Researchers have discovered that bacteria reside in our brain, raising profound questions about our connection to the microscopic natural world. (Lia Koltyrina/Shutterstock)
The outdated notion that bacteria are harmful invaders in the body was challenged further when researchers found bacteria in the brain
BY KELLY BROGAN
July 4, 2019 Updated: July 4, 2019
By now, almost everyone has heard of the human microbiome—the collection of viruses, bacteria, and fungi that play a pivotal role in our health and cognitive functioning. Also called the microbiota, we’ve long assumed that the microbiome consists of microbes that reside along our gastrointestinal tract—and more recently, on our skin.That’s logical enough; microbes live on our interfaces with the outside world. Conversely, there are certain areas in the human body that are assumed to be sterile, aka free of microbes, like the eye and the womb. However, advances in analytical techniques enabled researchers to recently identify the placental microbiome and eye microbiome that are present in healthy people. That’s pretty cool, but there definitely couldn’t be microbes in our brains, the most protected area of our bodies, right?
A head-turning poster at the November 2018 Society for Neuroscience scientific conference called into question the assumption of the brain as a sterile, bacteria-free zone. A team of researchers from The University of Alabama–Birmingham (UAB), led by Professor Rosalinda Roberts, showed high-resolution microscope images of mouse and human brains that depicted bacteria happily residing in astrocytes, star-shaped brain cells that interact with and support neurons.
Scanning Electron Microscope image of a human brain slice showing bacteria (circled in red) next to a blood vessel. Adapted from a writeup in Science Magazine.
Like most people in the field, the UAB researchers were not looking for bacteria in the brain; this finding happened serendipitously. An undergraduate researcher named Courtney Walker was comparing microscope images of the brains of healthy people and those with schizophrenia to see if there were structural differences underlying the pathology, and she kept seeing the rod-like structures in the brain samples. Puzzled, Profesor Roberts consulted some colleagues and learned that these structures were bacteria. She realized that bacteria had been present in every brain that the lab had examined—34 brains in total.
To determine if the bacteria were a result of contamination between the time of death and brain sample preparation, Prof. Roberts and the team studied mouse brains immediately after death. To their surprise, they found bacteria in the mouse brains as well. Perhaps there was some contamination in the preparation of brain tissue slices for microscopy? To address that question, they raised mice in germ-free environments—with no bacterial exposure (at least theoretically)—and prepared the brain samples in the same way. They found no bacteria; none in the mouse guts or brains. This finding implies that the bacteria present in the brain comes from the environment or from within the body.
Given this result, the Roberts team dove deeper and used RNA sequencing to identify which types of bacteria were in human and mouse brains. Intriguingly, most of the bacteria were identified as Firmicutes, Proteobacteria, and Bacteroidetes—3 phyla commonly found in the gut. Perhaps these bacteria traveled from the gut to the brain, climbing up nerves or traversing blood vessels?
This preliminary finding has sparked many open questions. Are these commensal or pathological species? Does the quantity and composition of the brain microbiome change over time? Where do the bacteria come from? These exciting findings are reminiscent of the surprisingly recent discovery of the brain’s immune system that underpins the emerging field of psychoneuroimmunology.
The interdependence of all life is indeed being revealed in the hallowed halls of research science. It is becoming more and more inaccurate to vilify microorganisms as the evil “other” that invade and infect us. Through discoveries like this, we are being initiated to a new worldview that asks us to live in harmony with the natural world, to perceive our interdependence, and to end the wars we are fighting in hopes of finally one day beating those invisible assailants into submission … as they are, in fact, inextricably a part of us.
Copyright Kelly Brogan MD. This work is reproduced and distributed with the permission of Kelly Brogan MD. For more articles, sign up for the newsletter at www.KellyBroganMD.com
He Wenting (R) and Huang Guangyu on their wedding day in 2012. (Minghui.org)
CHINA HUMAN RIGHTS
BY JOAN DELANEY, EPOCH TIMES
July 5, 2019 Updated: July 5, 2019
All Huang Guangyu and He Wenting wanted to do after they got married was hone their craft as artists and practise their faith in peace.
Huang and He married in 2012 and set up home in a village near Guangzhou College Town in southern China. He was already an accomplished painter, having graduated from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts with a major in oil painting and going on to have his works exhibited several times.
His wife was a writer and poet, and although she hadn’t been formally trained in art, she had been painting from a young age and had studied for a time under famous painter Li Zhengtian.
They loved traditional Chinese culture and started to express it using Western oil painting techniques, all the while refining their talents.
But just two years after they married, they were sent to prison for raising awareness about the persecution campaign against Falun Gong—in particular,distributing information on how to bypass the Chinese regime’s internet blockade.
Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, is a Chinese spiritual discipline handed down from ancient times based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. On July 20, 1999, the Chinese Communist Party launched a brutal persecution campaign against adherents of the practice that continues today and has resulted untold suffering and death.
‘Everything Changed Overnight’
In December 2013, Huang and He were illegally arrested and their peaceful home ransacked. They were held in detention until the following August, when they were sentenced to a three-year prison term, shattering the young couple’s hopes and dreams.
Horrified by the situation in prison, He wanted to let the world know and began to secretly document on sheets of tissue paper the torture and humiliation she went through.
“A bright light hit the wall in front of me. Counting the days since I have been here, I felt as if I have shed many layers of skin already. Before I came here, I was in my warm, comfortable bed and had everything everyone envies: a happy marriage, an ideal job, a bright future, and I was expressing myself with my paintbrush. Everything changed overnight,” she wrote, according to Minghui.org.“How I wanted to paint again, everything I have gone through: the feeding tube, the handcuffs, the iron window, the logo on the uniform! I saw clearly the bruises on my hands, the dried blood on my lips, my bare feet, the filth in my hair… tears run down my cheeks again.”
She described how she was put in a dark cell and handcuffed and shackled, and how it was so cold she couldn’t sleep at night.
“The bedding was very thin. I trembled due to the cold and could not sleep. A male guard was shouting outside: ‘No quilts for the Falun Gong [practitioner] who did not reveal her name!’”
