Day 366, Powerful Functions of the Prefrontal Cortex
“Overview of Prefrontal Functions: The Temporal Organization of Action”
Joaquín Fuster, The Prefrontal Cortex, Fourth Edition, page 333.
My husband is home! I drove over to pick him up at noon yesterday. He seems to be relieved to be home.
Today, I have immersed myself in MindMeister. Resizing images is a bit challenging but doable.
Over the Labor Day holiday, I worked diligently on a mind map of the brain.
Mind Map of the Brain, Especially the Prefrontal Cortex
Much of my map is based on a book by Joaquín Fuster about the prefrontal cortex. Here, is what I have so far. I am certain this map does not have all the interconnections between parts of the brain or all the parts of the brain, nor does it mention much about the parts of the cortex that are not part of the prefrontal cortex. That would take a huge mind map. However, here are some major parts and connections that especially relate to the function of the prefrontal cortex.
I have been thinking about the functions of the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain in the forebrain just behind the forehead. I thought I was a solid planner and executioner of action throughout a time frame, at least when I am not manic. However, I think I overrated my abilities. About a year and a half ago, I bought a copy of Microsoft Project and learned how to use it. However, I abandoned it because I spent more time planning than executing. It stressed me out.
After learning about the prefrontal cortex, I decided to give it more exercise. Daniel Goleman believes our prefrontal abilities can be strengthened. He mentions a simple graphic used in schools to help children develop their prefrontal cortex abilities.
Functions of the Prefrontal Cortex
Functions of the prefrontal cortex are all interrelated. They include:
Future-Thinkers Use the Prefrontal Cortex
The Time Paradox by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd, a book I read recently, talks about the success achieved by future-thinkers. The prefrontal cortex is primarily the organ we use to organize our actions through time, so future-thinkers must use it a lot. It is also the organ used by four-year-old children in the famous Stanford Marshmallow Experiment to exercise the self-restraint required to wait until a researcher returned before consuming a marshmallow. They were planning for the future–the second marshmallow they would earn if they were to wait. The children who waited grew up to become more successful in every major area of life. Daniel Goleman also mentioned this experiment in Focus. For success in our complex world, we need our prefrontal cortex.
Since the prefrontal cortex is a bit vulnerable and can be damaged by a whack on the forehead, some people have lesions in their prefrontal areas, which impair their ability to perform in these areas. However, brain injuries can sometimes heal. The work of Daniel and Tana Amen shows that nutrition, supplements, meditation, exercise, and sleep can improve the brain scans they do on their patients. I have not been scanned for brain injury. However, I follow many of the suggestions in the Amens’ books, such as The Brain Warrior’s Way.
Using the Prefrontal Cortex to Mind Map Weight Loss Activities
During most of the morning, I made a fantastic and comprehensive mind map of my weight loss activities. I believe it was an exercise of the prefrontal cortex to organize my plans into a map. The map includes activities such as weigh daily, check blood pressure, keep a complete Cronometer record daily, create new recipes, modify behavior, prepare food, exercise, and take food supplements and medicines. You can view it here or you can click on the graphic below. This mind map probably will not meet your exact needs. However, it likely will stimulate ideas for your own regimen.
I changed my profile picture on Facebook this morning to a photo taken in 2016, not long before my 2016 manic episode, when I was thinner than I am now. I was even less than 50 kg. Whether I will return to that size remains to be seen. I use the photo as inspiration.
Tonight, I had eaten a full day’s worth of food and was going to quit when I experienced some feelings of depression. I ate a little more, and those feelings went away. My moods are very sensitive to what I eat. Whether they will allow me to lose much more weight, I do not know. At the very least, I do not want to gain weight. I will see what I can do, using the new mind map I have created daily. (I put a reference to the mind map in JV Life Tracker to remind me to refer to it every day.)
