|Basic InformationLatest NewsVideosLinksBook Reviews|10 Minute Solution: Butt Lift10 Minute Solution: High Intensity Interval Training101 Ways to Meditate29 Gifts3-In-1 Total Body Fitness with Desi Bartlett30 Minute Ab & Butt Blaster5 Day Fit Yoga5 Mega Miles with Toning Band7 Weeks to 100 Push-Ups8 Keys to Body Brain Balance8 Keys to Practicing MindfulnessA.M. EnergyAccessible Yoga for Every Body DVDAfter the Ecstasy, the LaundryAge-Proof Your MindAgeless Mobility: Pain-Free Wellness For LongevityAlmost MeatlessAM/PM YogaAnswers for AristotleAnywhere, Anytime, Any Body YogaAthlete's Guide to YogaAuthentic HappinessAwakening Self-EsteemBack in Action: Yoga for a Healthy BackBack To Basics: Fitness with Charlotte OrdBalanced AssetsBedroom Body: Booty Burner, Core & Pelvic Floor WorkoutBeginners Meditation & Mindful StretchingBeginners Yoga DVDBeginning YogaBellyFit ElementsBetter Sex Through YogaBody By BethennyBorn to Balance - Balance BasicsBreath-Centered YogaBreathingBrightening Our Inner SkiesBuddhist Boot CampCalm Body Clear MindCalm EnergyCalm Focus JoyChakra MeditationsChoosing CivilityClassical Pilates Technique DVDComplementary and Alternative Therapies ResearchCore Fusion - Pilates PlusCore Fusion - Pure Abs & ArmsCore Fusion - Thighs & GlutesCore Fusion Body SculptCore Fusion Lean & TonedCore Fusion Power SculptCore Strength PilatesCore Strength Vinyasa Yoga Power Hour with Sadie NardiniCore YogaCreative Core AbsCreative Writing In Health And Social CareDance Off the Inches: Cardio Hip Hop PartyDance the Chakras Yoga WorkoutDeep Stretch / Yin YogaDetox YogaDr. Andrew Weil's Guide to Eating WellDr. Andrew Weil's Guide to Optimum HealthDr. Andrew Weil's Mindbody ToolkitEastern Body, Western MindEasy YogaElement: Barre ConditioningElement: Targeted Toning Pilates for BeginnersElement: Yoga for Stress Relief & FlexibilityElements of Yoga, Earth FoundationsElements of Yoga, Fire DynamicElements of Yoga: Air & WaterEmotional Chaos to ClarityEmotions, Stress, and HealthEvamarie Pilipuf's Yoga Express DVDEvery Day Yoga for Every Body DVDEveryday GreensEveryday Workout for the Everyday WomanEveryday Yoga for Stress Release Everything VeganExhale Core Fusion 30 Day SculptFamily YogaFast Food for the SoulFat and FuriousFear and Other Uninvited GuestsFit Family Fun CircuitFit in 5 DVDFlat Abs PilatesFlow and YinFlow YogaFluid Power Vinyasa Flow YogaFully PresentGaiam Pilates Slide and Sculpt Kit with DVDGaiam Pilates Total Toning KitGaiam Yoga For Weight Loss KitGet Ripped & ChiseledGood MedicineGoodbye, ThingsHandbook of MindfulnessHealing the Heart and Mind with MindfulnessHealing Through Movement: Pilates Head to ToeHealthy AgingHealthy Sexy Beautiful Kundalini YogaHemalayaa's Yoga for Young Bodies DVDHemalayaa: Bollywood BootyHot Body Cool Mind - Level 1Hot Body Cool Mind: Waking Energy How to Cook Everything VegetarianHow Would Buddha Act?I Contain MultitudesI'd Rather LaughIn Defense of FoodInsight Yoga Earth: Balancing Yin EnergyInsight Yoga Heaven: Balancing YangInsight Yoga with Sarah PowersIntegrated YogaIntegrative MedicineIntroduction to Ashtanga Yoga DVDIntroduction to Qi YogaIntroduction to Yoga DVDIt's Up to YouJanis Saffell Beverly Hills YogaKids Teach Yoga - Flying EagleKidYogi - Yoga for ChildrenKnowing the Nature of FearKripalu YogaKripalu Yoga Dynamic DVDKripalu Yoga Gentle DVDKundalini Yoga : DVDKundalini Yoga for Beginners & BeyondKUNDALINI YOGA for Your Week - MONDAYKUNDALINI YOGA for Your Week - TUESDAY - CoreKundalini Yoga Meditation for Beginners & BeyondKundalini Yoga Meditation for Complex Psychiatric DisordersKundalini Yoga on the BallKundalini Yoga Solar Power All-In-One WorkoutKundalini Yoga to Detox and Destress DVDKundalini Yoga Transformer All-In-One WorkoutKundalini Yoga: Green Energy of the HeartLife MakeoversLifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues--Level 1LifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues: Level 2Living BeautifullyLiving Room Yoga DVDLiving Room Yoga: Twist and BendLiving Your Best LifeLiving Your DreamLunar Flow YogaMadhur Jaffrey's World VegetarianMake It Fast, Cook It SlowManage Your Depression Through