She went on a hunger strike to protest her mistreatment and was brutally force-fed. Force-feeding of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience who undertake a hunger strike is common and becomes yet another form of torture. Some practitioners have died from force-feeding, according to Minghui.
“Every morning I was tied down for force-feeding. Five to six male guards and male inmates pinned me down on the bed and pushed the feeding tube through my nose. I almost passed out because of the excruciating pain, and constantly threw up. I heard my own agonizing screams. In the past, I only read about the force-feeding torture online, now I am experiencing it myself,” she wrote.
Nothing is known about Huang’s time in prison, but it’s very likely he experienced torture and abuse as well. According to the Falun Dafa Info Center, possibly the most prominent feature of the campaign against Falun Gong has been the prevalent use ofextreme torture. Minghui notes that of the more than 3,400 confirmed deaths of Falun Gong adherents in China between 1999 and 2016, the vast majority came from torture.
When He was released in November 2016, she managed to smuggle out the sheets of tissue paper she had used as a diary. Huang was also released at that time. Little is known about their lives since then.
“Allegory of Lyric Poetry,” 1753, by François Boucher. Oil on canvas. 45 1/4 inches by 62 3/4 inches. Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman Gift, 1969. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
How 14 eloquent lines bring clarity
BY LORRAINE FERRIER, EPOCH TIMES
June 19, 2019 Updated: June 19, 2019
“They are eloquent who can speak low things acutely, and of great things with dignity, and of moderate things with temper,” Cicero wrote in “The Orator.”
The traditional sonnet can allow this level of communication to occur. The rhyme and rhythm of a sonnet may even evoke the poem’s meaning before the words are actually understood. This is due to the structural integrity of the sonnet.
If the structure is lost, so too is the harmony—of the rhyme and the reason. Like musical notation without its bars, it falls from grace into discord.
The two main types of sonnet are the Petrarchan sonnet and the English sonnet, also known as the Shakespearean sonnet, as this is the type of sonnet Shakespeare wrote. They differ in their rhyming schemes, but both encourage eloquent discourse.
How the Sonnet Came to Be
The first sonnets were thought to be written between 1220 and 1250, at the court of Emperor Frederick II of Sicily, in southern Italy. It was the emperor’s notary and legal assistant, Giacomo da Lentino, who wrote the majority of these sonnets.
Sonnets were used as poetic dialogue in the court to convey arguments and counterarguments, explore ideas and concepts, and normally end with a solution. The sonnet gave the court poets a vehicle to demonstrate their wit, wisdom, and intellect.
In the 1330s, Francesco Petrarca, more commonly known as Petrarch, popularized the form. The Petrarchan sonnet is the Italian sonnet as we know it today. Petrarch’s “Canzoniere,” or “Song Book,” written over 40 years, contains 317 sonnets along with other kinds of poems, for example, ballads and madrigals. Petrarch’s “Canzoniere” inspired the love poetry of Renaissance Europe.
The Petrarchan sonnet uses a “volta” (turn) to divide the 14 lines of the sonnet into two distinctive parts. The first eight lines (the octave) are an outpouring of a problem: the thoughts and feelings that need addressing. It’s at this point in the sonnet that the volta comes, where the poet redirects or restates the idea, thoughts, or feelings. The last six lines (the sestet) address the issue, emphasize a point, and normally provide a solution.
The rhyming scheme of a Petrarchan sonnet is ABBA ABBA for the octave and CDE CDE or CDC DCD for the sestet.
Petrarch also stretched the sonnet into longer narratives by stringing several sonnets together, as seen earlier in Dante Alighieri’s “Vita Nuova” written 1274–91.
How the Sonnet Came to England
In 1520, the sonnet came to England, to the court of King Henry VIII, where Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, wrote the first sonnets in English.
Wyatt became acquainted with French and Italian poets when he traveled to Italy and to the papacy on diplomatic missions. When he returned to England, Wyatt translated Petrarch’s sonnets.
Wyatt adapted the Petrarchan sonnet to make the last two lines rhyme (the couplet), and Howard changed the octave to introduce more variation in the rhymes. The rhyming scheme of the English sonnet is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.
In general, the rhythm of sonnets in the English language follow an “iambic pentameter,” meaning each line must have five (penta) “iambs.” One iamb is one unstressed syllable and one stressed syllable.
Shakespeare’s couplet in “Sonnet 18” sums up the enduring romance of this poetic form:
Chinese soldiers participate in an anti-terror drill in Hami, Xinjiang region, China on July 8, 2017. (Reuters)
CHINA HUMAN RIGHTS
May 29, 2019 Updated: May 29, 2019
GENEVA—The United States, embroiled in a trade war with China, should also impose sanctions on China for detaining an estimated one million Uyghurs in its Xinjiang region, where repression has not abated, Human Rights Watch said on May 29.
The Trump administration has been weighing sanctions against Chinese officials, including Xinjiang Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo, since late last year, and though it has ramped up criticism, it has held back from imposing the measures.
China has faced growing global condemnation for setting up complexes in the remote western region that U.N. experts describe as mass detention centers holding more than one million ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims.
“Here we have got a U.S. administration that is clearly fine with the idea of imposing serious economic sanctions, but then seems to be lagging behind on imposing them for serious human rights violations,” Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch, told a briefing in Geneva.
A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers last month faulted the Trump administration for failing so far to impose sanctions over China’s alleged rights abuses against its Muslim minority and called for punitive measures against a senior Communist Party official and Chinese companies.
The lawmakers called on the administration to apply sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act. This federal law allows the U.S. government to target human rights violators around the world with freezes on any U.S. assets, U.S. travel bans and prohibitions on Americans doing business with them.
“We believe that senior Xinjiang officials and national officials who are implicated in the crisis in Xinjiang should be subject to global Magnitsky sanctions,” Richardson said.
“The situation in Xinjiang is far from improving. If anything, (there is) the failure to release large numbers of people, and the desire to spin this as some sort of essential national security strategy that really is about vocational training rather than arbitrary detention,” she said.