Stress Undermines the Function of the Prefrontal Cortex
This past year has been stressful. My husband has been in the emergency room five times. Even now, I am under considerable stress with my husband’s recent hospitalizations. Stress impairs the prefrontal cortex. “Even quite mild acute uncontrollable stress can cause a rapid and dramatic loss of prefrontal cognitive abilities.”1 Have you ever tried to plan your life during times of stress? You might be able to do it, but then can you put that plan into action? I think most of us have difficulty. We tend to react rather than following a well-crafted plan. The prefrontal cortex also inhibits actions that may be unwise, like eating foods that are not part of our eating plan. When we are stressed out, our inhibitions do not work very well.
Stress management must be a part of every weight loss regimen. I use meditation to reduce my stress, but the challenge is actually meditating in times of stress. It seems that stress causes more stress.
Do I have the answer? For now, I will keep going, searching for ways that work for me. Maybe I will find some answers for you as well. Libby Weaver, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist from New Zealand, wrote Exhausted to Energized. She addresses the issues of stress and overweight in much of her work.
I have tried the Russian herb Rhodiola, which has been found to reduce fatigue caused by stress. Other adaptogens can help as well, such as ginseng. My husband used ashwagandha with great success. He was fatigued from a lawsuit and about to give up. I prescribed some ashwagandha, natural B complex, adrenal food, and magnesium to which he responded very well. He continued his lawsuit and won. I do not have any adaptogens in my regimen right now. I think some are in my storage unit, but finding any specific thing in there is quite a problem. I may buy some.
The Effect of Depression on Prefrontal Cortex Function
What is the secret to keeping your prefrontal cortex functional whenever it is needed? “In major depression, whether part of the bipolar mood disorder or not, there is a cluster of prefrontal structures that show morphometric abnormalities primarily characterized by a diminished volume of gray matter. These structures include the orbitofrontal and posterior cingulate cortices. The volumetric abnormalities are accompanied by functional abnormalities that persist even under symptom remission (e.g. with medication), and even in the presence of normal activations under conditions of cognitive or emotional challenge.”2
This may look like my prefrontal function is doomed whether I take medication or not. However, if I do not take medication, it is even worse. “Excessive protein kinase C activity has been shown dramatically to impair prefrontal function and suppress the firing of prefrontal neurons. Certain medications indicated for the treatment of bipolar disorder — lithium and Depakote — inhibit protein kinase C activity.”3
Lithium is needed for me to retain my use of the prefrontal cortex. Mania makes it not work. Mania can induce sleep deprivation and vice versa, so now that it is bedtime, I will close the shop and finish this blog post later.
Today is the one-year anniversary of starting this journey on Day One. I am ready to continue for another year. Will you continue with me?
I love the early morning hours, even though I am up too early in the morning sometimes. I am still trying to comprehend Fuster’s language. If you have dived into his book, you understand what I am talking about. I am grateful he has made his book available without charge on the Internet, however, so laypeople like myself have a chance for academic knowledge that would ordinarily be off-limits. His book initiated my further study that has elucidated more about how my medications work and given me an appreciation for them I did not have.
I find, along my Internet search path, comments from people with bipolar disorder that they do not wish to be medicated. Reply comments from other people mention that medication is necessary. In the past, I was enamored with the idea of getting off of my medications and onto some kind of “natural” remedy. Going that direction resulted in disastrous consequences. Though I still complain about the side effects of my medications, I realize now that bipolar illness is far worse. For one thing, it can dismantle the functioning of the prefrontal cortex with all of its precious functions that make us successful as humans. Though I may not be able to fully gain prefrontal cortex function, even with medication, the medication prevents the worst of the deterioration.
If you would like to join me on this journey from the beginning, please start with Day One.
2 Fuster, Joaquín, The Prefrontal Cortex, Fourth Edition, Academic Press, 2008, p.315, http://www.brainm.com/software/pubs/books/PrefrontalCortex.pdf
3 Ibid., p. 102.