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Martha Herbert on A Whole Body Approach to Brain Health

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Rosalind Picard
Martha Herbert

Physical and biological needs of the brain must be met as a precondition for "higher" functions to be performed. Basic physical and biological functions are performed by an array of cell and tissue types without which neurons could not live or function. The quality of health, lifestyle, and environment can profoundly affect these physical and biological parameters. Transduction of molecular and metabolic biology into electrophysiological signaling is vulnerable to poor physical and biological health, and conversely can be tuned up by improving whole-body health. Many chronic neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative conditions can potentially be modulated, improved or slowed in their progression in this fashion. In addition, poor health status can increase vulnerability to stress, brain injury and brain disease, while good health status may confer protective resiliency. Taking a whole body approach to brain health can open the way to many practical ways to support the brain through presently available health practices, and improve effectiveness of medical practice and can open new avenues for systems brain-body research.

Biography

Martha Herbert, PhD, MD is a pediatric neurologist and neuroscientist at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, where she is an assistant professor in neurology. She is an affiliate of the Harvard-MIT-MGH Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging where she directs the TRANSCEND Research Program, which uses advanced brain imaging techniques and biomarkers to look at metabolic, perfusion, and brain function measures of brain change. She received her medical degree at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, her residency training at New York Hospital-Cornell and Massachusetts General Hospital-Harvard, and her doctorate at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her academic research interests include how changes in whole-body physiology, structure and organization of movement may impact electrophysiology to alter brain function, development and structure; how environmental influences can act through our physiology to degrade molecular, tissue and neuroglial function—or create improvement and fulfill potential; and how emerging bioinformatics and small-scale measurement technologies can facilitate crowdsourcing of health and lifestyle data and build motivation to make these healthful changes. She works to convey to the scientific, policy and public communities that there is a better, more inclusive and action-promoting way of looking at autism, brain health and chronic disease, which is the message of her book, The Autism Revolution: Whole Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be (Harvard Health Publications and Random House, 2012, www.AutismRevolution.org and www.autismWHYandHOW.org).

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