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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

feed your head

Because so many moms have been asking me advice on this, I finally did some research on supplements you can take to potentially boost your brainpower.
I had another motive -- the paperback edition of The Mommy Brain is coming out in May 2006, and I wanted to beef up the concluding "10 Tips to Make the Most of Your Mommy Brain." So I did some research to track down one of the most respected members of the parade of health experts now giving advice on this topic, and called David Perlmutter, M.D., author of the best-selling The Better Brain Book, at his Florida clinic. (Of course he's already been on Oprah .)

Pelmutter recommends two daily supplements for the average hard-thinking mommy:

1. DHA (docosahexanenoic acid), from omega 3 fatty acids, a raw material for well-functioning cell membranes. (Healthy brains contain high amounts of DHA, says Perlmutter, but maintaining the optimal level can be tricky, especially for people who eat too many saturated fats and trans fats and consume too much alcohol.)
DHA appears to help mood as well as mental clarity. Studies have found that depressed people have low levels of DHA, and that low levels of DHA in new mothers’ blood increase the risk of post-partum depression.

You can supplement your DHA by eating more fish or Omega-3 eggs – or you can make it even easier by taking a teaspoon per day of fish oil. I like Nordic Naturals Complete Omega-3.6.9 liquid, which does a fairly good job of disguising the coddish taste with lemon, and which is reputedly free of PCBs and heavy metals you can get from simply eating fish. Perlmutter goes farther and recommends supplements derived from marine algae, which he says is even more pure because it’s cultured in a lab. He recommends that you get 400 mg. per day of DHA (check the label of whatever you buy: DHA is just one component of most oils on the market.)

2. NeuroActives:
This is a supplement marketed by Perlmutter himself, and on the website of iNutritionals, which sells it, he supplies clinical studies attesting to the ingredients’ effectiveness in supporting brain health. These ingredients include many you’ve probably heard of, such as antioxidants, Gingko Biloba and coenzyme Q-10.
Important note: make sure you’re not overdoing it with any of these supplements. Consult your doctor. Both gingko and fish oil, for instance, are blood-thinners, which can be harmful if taken in excess.

I know many "geriatric mothers" like me are also interested in whether estrogen can make a difference in their mental performance, and am following up on this one. Meanwhile, if any of you readers want to share tips for my list, I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

more pressure on Joey

In between the playdates and gingerbread-house decorating and occasional half-hours playing Club Penguin that are highlights of his winter break, my ten-year-old son Joey has been quite energetically studying geography. There's a Geography Bee at his school on Jan. 4, and I've told him if he wins it (and goes on to the regional level) I'm going to break down and get him that iPod he tells me "every" fifth grader now has.
I'm hoping that his studies will bring home to him the fact (among others) that I might much more easily claim that "every" fifth-grader doesn't have access to clean water -- statistically far more true.
The Geo Bee is open to 4th-8th graders. This is the first time Joey has been in a class that's competing. I bless his teacher for that, and am thrilled to see the Bee becoming more common throughout the US.
American's geographic ignorance is legendary, and so scandalous. In a survey just a few years ago by the National Geographic Society, almost one third of Americans aged 18 to 24 couldn't find the Pacific Ocean on a map. I'll admit that before starting to help prep Joey this year, I didn't know all the U.S. state capitals. But at least I could find Iraq on a map, unlike 85 percent of Americans in the survey.
Joey now has a big world map over his bed. To my immense delight this morning, I also found him reading, on his own, a wonderful book I recommend to all parents called "Material World: A Global Family Portrait." With beautiful photographs and informative text, it illustrates how the rest of the world lives -- typical families in scores of different countries pose with all their possessions in front of their homes. This book would make a terrific gift during this season of conspicuous consumption.

here's the link

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

a momerama

i.e., a surge of Mommy Brain news. There's a huge story on the maternal brain in the most recent Scientific American -- a comprehensive look at the emerging field, written by Craig Kinsley and Kelly Lambert, the Virginia neuroscientists who've done groundbreaking research with mommy rats. Also, a Brazilian publisher, Rocco, bought the book, which means as of now it's being published in Chinese, Japanese, German, Dutch, Indonesian, Spanish and Portuguese. (This has all been rather surreal for me as I suspected the whole "mommy brain" stereotype dissing maternal intelligence was an industrialized-world if not wholly U.S. phenomenon.) I also got invited to Spain in March by the publisher there who says the book's premise hits a nerve with Spanish moms.
Meanwhile, the Venezuela story I wrote for Smithsonian is finally out -- I did the research for it in August, but in fact nothing major has changed: Hugo Chavez is hanging in there, still driving the Bush Administration nuts. (For the record, I was never the "Latin American bureau chief" for Knight Ridder, as there was no such thing. They had to include a brief bio, so it appears they condensed the fact that I was bureau chief in Mexico City and then in Rio. No biggie.)

Monday, December 12, 2005

rare peace

I often can't believe how much of the time spent with my children is conflict, and how stressful that is. They are three years apart, and boys, and high-wired and competitive, the result I guess of which is that they constantly fight each other. I've had to pull over several times while driving and pull them out of the car for time outs. They also oppose me and their dad on every possible issue -- brushing teeth, eating vegetables, doing homework, getting up, going to sleep, taking a bath, it seems none occurs without vast expenditures of emotional energy. One of my arguments in the Mommy Brain is that parents can learn from these experiences -- and I actually do believe that -- but I deeply understand why many moms are often simply too exhausted to care, as I, too often, am too.
That's why it was so great the other Saturday morning, after my husband took my younger son off to his violin lesson (he had, bless him, let me sleep late and even brought in some coffee and the Times) when my older son, Joey, came in and I looked at him peacefully and said, "You'll find out when you're an adult that there's almost nothing better than reading the paper with coffee in bed on a cold morning." He snuggled next to me and we discussed the headlines for the next 20 minutes or so. I have to keep these moments in my memory as I slog through the much more difficult ones, each day, every day....

Sunday, December 04, 2005

why i watch the Simpsons with my kids

It may seem a bit jarring, after my "Happy Tree Friends" op-ed -- and I have to say I really don't like the "Itchy & Scratchy Show" (one blogger objecting to the "Tree Friends" piece authored something he called "Itchy & Scratchy & Kathy") but this is an entirely different thing, for the following reasons:
1. The Simpsons make up that rare thing, an intact, united family. They have their conflicts, but every episode ends with loving repair.
2. In other ways, too, there is clearly some moral intelligence behind this show: in their own outrageous manner, the authors take on issues like junk food, nuclear power and religious hypocrisy. It's the opposite of the nihilism in display on the Internet and a lot of other TV fare.
3. It's funny and engrossing, so we watch it together, like my folks and I used to watch "Car 54 Where Are You?", or, in later years, the Monty Python show. It's the only TV the kids watch, and the only thing we watch together, other than children's movies and videos, so it's not only a comforting family ritual but an opportunity to talk about topics raised by the program. PBS it's not, but laughter is healthy......