The U.S. Senate and House are considering draft bills, variations of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, both of which enjoy “very broad bipartisan support,” she added.
Human Rights Watch published a report this month entitled “China’s Algorithms of Repression,” on a mass surveillance app used by Xinjiang police to track citizens that has led to arrests.
“One of our concerns coming out of this project really is about these oceanic data sets that the Chinese government has now gathered and how exactly they are being used,” Richardson said.
The U.S.-based activist group is lobbying the 47 member states of the U.N. Human Rights Council to hold China to account for abuses at the three-week session opening on June 24.
Prodigy Umi Garrett is now 18 years old. She was the Category A Grand Prix winner, at age 10, of the II Chopin International Competition in Hartford, Conn., in 2010.(UmiGarrett.com)
Motivated from within or without?
By Jani Allan
May 1, 2019 Updated: May 2, 2019
There was always music in our house when I was growing up: operas and piano sonatas and string quartets. I still remember the sound of the needle poised on a record making the noise of hushed applause before the music started.
When I was 4, my mother asked me if I would like to learn to play the piano. I replied that I would teach myself. She immediately set about finding me a teacher. A series of teachers, really, as I was deemed a prodigy; I moved up the totem pole of tutors.
My mother’s ambitions for my concert-pianist future coursed through her veins. My last teacher was Professor Adolph Hallis. Professor Hallis accepted only exceptional pupils.
His other star student was Marian Friedman. Marian was talented, diligent, and dedicated. I could tell. I would be sitting on a tapestry couch in the waiting room, waiting for her to be released.
When I was 10, I played with the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra. When, at age 14, I was selected to play at the Young Artists Concerto Festival, I started having pre-recital nerves. I also resented the four hours I had to practice the piano every day. Prodigiousness in childhood does not always predict adult eminence.
Marian went on refining her brilliance. She is described as a “connoisseur’s pianist” by The Boston Globe. In the Globe’s July 13, 2005 article, it was reported from Rhode Island that Mark Malkovich III, general director of the Newport Music Festival for 30 years, celebrated his 75th birthday with a present to himself: getting Marian Friedman to play a recital.
She is extremely low-profile.
At What Price?
Stories of child prodigies in the classical genre have a long history and include the greatest composers in Western history.
When Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was 6, he performed on the harpsichord for The Empress of Austria.
Maria Theresa and her family looked at his chubby, dimpled hands moving precisely on the keyboard and were charmed. When he finished the performance, the story goes, he ran up to the empress, climbed up on her knee, and kissed her.
She returned the kiss, enchanted by his character and his talent. He was giving piano and violin recitals. It is said that at the age of 3, he had perfect pitch. By age 5, he had composed a concerto and by 8, his first symphony.
Mozart’s father, Leopold, was probably the original pushy parent, forcing him to perform all over Europe. Few know that Mozart’s sister, Maria Anna (nicknamed Nannerl), was also a prodigy, but her destiny was marriage.
Mozart seemed to cope with the great expectations that come with precocious talent.
Violinist Niccolò Paganini was locked in a room and forced to practice, a regimen that, some said, helped him to develop a drinking problem by the time he was 16.
Some prodigies thought to have “the gift” had demanding fathers who doubled as demanding teachers.
Lang Lang is a Chinese concert pianist whose accomplishments include performances with the Berlin Philharmonic at the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games, a White House state dinner, and sold-out shows at Carnegie Hall. From the age of 2, Lang Lang would sit with his father, Lang Guoren, who made his son practice up to four hours a day. As Lang Lang grew older, he practiced eight hours a day. Growing up in Mao’s China, the father’s own dreams of musical success were smashed. He wanted his son to be the musician he was never allowed to be.
Did his determination border on psychological or physical abuse? Lang says no. He and his father wanted the same thing: for Lang Lang to become a globally famous musician. “I was never forced to play the piano,” he said in a China Daily article.
Genius as an Abnormality
What are child prodigies? Are they completely different human beings? Apart from agreeing that prodigies possess levels of ability that most adults never can, we still don’t know where prodigiousness originates from. The debate of nature versus nurture continues to rage.
Writer David Shenk goes as far as to argue that prodigiousness is not in fact genetic.
Scientists continue to debate the origins of prodigiousness. General intelligence, working memory, or even a form of autism could be responsible, they argue, as NeuroNation reports. Piano teacher Veda Kaplinsky of Juilliard said to The New York Times: “Genius is an abnormality and can signal other abnormalities … ADD or OCD or Asperger’s.” Scholars argue that Mozart himself was on the autism spectrum.
Child Prodigies Today
There is a long history of child prodigies in the classical music genre. Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, and Mendelssohn are just a few.
But in recent years, a growing number of prodigies of increasingly young ages are reaching a global audience. China has an estimated 30 million young pianists and 10 million young violinists, The New York Times says. And Newsweek reports that Chinese prodigies are attending European and North American music schools and conservatories.
According to Murray McLachlan, a teacher at Cheltham’s School of Music in Manchester, England, the success of the Chinese at music competitions is unsurprising. McLachlan observed, in the Independent, that this success derives from the rock-solid work ethos of their families.
“Musicians are doing more advanced things at a younger age than ever before,” Kaplinsky said, in Newsweek. “Today kids are recording the Chopin études at age 10,” she said. “When I was young, nobody played them until they were adults.”
It’s the Olympic syndrome: Records exist in order to be broken.
Umi Garrett, who was 8 years old when she played Liszt on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” displayed the commonality of prodigious children: an extraordinary desire and dedication.
She told Ellen that she would play the piano “all day long” if she could.
Choosing a Path
This begs the question, should I have cut short my own classical music career?
I was 18 when it was decided that I would go to the University of the Witwatersrand to study for a bachelor’s degree in music.
At the last minute, I changed my mind about doing music and enrolled for a degree in fine arts instead.
Wits School of Arts in the 1970s shines like a diamond in the dust bunnies of my memory.
I’ve come to understand that the ultimate achievement of any human being is love. We need to love what we do. If we hesitate, then we need to rock with the waves and invent a new way of being in the world.
