual’s attention at the moment of speaking in tongues is not
The temporary suspension of the frontal lobe gateway enables new ideas that are being discussed
in the church setting to have a deeper impact on the person.
Singing hymns and saying group prayers at a church service have a different effect on the brain.
These are activities in which the members of a congregation become a part of something that is
bigger than themselves. At the same time, they temporarily lose some of their sense of isolation
and individuality. Emotional music played at a service can intensify this effect.
In addition to making a person feel closer to God, this activity also increases a sense of unity with
larger groups, such as one’s countrymen or even all of humanity. Meanwhile, activity in the
parietal lobes decreases.
The degree to which prayer enhances the brain depends upon how long and how often people
pray. While a few minutes of occasional prayer may not bring about significant improvements,
studies show that more frequent practice for longer periods will produce tangible benefits.
Exercise Your Mind
“The brain is like a muscle,” says Dr. Newberg, “The more you use it, the better it works.”
When prayers are spoken, either silently or out loud; or sung, whether from memory or by
reading a prayer book, the brain becomes highly engaged. Such prayers can focus on getting
closer to God, showing gratitude, seeking strength, or making a petition on behalf of oneself or
another person.
In addition to prayer, Dr. Newberg’s research has examined the effects of meditation. To put this
research in context, meditation simply means to think about or contemplate spirituality.
The brain activity associated with various types of meditation is much like that of contemplative or
meditative prayers, which may include repeating prayers (chanting) or reflecting on the meaning
of Biblical passages.
Brain scans show that contemplative prayer increases activity in the frontal lobe. This area
becomes more active when we focus our attention. It could be activated by quiet prayer or prayer
at a religious service, where attention is focused on saying, singing, or reading the scripture.
Once again, shrinking of the frontal lobes is associated with aging, loss of memory, and dementia.
Studies of people who meditate for many years have shown that their frontal lobes are larger than
those of their peers who don’t meditate.
In a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Dr. Newberg examined the effects of a
meditation program on people who were experiencing a mild degree of difficulty with memory.
He found that study participants who practiced meditation for 12 minutes daily for 8 weeks
experienced significant improvements in their memory.
Strengthening the frontal lobe has other benefits as well. It improves “executive function” of the
brain, which describes a wide range of cognitive behaviors and processes that occur as we go
about our everyday lives. This can include everything from planning a daily itinerary to coming up
with a dinner menu to making more significant decisions such as where to invest savings, or
whether or not to buy a new home or where to send your children to school.
Overall, the enhancement of the frontal lobe helps to maintain what we think of as a healthy
brain. It keeps the brain in better shape throughout the later years of life.
Religious Activities Enhance Our Emotional Well Being
As well as improving brain function, prayer and other religious activities that bring comfort can
lower stress, improve the immune system, lower blood pressure and help to keep the heart in
good shape.
“If a person derives strength from their religion — such as a feeling of love or other positive
emotions — when coping with difficult issues, those things can lead to positive physical and
mental benefits,” says Dr. Newberg.
In contrast, studies show that anger activates the primitive brain (the limbic system), which
perpetuates aggressive feelings such as resentment, jealousy, and a pessimistic outlook on life.
In addition, this area of the brain increases stress, impairs immune function, raises blood pressure
and risk for heart disease, and fosters anxiety, guilt, and depression.
The limbic system can also damage the benign brain regions, such as the frontal lobe and anterior
cingulate, even to the point of impairing their function.
For optimum brain function and overall health, it makes sense to reduce the activity of the limbic
system as much as possible.
Prayer that focuses on positive ideas and optimistic visions of the future will activate the more
positive parts of the brain and deactivate the limbic region, enhancing the ability to experience
and express compassion, toward oneself and others.
“If you derive from religion positive feelings and positive ideas — including support, compassion,
and understanding — over time it will lower stress,” says Dr. Newberg, “Ultimately, these
activities will have a beneficial effect on your brain.”
The Brain-Health Diet by Dr. Paul Nussbaum
Most Americans are aware of the obesity problem in our nation. Most of us also understand that
being overweight is a major risk factor for cardiac health and can increase the risk of stroke and
diabetes as well.
What most Americans may not understand is that the brain is also significantly affected by what
we eat, and that many of the heart problems that come with a poor diet can also have adverse
effects on the brain.
The human brain is actually the fattiest part of the human body, with nearly 60 percent its total
mass made up of lipid (fat) substances. This “good” fat insulates nerve tracks, enabling efficient
information processing.