ExerciseMaui PilatesMayo Clinic Wellness Solutions for Back PainMayo Clinic Wellness Solutions for IBSMayo Clinic Wellness Solutions for InsomniaMean GenesMeditation in a New York MinuteMeditations for BeginnersMindful AmericaMindful AngerMindfulnessMindfulness for BeginnersMindfulness-Based Treatment Approaches: Clinician's Guide to Evidence Base and ApplicationsMisadventures of a Garden State YogiMozart's Brain and the Fighter PilotNamaste Yoga: Season 3 Part 1NeuroLogicNew York PilatesNext-Level PilatesNutrition Essentials for Mental HealthPassionate VegetarianPerfect in Ten AbsPerfect in Ten: PilatesPerfect in Ten: StretchPerfect in Ten: YogaPilates AnatomyPilates for BeginnersPilates for MenPositivityPower to the Peaceful YogaPower YogaPower YogaPower Yoga for HappinessPower Yoga: Core PowerPower Yoga: Fat BurnerPrenatal FlowPrescriptive StretchingPresence Through Movement: Yin YogaPsychology Moment by MomentPure and Simple YogaPure SculptPure Yoga Pilates with Kerry BestwickQi Gong Fire & Water With Matthew CohenQi Gong Flow for BeginnersQi Gong for Low Back PainQi Gong for Upper Back and Neck PainQi Gong for Weight LossQi Workout AM/PMQiGong for Healthy Joints & BonesQiGong IllustratedQuick Blast MethodReach - Upbeat Toning & Flexibility for a Dancer's BodyRed Lotus YogaResistance Stretching With Dara TorresRestorative Yoga PracticeSara Ivanhoe's Taste DVDSaving NormalSelf-CompassionSeven Challenges To Change Your Life DVDSleep BetterSolar Flow Yoga DVDSoupsSparkSpontaneous HappinessSports Hypnosis in PracticeStep By Step Strength TrainingStep by Step Tai ChiStrength & SpiritStrength, Grace, HealingStress ReliefStrong & SculptedStrong Body, Ageless BodySun SalutationsSuper Natural CookingSuper Seniors: Box, Balance, & Lift SupersurvivorsSurf Yoga SoulSybel's Yoga For Sports & FitnessSybel's Yoga For Sports & Fitness Vol 2Tai Chi for Beginners with Grandmaster William C. C. ChenTaming Your Inner BratTeach Yourself MeditationTeen YogaTeenYogi DVDTen Minutes to RelaxThe Accidental VeganThe Angelica Home KitchenThe Art and Science of MindfulnessThe Athlete's Guide to YogaThe Beginner's Guide to Healthy EatingThe Best Things You Can EatThe Booty Barre -Total New BodyThe Breathing FieldThe Cafe Brenda CookbookThe Complete Book of Raw FoodThe Complete Vegetarian HandbookThe Easy Yoga WorkbookThe Feeling Good HandbookThe Five Things We Cannot Change ...The Good LifeThe Happiness of PursuitThe Harvard Medical School Guide to YogaThe Healing Remedies SourcebookThe Healing Remedies SourcebookThe Health Psychology HandbookThe Healthy KitchenThe Heart of YogaThe Indian VegetarianThe Jewel Tree of TibetThe Joy of MeditatingThe Kettlebell BoomerThe Little Book of Healthy TeasThe Little Soy BookThe Little Yoga BookThe Mood CureThe Mozart EffectThe Myth of Freedom and the Way of MeditationThe Perfect ExerciseThe Pilates Workout JournalThe Playful BrainThe Quest for Peace, Love, and a 24'' WaistThe Road to Calm WorkbookThe Self-Compassion Skills WorkbookThe Spa DeckThe Spirit of Buddhist MeditationThe Stoic Art of LivingThe Ultimate BALLET YOGAThe Ultra MindsetThe Way of StretchingThe Weight of the NationThe Well-Tuned BrainThe Will to Live and Other MysteriesThe Yin Yoga KitThink SmartTotal AstangaTotal Health the Chinese WayTotal PilatesTotal-Body ToningTransform Yourself with Jivamukti YogaTransformative YogaTrudie Styler's Warrior YogaV-Core WorkoutVegan ExpressVegan for LifeVegetarian Turkish CookingViva Vegan!Walk It Off in 30 DaysWalk to the HITS Radio RemixesWalkingWalking a Literary LabyrinthWatch Me Do YogaWeight Loss Cardio KickWellbeingWhat We Say MattersWhen Things Fall ApartWriting in FlowYin and Yang YogaYin Yoga DVDYogaYogaYogaYoga & Pilates Workouts for DummiesYoga 4 TeensYoga : Beginners Flow for EveryoneYoga AnatomyYoga and PsychologyYoga as MedicineYoga Beauty BodyYoga Bliss HipsYoga Body : Lean & Defined Total Body WorkoutYoga By Teens DVDYoga Emergency DVD: Arms & ShouldersYoga Emergency DVD: BackYoga Emergency DVD: Full Leg StretchYoga Emergency DVD: HipsYoga Flow DVDYoga for AnxietyYoga for Back CareYoga for BeginnersYoga for Energy & Stress ReliefYoga for EveryoneYoga