Jani Allan is a South African journalist, columnist, writer, and broadcaster.
Opposition demonstrators clash with soldiers loyal to Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro after troops joined opposition leader Juan Guaidó in his campaign to oust Maduro’s government, in the surroundings of La Carlota military base in Caracas on April 30, 2019. (Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images)
By Frank Fang, Epoch Times
May 2, 2019 Updated: May 3, 2019
The recent violent suppression of protests against the ruling regime in Venezuela, captured on camera by international media outlets, sparked public outrage.
The military armor vehicle that ran over protestors was manufactured by a Chinese state-run defense company, highlighting China’s role in supporting the current dictatorship.
In the morning hours on April 30, unarmed protestors backing Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader and head of Venezuela’s National Assembly who declared himself acting president in January, took to the streets of Caracas.
They assembled after Guaidó called on supporters to gather on the streets to begin the “final phase” of his plan to oust Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro.
The peaceful protest turned ugly outside a military base in Caracas, when a Venezuelan National Guard vehicle ran over protestors, according to accounts and footage filmed by Reuters. Other protestors could be seen rushing to the aid of those who were hit by the vehicle. It isn’t known how many were injured or if there were any fatalities.
Venezolana de Televisión, Venezuela’s state-run broadcaster, briefly mentioned the morning hour protest in a report published May 1. While calling Guaidó a “coup deputy,” the article mentioned that eight VN-4 vehicles were present at the protest site. These vehicles later withdrew and returned to their military units, according to the report.
Several Spanish-language media also identified the vehicle that plowed into protestors as a VN-4 vehicle, including Argentinian news website Infobae, Barcelona-based newspaper La Vanguardia, and Mexico-based media Cultura Colectiva. They pointed out that VN-4 vehicles are nicknamed the “Rhinoceros.”
Indeed, the VN-4 are from China. They are light, tactical-armored vehicles manufactured by China North Industries Group Corporation (Norinco), which is owned by China’s State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, an agency under the cabinet-like State Council.
Chinese media reports indicate that the VN-4 was ready for export since at least 2009. It was first unveiled to the public at a police equipment exhibition in Beijing that year. It has since been exported to Venezuela, Kenya, Sudan, Cambodia, among others.
Venezuela’s use of these vehicles has not been for normal peacekeeping purposes. In testimony before a U.S. congressional hearing in September 2017, Evan Ellis, senior associate at the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, stated that “the VN-4 armored cars and VN-16 light tanks sold by the P.R.C. [People’s Republic of China] to Venezuela, and designed for riot control, have arguably contributed to efforts by Venezuela’s current regime to suppress democratic protests.”
Venezuela has built up its stock of VN-4 over the years, some being donations from China.
According to an October 2018 report on China’s engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean by the U.S.-China Economic Security Review Commission, Venezuela ordered 121 VN-4 vehicles from China in 2012, which were delivered between 2013 and 2015. Chinese state-run media reported in 2013 about its first delivery of the VN-4s to Venezuela.
Then, in November 2015, Venezuela’s state-run newspaper Correo del Orinoco, reported comments made by Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López, about the arrival of 560 VN-4 vehicles that were donated by Beijing.
In June 2017, Spanish-language daily El Nuevo Herald, which is published in Florida, reported that more than 150 vehicles, including VN-4s, were delivered from Norinco to Venezuela.
Given the timing, it is likely the armored vehicles deployed to suppress past protests were also VN-4s.
El Nuevo Herald reported comments by Henrique Capriles, then-opposition leader and governor of Miranda State, who expressed outrage at both the Venezuelan government and Beijing for the purchases, saying the vehicles would be used to suppress people.
“It is unacceptable that in the most serious food and medicine crisis in history, China sells equipment to suppress the people with hunger,” Capriles said.
Norinco was founded in 1980 with approval from the State Council and China’s Central Military Commission—the highest military governing body within the Chinese Communist Party.
On its website, the company description explains that, for the past 40 years, the company has consistently “listened to the party, and followed the party.” It boasts that “party-building” within the company has powered its development to become a global competitor.
The company has explicitly stated its support for China’s foreign policy project, One Belt, One Road (OBOR, also known as Belt and Road), an initiative launched in 2013 to build up geopolitical influence via investments across Southeast Asia, African, Europe, and Latin America.
Norinco also is known to have armed unethical governments and criminal organizations, while being accused of human rights abuses.
In 2014, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released the results of an investigation into whether the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons in an attack on three towns in northern Syria in April 2014.
HRW found strong evidence to the affirmative, noting that there were canisters with the markings “Cl2,” which is the chemical symbol for chlorine gas, and “NORINCO,” which “indicates that the cylinders were manufactured in China by the state-owned company NORINCO,” the report said.
In August 2015, a U.N. report called out Norinco for selling the South Sudan government 100 anti-tank guided missile launchers, 1,200 missiles, about 2,400 grenade launchers, nearly 10,000 automatic rifles, and 24 million rounds of various types of ammunition, according to the Associated Press.
The South Sudan government was condemned for war crimes committed during the civil war of 2013 that pitted forces loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir against those who rebelled under former deputy Riek Machar. According to Reuters, South Sudanese soldiers have been accused of raping children, burning people alive, and razing villages.
Norinco also manufactures guns and rifles, one of them being the Type 56 rifle, a variant of the Soviet-designed AK-47.
Amnesty International, in a 2009 report, stated that “Chinese-made Norinco guns are frequently used by criminal gangs in Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, and South Africa.”
In February, U.S. magazine The National Interest identified several models of Norinco guns that are being widely used in the Middle East by the ISIS terrorist group and the Syrian regime. The Type 56 rifles are “common on international arms markets and often bought up by nations looking to arm groups with some level of deniability,” the report added.
Norinco is also in the mining business through its subsidiary Wanbao Mining. Zimbabwe politicians have arranged lucrative mining contracts to Chinese companies, including Norinco, in exchange for arms. Wanbao holds several mineral rights in the African country, according to a 2013 article by Zimbabwean radio station Nehanda Radio.