Without proper levels of good fat, or if a breakdown of brain cells occurs due to chronic intake of
trans fats and saturated fats, the brain can suffer reduced processing, stroke, or even dementia.
How Our Diet Has Changed
When thinking about the foods that comprise a brain-healthy diet, a good place to start is with our
hunter-gatherer ancestors. Their diet was devoid of the bad fats and processed foods that can
damage the body and brain over time.
During our early development as a species, intake of such natural, healthy foods contributed to
our species’ ability to develop complex social behaviors, creativity and intellect, and the ability to
adapt to dangerous surroundings. This diet included leafy plants, berries, fish, lean game, and
However, as the agricultural revolution emerged, our diets changed to include foods high in bad
fats and calories. These fatty foods — such as cheese, red meat, milk, and butter — can do
structural damage to cell membranes, thereby reducing the efficiency of the brain cell. This can
result in slowed cognition, memory and attention problems, and even changes in mood.
We then underwent a third dietary transition as our civilization moved into the industrial age. Our
diets now include highly processed foods such as trans fats, saturated fats, refined grains, high-
fructose corn syrup, and monosodium glutamate.
These processed foods have very little nutritional value. Eating a steady diet of these devitalized
substances will starve your brain of the nutrients it needs.
Good Fats and Antioxidants Fortify the Brain
As you can see, over time, what we eat actually affects the function of our brains. Mood, energy,
and cognitive processing are all influenced by the foods we consume. This basic understanding
has led to a relatively new discipline known as “nutritional neuroscience,” which is the study of
how different foods change our brains.
While there isn’t yet a diet that can conclusively prevent brain diseases, it has been discovered
that specific foods help the brain, primarily through the intake of omega-3 fatty acids (good fats)
and antioxidants, which combat “free radicals” (atoms with surplus electrons) in the body.
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel and sardines. The
federal government recently recommended a weekly intake of 8 ounces of fish per week. Omega-
3s are also found in unsalted nuts such as walnuts and almonds.
Antioxidants can be found in grapes, apples, berries of all kinds, bananas, green leafy vegetables,
carrots, beets, peas, and beans.
Finally, it is a good idea to reduce your overall daily caloric intake, regardless of what you eat.
Many people forget to pay attention to quantity and instead focus only on the types of food eaten.
If you can make a few small changes in your daily diet that include increased intake of omega-3s
and antioxidants, and reduce your overall calories and the amount of processed foods, you are
well on your way to a brain-healthy diet.
Use Prayer, Religious Practices to Stimulate the Brain – Dr. Newberg’s Research
Anger, resentment, negative images and thoughts can activate the most primitive part of our
brain, the limbic system, while damaging those parts of the brain (the frontal lobe and the
anterior cingulate) that are attuned to logic, reason, positive emotions, and compassion. These
areas can be activated by prayer and other religious activities.
Based on Dr. Newberg’s research, The Mind Health Report identified some ways that activate and
reinforce those parts of the brain that support a healthier brain and more positive life:
• Prayer that focuses on gratitude, celebration, or a positive vision of the future, as well
as rejecting anger and resentment, will increase compassion, reduce depression and anxiety,
relieve stress, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and eventually extend life.
• Reflecting on a Biblical passage, envisioning God in a positive way, or saying a prayer
that has special meaning for you can enhance your memory. Do it in a quiet, comfortable place
for at least 12 minutes a day.
• Being an active member of a congregation that shares your beliefs and outlook on the
world enriches social relationships. This, in turn, slows the aging of the brain.
• Participating in religious services that express and reinforce your beliefs, especially if
these involve music and singing, strengthens your faith and your brain.
• Experiencing doubts or conflicts about your faith increases stress and can damage
health of the brain and body, but resolving these and pursuing religious activities that have
meaning for you will have beneficial effects.

Ease Conflicts by Exercising the Compassion Centers of the Brain – Dr. Newberg
Besides reducing stress, how can the benefits of prayer affect our everyday lives and
relationships with others?As has been noted, prayer and other religious practices activate the
anterior cingulate and frontal lobe areas of the brain, which can put you in a compassionate frame
of mind. This can come in handy, especially in situations where we face conflict with another
According to Dr. Newberg, anger and irritability can derail activity in the frontal lobe, which
governs reasoning, language, and cooperative communication. When this happens, our ability to
resolve conflicts all but vanishes.
Although anger is sometimes unavoidable, there are steps you can take to ease the tension in
situations that involve conflict Dr. Newberg recommends finding a time that is convenient for you
and the other person and suggesting that you discuss the contentious subject with compassion.