for MeditatorsYoga for OsteoporosisYoga for Pain ReliefYoga for Regular GuysYoga for Strength & EnergyYoga for Strength & FlexibilityYoga for the Young at HeartYoga for Your WeekYoga In BedYoga in BedYoga Inside Out: Go DeeperYoga Inside Out: The Healing WayYoga Journal's Yoga for StressYoga Journal: Yoga for Strength and Toning DVDYoga Link: Core IntegrationYoga Link: Hip HelpersYoga Link: Shoulder Shape-UpYoga Nidra for Complete Relaxation and Stress ReliefYoga on DemandYoga Quick FixesYoga SanctuaryYoga SculptYoga ShaktiYoga TherapyYoga Therapy for Back PainYoga Therapy Prescriptions - 60 Health Restorative SequencesYoga To Go's Yoga Quick Fixes DVDYoga to the Rescue - Feel Good from Head to ToeYoga to the Rescue for Back PainYoga to the Rescue for Neck & ShouldersYoga to the Rescue for Pain-Free Back, Neck & ShouldersYoga Weight Loss for DummiesYoga: Freedom from Back PainYoga: Relief from Neck and Shoulder PainYoga: Spirit of Vinyasa FlowYogabodyYogawomanYou Can Think Yourself ThinYou'll See It When You Believe ItYour Body Breakthru - Your Best Body Circuit DVDYour Brain on FoodYour Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings,Your Miracle BrainZen Encounters with Loneliness
by Gary L. Wenk
Oxford University Press, 2010
Review by Shelly Marshall on May 18th 2011
Why did witches once think they could fly? Why is it so hard to give up smoking? Why do muscles contract? Why do patients with Alzheimers have trouble paying attention to things that might harm them? And how did Coca Cola really get its name?
These might be questions that you didn't know you wanted answered, but once into Wenk's book, you will be answering all kinds of questions you didn't know you asked. This book is a delightful introduction to basic neuroscience, plant biology, and how drugs affect your brain which in turn affects your thinking and behaver.
Chapter One is the introduction and begins with a basic 101 lesson : anything you consume affects the way you think and feel. The brain contains over 100 known neuro-chemicals (and there are probably as many left to discover), and how substances, whether food, medicine or recreational drugs, influence the chemicals in your brain. The book is not a boring list of formulas and foreign words but rather an entertaining brief on what's happening in your noggin. And even if you do not understand everything the author writes (yes its complicated), you will leave with a few tidbits of knowledge that are sure to impress your friends.
Gary Wenk explains that plants produce the chemicals that affect our brains. The chemicals we call drugs. But drugs are not good or bad. They are nutrients, aka chemicals, nothing more or less. Yet, the author points out, plants produce chemicals that affect our brain only because we share an evolutionarily history. Because we evolved together, we have the ability to produce similar chemicals that inter react with each other from one celled amoebas to insects, plants, animals and homo sapien. However, in a Star Trek scenario, the chemicals that kill us (like venom from a cobra), probably would not kill a Martian because his neuro-transmitters evolved elsewhere and the venom most likely could not react with his bodily system.
Fat soluble "drugs" (remember that drugs are nutrients) enter the brain quickly like vitamins A, D, E, and K as well as coffee and nicotine, also fat soluble. Sugar is a powerful drug but then it would have to be as the brain cannot live for more than a few minutes without glucose. When sugar levels (glucose) decrease after a meal, you become hungry. The hunger has you seek out food that will feed the brain and hopefully that is something sweet.
The brain gets easily habituated to some nutrients like coffee and nicotine but we can never simplify the effects because drugs affect people in a complex way. For instance, when you have a fever, aspirin will bring it down, but it won't cool you off on a hot day.
Chapter Ones ends letting the reader know that this book is only a summery barely scratching the surface of what goes on in this brain of ours. Nevertheless you will learn more than you thought you wanted to know.