Also, in February 2017, Amnesty International called on Burmese authorities to shut down a copper mine operated by Wanbao due to human rights abuses, including forced evictions of locals living near the mine.
Hugs have a biochemical impact that lasts longer than the embrace. (Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash)
Hugs trigger the release of oxytocin with a cascade of emotional and physical benefits
April 13, 2019 Updated: April 14, 2019
Hugs are a powerful expression of trust and affection. They are also surprisingly impactful thanks to their effect on our emotions through the release of oxytocin. Here are 10 reasons why you need to hug every day.
1. Hugs Can Help to Treat Insomnia and Anxiety
Lack of sleep can create a long list of secondary health issues that can disrupt the body’s normal function, and increase the risk of serious medical problems like heart attacks. Studies have found that sleeping with weighted blankets helps insomnia and anxiety.
Weighted blankets are filled with plastic poly pellets and weigh between 15 and 30 pounds. They work by relaxing the nervous system via extra pressure—a form of deep touch therapy. Deep touch pressure is the type of surface pressure that is felt when we touch, hold, or stroke others, or when we pet animals.
Basically, the blanket molds to the body like a warm hug. The body responds as if it is receiving physical contact, and the brain releases serotonin, causing the nervous system to relax. With the nervous system relaxed the body is able to fall into a deeper, more restful sleep.
A 2008 study published in Occupational Therapy in Mental Health showed that weighted blankets offered safe and effective therapy for decreasing anxiety in patients. These results were confirmed in a 2012 study published in Australasian Psychiatry, which indicated that weighted blankets successfully decreased distress and visible signs of anxiety.
2. Hugging Reduces Fear of Mortality
As human beings, we all know that we are going to die someday. This can be very frightening for people with low self-esteem who feel like they are not living meaningful lives.
In a series of studies on fears and self-esteem published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers demonstrated that hugs and touch significantly reduce the fear of death and mortality.
In one particular study, participants were approached as they walked through a university campus and handed a questionnaire to fill out. Some of the participants received a light, open-palmed touch from the researcher as they were handed the forms, while others were not given any physical interaction.
The results showed that participants with low self-esteem, who received the physical touch, reported less death anxiety on the questionnaire than those who had not been touched.
Touch also appeared to act as a buffer against social alienation. Participants with low self-esteem demonstrated no noticeable decrease in social connectedness after being reminded of death, but only if they had received a light touch.
This research suggests that touch plays a beneficial role in providing comfort and reassurance to people who are depressed and dealing with the thought of their mortality.
3. Hugs Can Decrease Food Cravings
We often eat for our emotions, rather than our hunger. In fact, the brain circuit that controls eating overlaps with the brain circuit that controls interpersonal relationships.
Eating sends oxytocin in the dopamine-rich areas of the brain, making us feel pleasure and relaxation. This helps explain why eating can be soothing and pleasurable. This also explains why we’re drawn to emotional eating; it mimics the same feelings of comfort we get from close friends and family.
But oxytocin is also released by physical contact and supportive interactions with other people. The release of oxytocin brings on feelings of trust and generosity. It also reduces stress and anxiety.
Improving our relationships, therefore, can have an impact on weight loss. By increasing the quality and closeness of our relationships, we increase the amount of oxytocin in our system and that reduces food cravings.
4. Hugs Increase Bonding and Strengthen Relationships
Relationship expert Dr. Pam Spurr notes that the simple act of hugging can go a long way in keeping relationships healthy and happy.
For couples, hugging helps to bridge the gap between what happens in the bedroom and what happens in day-to-day life. It maintains the intimacy that occurs when making love and ensures that partners feel emotionally connected to each other.
A study reported in the Daily Mail suggested that hugs are more important for a couple’s happiness than sex. The article notes that hugging provides many benefits including stimulating our touch centers and our olfactory centers (the part of our brain responsible for smell). This is why the smell and touch of our partner make us feel loved and cared for.
Hugs also provide a form of communication separate from sex, which allows couples to feel close without draining their energy. When couples touch, they let down their guard and feel love and acceptance towards their partner. Touching and hugging is the best way to maintain a strong emotional bond and connection.
5. Hugs Improve Self-Esteem
Hugging boosts self-esteem, especially in children. Touch and smell are the two most important senses in infants, and a baby recognizes its parent by touch. From the time we are born, our family’s touch shows us that we are special and loved.
A young child’s brain needs a lot of stimulation to grow and develop. Physical touch is one of the most important stimulations that can facilitate child development.
This is demonstrated in observations of infants in eastern European orphanages that had limited physical contact. They usually suffered from impaired growth and cognitive development.
Researchers have found that when institutionalized infants received an average of 20 minutes of touch a day for 10 weeks, they subsequently scored higher on developmental assessments.
This association between self-worth and touch remains embedded within our nervous system as adults. Hugs remind us of the affection we received as babies and therefore connect us to our ability to self-love.
6. Hugging Causes Muscles to Relax
If you’ve ever had a massage, you know how relaxed it can make you feel. This is not just a mental sensation: massage causes muscles to unclench, the heart rate to slow, and cortisol levels to drop. Once that happens your body is able to relax and recharge, resulting in a happier emotional state and a heightened immune system.
Oxytocin, which is released into the bloodstream while hugging, helps the body to repair muscles more quickly. It does this by enabling fat in the body to be converted into energy and used for muscle repair. Healthy levels of oxytocin lead to better energy conversion, and therefore better muscle repair and muscle growth.
7. Hugs Increase Empathy and Understanding
Oxytocin has other benefits too. When oxytocin is released into the body, it produces a feeling of empathy.
A study conducted by Jorge A. Barraza and Paul J. Zak tested the effects of oxytocin on 145 college students from the University of California–Los Angeles. The students were randomly divided into three groups; one group watched an emotional video and played an ultimatum game which consisted of offering to share a fixed sum of money; the second group watched a control video and played an ultimatum game, and the third group only watched an emotional video.
The results showed that watching the emotional video increased oxytocin levels by 47 percent. Consequently, the participants experienced a change in empathy levels, as demonstrated in greater generosity during the ultimatum game.