Here are some ground rules from Dr. Newberg:
• Make an appointment to discuss the problem. (Don't say, "We have to talk about this
right now.") And agree
that you will both try to discuss the subject with compassion
• At the predetermined- time, start the conversation with a kind remark, compliment, or
gesture, such as a small
gift or hug (if appropriate for that person)
· If hostile or negative emotions are triggered, agree to take a "time out" for anywhere from
a few minutes ta a few days, Set a new time to continue the discussion on calmer terms
• Don't use foul language, criticism, sarcasm, or yell, and speak in a friendly and soft tone
• Keep the discussion balanced, so that each person gets equal time, approximately
• Show respect for the other person's feelings and point of view
• Listen and don't assume you know what the other person thinks
• Be specific in explaining your point of view, without assigning blame
· Look for constructive solutions, and be creative in coming up with new ways to address the
situation If you think you can have a conversation without getting angry, Dr. Newberg
recommends turning on a tape recorded before you start. This can act as a deterrent to anger, or,
if it doesn’t work, you can review the tape to see what triggered the reaction.

Mind Health Insights – random clinical studies

Older Really is Wiser
The brains of older people may react a bit more slowly than young brains, but that’s not
necessarily a bad thing because older brains are more efficient, according to a study at the
University of Montreal, published in Cerebral Cortex.
“We now have neurobiological evidence showing that with age comes wisdom, and that as the
brain gets older, it learns to better allocate its resources,” said researcher Oury Monchi, Ph.D.
In the study, researchers observed the brain activity of 24 people ages 18 to 35, and 10 people
ages 55 to 75, all of whom were still professionally active, during a complex language test. They
found a key difference between age groups when participants made a mistake and had to adopt a
new strategy to solve a problem: Activity in older brains occurred more slowly but was more
selective, amounting to a more efficient or “wiser” response.
The researchers compared the age-related difference to Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the
hare. “Being able to run fast does not always win the race — you have to know how to best use
your abilities,” said Monchi.
“Aging is not necessarily associated with a significant loss in cognitive function,” he noted.
Excess Salt Damages the Brain
We’ve known for years that too much salt is bad for the heart. Now a Canadian study has found
that it’s bad for the brain too.
For three years, researchers in Quebec tracked more than 1,200 men and women between the
of 67 and 84, and found that those who ate the least salt — even if they were sedentary —
maintained better memory, concentration, and overall brain health. Eating more salt and being
inactive led to cognitive decline.
“Low” salt intake was no more than 2,263 mg daily (one teaspoon contains 2,300 mg). What
researchers classified as “high” daily salt intake ranged from just over 3,000 mg to as high as
8,000 mg.
If you’re in the habit of eating salty snacks while watching television or using the computer,
consider switching to fresh fruit or raw vegetables. And keep in mind that physical activity reduces
the negative effect of excess salt on the brain.
Season Foods to Activate
Brain Sensors
Up to 14 million Americans have problems smelling and/or tasting food due to disorders with
olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste) sensors in the brain. This can lead to overuse of salt and
sugar, and impair the ability to enjoy eating.
To compensate, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) offers these tips:
• Choose foods with varying colors and textures, and strong flavors. For example, replace
plain consommé soups
with tortilla soup, which is thicker, spicier, more colorful, and has a crunchy texture
• Garnish with spicy condiments such as hot peppers, horseradish, mustard, or hot salsa
• Marinate fish, poultry, and meat in sweet fruit juices, wine, sweet and sour sauce, or
spicy salad dressing; grill or
roast until very well done, to create a crunchy crust
• When roasting a turkey, stuff the cavity with onions, garlic, and herbs, or apples,
oranges, and apricots. Season
the skin with coarsely ground pepper, sea salt or kosher salt, and garlic powder
When eating, chew food slowly and move it around your mouth to stimulate taste and sensory
receptors, and alternate bites of different foods during a meal. This will stimulate the smell and
taste sensors in the brain and enhance your eating experience.
AAN offers more tips and recipes in its cookbook, Navigating Smell and Taste Disorders.
Optimism Lowers Stroke Risk
Optimism — the expectation that more good things, rather than bad, will happen — may lower
your risk of having a stroke, according to a study of more
than 6,000 Americans over age 50, published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart
Researchers found that the higher the level of a person’s optimism, the lower his or her risk of
stroke. Earlier studies had also found that a generally positive outlook leads to better heart health
and a stronger immune system.
In addition to lowering stroke risk, optimism leads people to make healthier choices, such as
taking vitamins, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly.
This finding is particularly important for older people, who tend to be less optimistic than younger