Chapter Two examines "Memories, Magic, and Addiction" and delves into poisonous plants that get you high! Exploring these toxic plants is a bit difficult because they are refereed to by their scientific names, common names and occasionally their nic names--following what chemical is what becomes a bit cumbersome if not highly entertaining. Wenk deals with henbane, jimsomweed, mandrake (the stuff of Harry Potter) and even deadly nightshade along with the mention of a snake or two.
The author gives a colorful account of how Voo Doo dolls work by playing on fears and expectations. Through a series of sympathetic nervous system triggers and other reflexes, a victim can appear to be dead, buried, and rise later, extremely annoyed at what has happened... all the makings of Zombie movies for Hollywood.
In a witty manner, the author continues with wild tales of of nude witches riding brooms under the influence of Datura and potash. He includes in his tales, stories of Amanita mushrooms and how the Vikings used them when invading Ireland. The psychoactive ingredients are very stable in this mushroom and can be used up to 4 times. That meant that Vikings undoubtedly drank the urine of one who used it and were able to get high for multiple battles on one dose! It makes one wonder who initially discovered this fact!
Chapter Two ended with a discussion on smoking and how nicotine is the most addictive drug currently used by humans. I can attest to that!
Can chemicals determine whether we are happy or sad?" Wenk asks in Chapter Three. The reader is then introduced to catecholamines that may in fact determine our emotions. The discussion of imported neurotransmitters began to lose me although the author does pepper the discussion with some interesting facts. But I am not a brain surgeon and this is not a textbook and there is only so much talk of norepinephrine, dopamine, tyrosine, levodopa, tyrosine hydroxylase, amino acids and cofactors that one can take in a single paragraph!
The reader does learn that it was suggested that Adolph Hitler's paranoia at the end of his reign was probably do to his amphetamine use. There are a number of plants in the wild that are amphetamine like from mahuong to khat, an African plant, and even a cactus called mescaline which of course will be well known to baby boomers.
Some spices also spice up the brain such as nutmeg which contains an ingredient not unlike mescaline. But alas it takes a whole can to produce a slight high and its use can cause psychosis accompanied by diarrhea. So who is using that! Other spices of interest would be saffron, fennel, dill, and cinnamon which also contain psychoactive substances.
An interesting tidbit for those in the medical field is that every drug of abuse somehow enhances the dopamine uptake in the brain.
Filtering and dealing with all the bombardment of sensory information mankind now lives with is covered in Chapter Four. So how do we anchor ourselves in reality with sights and sounds and feelings coming at us from everywhere? It is not well understood but serotonin seems to be the main neurotransmitter that dribbles into our brain during waking periods and keeps our feet planted firmly on earth.
Although not stated emphatically, spiritually minded people might not like the serotonin explanation of religiosity. Wenk tells us that "extravagant" religious behaviors are associated with shrinkage of the right hipppocampus! One might be offended when he writes, "...for lack of any more precise way to quantify these experiences, neuroscientists often describe religious phenomena in terms of neurobiological processes..." but then he narrowly redeems himself by writing that perhaps scientists are observing "the a brain's response to an actual communication from God!"
Chapter Five is a treatise to marijuana and how we have endocannabinoids in our own brains. Human brains have a large number of neurons that are affected by marijuana causing it to be nearly impossible to explain all that is going on with our brain on cannabis.
Chapter Six deals with GABA and how it turns on and off our neurons--which turns on and off parts of our brain. The effects of alcohol, barbiturates, bensodiazepines, and amino acids are explored.
Chapter Seven deals with sleeping and waking while Chapter Eight is a lesson on the evolutionary history of our neuopeptides and is the chapter that teaches about opiates and opiate-like neurotransmitters.
Chapter Nine is titled, "Brain Enhancement and Other Magical Beliefs" where Wenk destroys our cherished beliefs that somehow we can enhance the function of the brain as we age-- "it is impossible" he writes. I don't want to believe him. The products that we find on line that claim to do this are actually stimulants that enhance performance, not cognitive function. I still don't want to believe him. "Faster is not smarter," he points out.
Wenk takes away the promise of a truly anti-aging remedy for our brains. The very air we breathe, he says is aging us. Gingko Biloba and other plant extracts from herbologists only give us a placebo effect. Dastardly book, I say. You may not want to read it and have your hopes dashed--but then again, you might save a lot of money on "youth" potions.
Gary L. Wenk took a very complex subject and gave a playful yet informative account of how food (nutrients) affect our brains. Questions were asked that you didn't know you wanted answers to--and although you will have to read the book to find out what causes you to feel like you are being watched at times and why margarine might be good for the aging brain, I will tell you that Coca Cola did not (as is generally thought) get its name because it contained cocaine. Where did the name come from? You have an entertaining book to read to answer that one.
© 2011 Shelly Marshall
Shelly Marshall, B.S., CSAC is an Adolescent Chemical Dependency Specialist and Researcher. You can review her work at www.Day-By-Day.org and www.RespectMeRules.com