The study illustrated how oxytocin increases empathy, even between total strangers. Just by hugging someone, oxytocin is released into the brain, triggering a feeling of empathy in our brains.
8. Hugs Increase Happiness
A UCLA study of 236 people in 2011 showed that raised levels of oxytocin promote optimism and self-esteem.
As we hug and release oxytocin, our ‘happiness scale’ is raised. In fact, studies estimate that 50 percent of our happiness is genetic, 10 percent is affected by our environment, and forty percent is determined by how we are nurtured.
In a study conducted at Pennsylvania State University, students were divided into two groups. The first group was instructed to give or receive a minimum of five hugs a day over the course of four weeks. They had to hug as many different people as possible, and record the details. The second group, the control group, was instructed to record the number of hours they read each day, for four weeks.
At the end of four weeks, the hugging group had hugged an average of 49 times each and reported being much happier. Unsurprisingly, the reading group reported no changes.
9. Hugs Are Great for Your Sex Life
Researchers at the University of Toronto Mississauga tested the correlation between post-sex affectionate behavior (kissing, cuddling and talking) and sexual and relationship satisfaction. The two-part study, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, used an online survey of 335 individuals, and a 21 day survey of 101 couples.
In the online survey, participants reported that on average they engaged in affectionate behavior after sex for a period of approximately 15 minutes. Couples in the second study were then asked to cuddle for longer than this period of time.
The study concluded that couples who spent extra time together felt more satisfied with their sex lives and with their relationship. This level of satisfaction remained consistently higher, even three months after the original survey, indicating that taking time to share intimacy after sex reaffirms the emotional and sexual bond between a couple and makes it stronger.
10. Hugs Teach Us to Give and Receive
Hugging is a reciprocal act; we give and we receive. In hugging, we recognize that there is equal value in giving and being receptive to comfort and warmth.
Hugs show us that love flows both ways. When we hug someone we are opening ourselves up to their energy field, and building a relationship of trust.
Virginia Satir, a famous psychologist, once said that we need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs for maintenance, and 12 hugs for growth. Now that you have the scientific proof of all the amazing benefits that hugging can provide, don’t delay—start hugging today!
This article was first published on NaturallySavvy.com
An employee works on a mobile phone production line at a Huawei production base during a media tour in Dongguan, China’s Guangdong province on March 6, 2019. (WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)
BY EMEL AKAN
April 14, 2019 Updated: April 14, 2019
WASHINGTON—A new report shows that China is not just a copier of technology, but is also moving faster in innovation and in developing advanced technology industries than the United States.
The U.S. think tank Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) examines various areas where China has made progress and closed the innovation gap with America in the last decade. The report uses 36 indicators in measuring Chinese performance and shows that China has closed the gap or, in some cases, even outstripped the United States.
“If China were only a copier, then the competitive threat to advanced economies would be limited,” the report stated. “But there is no reason to believe China won’t follow the path of ‘Asian tigers’ that rapidly evolved from copiers to innovators, which poses a serious threat.”
To become a global innovation leader, China is following the path of Asian tigers such as Japan and South Korea. The country made notable progress in the last decade in the areas of research and development (R&D), university performance, patents, entrepreneurial activity, industrial sales, and exports, according to the report.
China, for example, increased its R&D investment significantly during the ten-year period. In 2007, the country invested $129 billion in R&D, which was 33 percent of the R&D spending in the United States. By 2017, the gap was reduced, reaching 76 percent of U.S. levels and surpassing the European Union, stated the report.
U.S. patents issued to Chinese companies, which is an important indicator of innovation, also jumped in recent years.
Nearly half of the patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office each year go to foreign inventors. In 2006, the United States granted 1,066 patents to Chinese, which accounted for 1.2 percent of patents granted to U.S. inventors. By 2016, the number had risen to more than 11,000, which equaled 8.0 percent of U.S. patents.
The study also highlights the role universities play in national innovation systems, as they produce skilled scientists and engineers as well as entrepreneurs and innovators. About 7 million students in China obtain a bachelor’s degree every year, with over 30 percent receiving an engineering degree, compared with just 5 percent in the United States. The report also finds that as a share of the population, China produces 46 percent more computer science and engineering degrees than the United States.
China is also not just relying on Chinese-educated scientists and engineers, according to the report. The country is actively recruiting foreign engineers and scientists from other Asian countries and the United States by paying them very high salaries, which is all backed by government subsidies.
The development in Chinese high-tech manufacturing also provides insight into China’s innovation. For example, Chinese high-tech exports grew from 139 percent of U.S. levels in 2006 to 203 percent in 2016. And value-added—the measure of industry output minus inputs such as raw materials, energy, and so on—increased from 30 percent in 2006 to 77 percent in 2016. If the pace of growth continues, China will surpass the United States in high-tech manufacturing value added by 2020, said the report.
In other sectors such as information and communication technology, semiconductors, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, high-speed rail, and aerospace, the report showed that China made dramatic progress relative to the United States in the last decade.
The United States, however, had gained competencies and leadership in many sectors by investing trillions of dollars in R&D, workforce training, and other areas in order to innovate complex products, according to the report.
“The Chinese government knows that if it proceeds the fair and ‘natural’ way that it will take it many decades or more to seriously close the innovation gap with the global leaders,” said the report.
Hence, it resorts to various policies to obtain the know-how it needs from foreign companies, such as theft of intellectual property, forced joint ventures and technology transfer, and state-subsidized acquisition of foreign advanced industry firms.
“Korea went through the same process of development China is now following,” stated the report. “Like China, Korea was initially focused on copying.”
If China rapidly evolves from a copier to innovator, however, the negative impact on advanced economies will be big because the Chinese economy is massive and it is much more difficult to get China to compete fairly, according to the report.
The loss of leadership in innovation and technology has two implications for advanced economies. The first one is it reduces prosperity and living standards. The second factor relates to national security and the defense industrial base, which is a significant problem for the United States as its defense superiority is driven largely by technological superiority, says the report.
Along with his father Wang Xizhi, Wang Xianzhi was a renowned calligrapher of the Chinese Jin Dynasty. (Public Domain)
BY DANIEL TENG
March 19, 2019 Updated: March 19, 2019
The “Standards for Being a Good Student and Child” (Di Zi Gui) is a traditional Chinese textbook for children that teaches children morals and proper etiquette. It was written by Li Yuxiu in the Qing Dynasty, during the reign of Emperor Kang Xi (1661-1722). In this series, we present some ancient Chinese stories that exemplify the valuable lessons taught in the Di Zi Gui. The second chapter of the Di Zi Gui instructs readers to fulfill their duties as siblings.
It is written in the Di Zi Gui:
The older brother shall be friendly And the young brother respectful. When elder and younger are harmonious, Xiao (filial piety) is achieved.
Taking riches lightly, There is no cause for resentment. Speaking with tolerance, Anger will dissipate naturally.
A good sibling should always place his elder and younger siblings before himself. A famous example is the descendant of Confucius Kong Rong, who learned to share at an early age.
Kong Rong (153-208 A.D.), the 20th-generation-descendant of Confucius, was a high-ranking official during the reign of Emperor Ling in the Eastern Han Dynasty. As he was once the chancellor of Beihai (present-day Weifang, Shandong Province), he was also known as Kong Beihai. During his tenure, Kong Rong built cities and schools, and advocated Confucianism. He was also a famed poet and essayist.
Kong Rong was known to be good-tempered and hospitable, and his house was always full of guests. Kong Rong upheld etiquette, and as a child he became a household name when he demonstrated great generosity among his brothers.
There were seven brothers in Kong’s family and he was the sixth son. When Kong Rong was four years old, being the youngest child then, he was given first priority in choosing from a basket a pears. However, he chose the smallest pear, leaving the big ones for his elder brothers. Even after his younger brother was born, Kong Rong would give his older and younger brothers the larger pears, leaving the smallest for himself.
When asked why, Kong Rong said, “My elder brothers should have the bigger pears because they’re older, but my younger brother should also have the bigger pear as it’s my responsibility to take care of my younger brother.” Kong Rong’s response earned the praise of the Kong family and of those who heard of it.
This story has been handed down as a much-told story of etiquette and fraternal love, and to this day it remains an essential part of children’s formative education.
Prime Minister Li Mian Forfeits his Friend’s Gold
Li Mian (717-788 AD) was an official and general of the Tang Dynasty, serving as a chancellor during the reign of Emperor Dezong. He was a descendant of Tang’s founding emperor, Emperor Gaozu.
Li was poor during his early years, but he did not try to seek ill-gotten wealth. He instead spent his time studying texts, from which he acquired an honest and trustworthy character. One day, Li met a rich scholar who was going to the capital to complete his studies and take the Imperial Exam.
The two became very good friends. But the scholar became seriously ill one day, and Li took care of him and treated him just like his own sibling.
The scholar eventually succumbed to his illness. Before his death, he begged Li to keep the balance of his gold that remained after paying for his funeral arrangements. Li had no choice but to accept the gift, in order for the scholar pass on in peace. Ultimately, however, Li did not keep a single dime. He secretly hid the gold under the scholar’s coffin, and returned the scholar’s silver to the scholar’s family.
During his appointment as Jie du shi in Lingnan, Li didn’t use his power to usurp the fortunes or property of the foreign merchants. He always politely declined any gifts from merchants, and, on his retirement, he even threw all the rhino horns and ivory his family had received into the river.
During his two decades of service as an official, Li distributed his salary to his relatives and subordinates, leaving little for himself. As a result, he was found to have no savings when he passed away. Li was honored greatly and given the posthumous title of Zhen Jian, meaning “He Who is Pure and Simple.”
Be Humble Before Your Elders
It is stated in the Di Zi Gui:
When addressing a distinguished elder, Do not use his personal name. When before a distinguished elder, Do not show off your talents.
Aside from requiring the use of proper salutations when speaking with elders, an important aspect of traditional Chinese etiquette is modesty.
An ancient calligrapher from the Jin Dynasty, and Han Dynasty founding hero Zhang Liang famously respected their elders in their youth. They learned to be humble and hence acquired knowledge and skills from their elders.
Renowned calligrapher Wang Xizhi, known as the Sage of Calligraphy in China, lived during the Jin Dynasty (303–361 A.D.) and had seven children, among whom his youngest son, Wang Xianzhi, (344-386) was also a distinguished calligrapher.
By the time Xianzhi was 15 years old, he had already achieved a great level of skill in calligraphy and often received praise from his father and other elders. Xianzhi hence became arrogant and lazy, thinking that his ability was already excellent and that he no longer needed to put in the effort to work hard and improve himself.
There is a story about how Wang Xizhi helped his son realize the foolishness of his arrogance and understand the importance of diligence. One day, Wang Xizhi was summoned to the capital and to bid him farewell, his family held a lavish dinner. Fine food and wine were served at the feast. While slightly intoxicated, Wang Xizhi had a sudden inspiration to write some words of wisdom as guidance for Xianzhi.
Wang Xizhi wrote a poem on the wall called “Precepts Against Arrogance” (戒驕詩 ), advising Xianzhi not to be arrogant but to work hard. Xianzhi, however, was not entirely convinced. He copied the poem dozens of times each day, and just before his father returned home, he erased his father’s words when no one was looking and rewrote it in the same location on the wall, imitating his father’s calligraphy.
Xianzhi was very proud of himself. In his arrogance, he thought his calligraphy was just as good as his father’s and that no one would be able to tell the difference.
When Wang Xizhi came home, he looked intently at the poem on the wall for a long time, then scratched his head and sighed.”Could I have drunk too much wine that night, to have written such clumsy characters?” he exclaimed.
His son instantly blushed, feeling deeply uneasy and ashamed. Wang Xianzhi finally realized that only through diligent study and hard work could he eventually become a renowned calligrapher.
Zhang Liang and the Shoes of the Old Sage
Zhang Liang (around 262–189 B.C.), courtesy name Zhifang, was born in the State of Han (located around what is now the center of Henan Province). In order to avoid the chaos of war, his family moved to Nanyang in Henan and then moved to the Pei Kingdom. Later on, he settled down in Pei Kingdom and became a citizen there.
In Zhang Liang’s childhood, on a windy, snowy winter day, he happened upon Yishui Bridge in the town of Xiapi. There he met an old man wearing a yellow shirt and a black hood. The old man threw one of his shoes down to the bridge on purpose and said to Zhang Liang:
“Little boy, please go to pick my shoe back up for me.” Zhang Liang did not hesitate. Regardless of the danger of slipping into the river and being exposed to the cold wind, he went down to the bridge and picked up the shoe for the old man. The old man did not take the shoe, but offered his foot to Zhang Liang and asked him to put the shoe on for him. Zhang Liang did not mind and respectfully did what the old man told him to do. The old man smiled and said: “Boy, I see much promise in you. Come here tomorrow morning and I will teach you some things.”
The next day, before the crack of dawn, Zhang Liang came to the bridge and saw that the old man was already there. The old man said: “You came here later than me. I cannot teach you the Tao today.” It happened like this three times.
The third time, Zhang Liang finally got to the bridge earlier than the old man. The old man finally gave Zhang Liang a book and said: “When you fully understand this book, you will be able to serve as the chief military counselor for a king in the future. If you need my help in the future, come to see me. I am the yellow stone at the foot of Gucheng Mountain.”
Zhang Liang went back home and he studied the book very carefully. Finally he mastered its essence. He was able to understand all of its intricacy and became very familiar with military tactics. Later, he assisted Liu Bang, the first emperor of the Han dynasty, to found the Han dynasty and unite China.
Yu Liangchen wished to become a scholar-bureaucrat, which was only achievable by passing the civil service exam. Here the exam candidates gather to see the exam results. A painting by Qiu Ying, circa1540. (Public Domain)
Ancient Chinese Stories: What’s Inside Counts
March 6, 2019 Updated: March 6, 2019
During the Ming Dynasty, Yu Liangchen and his peers created a community where members did good deeds and were forbidden to kill, visit prostitutes, curse, or talk behind others’ backs.
Yu ran this community for many years, yet he encountered misfortunes, one after another.
Yu took the imperial examinations seven times but never passed.
He and his wife had nine children—five boys and four girls—but four of the boys and three of the girls died early. The surviving boy was very smart and had two birthmarks on the sole of his left foot, and the couple loved him dearly. Sadly, at age 6, he disappeared while playing outside. Yu’s wife wept over the loss of her children and eventually became blind.
In addition, the family was by this time living in poverty.
Yu wondered why he was punished with such a horrible fate when he’d never committed any wrongdoing.
An Unexpected Visitor
One evening, when Yu was 47, he heard a knock at the door. An old man was outside. After Yu invited him inside, the elderly gentleman explained that he had come to visit because he knew Yu’s family was feeling low.
Yu noticed that the man’s manner of speaking was not that of an ordinary mortal, so he treated him with deep respect. He told his guest that he studied hard and did good deeds his entire life but still had a horrible life.
“I have known about your family for a long time,” said the guest. “You have too many evil thoughts, you complain and pursue fame, and you dishonored the Jade Emperor. I’m afraid even more punishment awaits you.”
Stunned, Yu asked, “I know that a person’s good and evil deeds are all recorded in detail. I vowed to do good for others and controlled my behavior. How have I been pursuing fame?”
“You say you don’t kill, but you constantly cook crabs and lobsters in your kitchen. You say you watch your words, but you’re always sarcastic, angering many gods. You say you don’t use prostitutes, but your heart moves when you see beautiful women,” answered the old man.
“It’s even worse that you claim you’re dedicated to doing good deeds. The Jade Emperor sent a messenger to check your records, and you’ve not done one single good deed in many years.
“On the contrary, your thoughts are filled with greed, lust, and jealousy. You elevate yourself through belittling others. You want revenge whenever you think of the past. With a mind this malicious, you can’t escape disaster. How dare you pray for blessings?” continued the guest.
“Master, you know all about me. You must be an immortal! Please save me!” cried Yu, panic-stricken.
The old man advised: “I hope you can abandon greed, lust, jealousy, and various desires. Don’t pursue fame and self-interest. Then you will be rewarded with goodness.” He then disappeared.
Rewarded With Goodness
The next day, Yu prayed to heaven and swore to change. Determined to eliminate all improper thoughts, he gave himself a Taoist name: “Empty Thought.”
From then on, he paid attention to every thought and action. He saw to it that all of his deeds, whether big or small, effectively benefited others. Whenever he had the chance, he told people about the principles of karmic retribution.
At age 50, Yu was hired to tutor the son of Zhang Juzheng, the prime minister of Emperor Wanli. Yu and his family moved to the capital, and Yu passed the imperial exams the following year.
One day Yu went to visit the eunuch Yang Gong and met Yang’s five adopted sons. One of them—a 16-year-old—looked familiar to Yu. Yu learned that he was born in Yu’s own hometown, Jiangling, but was separated from his family when he accidentally boarded a grain boat as a child.
Yu asked the boy to take off his left shoe. When he saw two birthmarks on the sole, Yu exclaimed, “You’re my son!”
The shocked eunuch was happy for them and immediately sent the boy to Yu’s residence. Yu rushed to tell his wife the good news. She cried so bitterly that her eyes bled. Her son held her face with his hands and kissed her eyes. Suddenly, her vision returned.
Yu was overcome with both grief and joy. He no longer wanted to be a high-ranking official and asked to return to his hometown. Admiring Yu’s moral character, Zhang approved his request and sent him a generous gift.
Back home, Yu worked even harder for others’ benefit. His son married and had seven children, who carried on their grandfather’s tradition. Influenced by them, people truly believed that karmic retribution is real.
Translated by Dora Li into English, this story is reprinted with permission from the book “Treasured Tales of China,” Vol. 1, available on Amazon.