Evolutionary approach to return to health

Many  illness may be prevented or reversed when we life in harmony with our evolutionary origins such as diet, movement, and circadian rhythm. The focus is to teach skills and not pills; since, many medications have long term negative side affects. By applying behavioral life style changes that supports our evolutionary patterns, we may be able to prevent or even reverse numerous illnesses such as epilepsy, eczema, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, allergies, ADHD, depression, anxiety,  cancer, stress related symptoms.

Enjoy the wide ranging lecture presented at the 2012 meeting of the International Society for Neurofeedback and Research.

Be aware of evolutionary/ecological traps


Dead bird on Midway Island in the North Pacific, 2000 miles from any other islands. The bird mistook attractive coloring of plastics that float in the ocean as food. From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtJFiIXp5Bo


Being captured by a digital device. From: http://images.gameskinny.com/gameskinny/c9689c75994e58a03dbc5e489d346e55.jpg

How come birds on Midway Island are dying?

How come your son keeps playing computer games even after he said he would stop?

How come you ate all the French fries and the dessert even though you promised yourself to reduce your calorie intake?

How come you procrastinated and did not get up from the couch to exercise?

How come you watched pornography?

The usual answer is absence of will, self-control or self-discipline. The person is automatically blamed for making poor life choices. If you had more self-worth than you would not let yourself get obese, addicted to computer games, or watch pornography. Blaming the victim is easy, however, there are other factors that underlie the person’s covert/unconscious choices. Many of these illness producing behaviors (e.g., overeating, playing the computer games, sitting and sitting) are responses to external cues that in prehistoric times promoted survival, reproduction and health. To respond rapidly and appropriately  to those cues offered a reproductive advantages while not reacting would reduce your survival. In many cases there are no upper limits to turn off our responses to these cues because the more the person responded to those cues the more was there a reproductive advantage. Now, however, our adaptive preferences have become maladaptive because the cues that trigger the same behaviors lead to lower fitness and illness (Schlaepfer et al, 2002; Robertson et al, 2013). The cues have become evolutionary/ecological traps!

Some of the recent evolutionary/ecological traps include:

Vigilance for survival. While playing a computer games, the person rapidly responds and continuously experiences immediate rewards (e.g., successful shooting the target, points, next game level). This process activates the same  survival mechanisms that hunter used for thousands of generations. A visual or auditory stimuli represents  sources of food or danger (a game animal to hunt for food, an attack by a predator or an enemy). The visual/auditory cue captures the person’s attention and if the person reacts to that cue he would probably survive. On the other hand, if he did not react, he may not survive and reproduce. In our modern world, similar stimuli now hijack the neurological pathways that in earlier times supported survival. Over activation of these pathways is a cofactor in the development of ADHD and other disorders (Peper, 2014). For a superb discussion of  how cellphones, computers, gaming and social medial are changing our brains, read Dr. Mari Swingle’s new book, i-Minds (Swingle, 2015)

Energy for survival: Eating carbohydrate/sugary and fat foods are necessary for survival as humans constantly searched for energy sources to support life. Breast milk and almost any fruit that is sweet contain calories and supports growth. If the food was bitter it was usually harmful. For most of our evolutionary past, we would eat as much as possible because food was scarce. There was no evolutionary advantage to limit food intake as the stored calories would supply enough calories to survive during periods of famine. In our modern world, our survival mechanisms have been hijacked by advertising and the oversupply of foods which  contribute to the epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

Being a couch potato and not moving again is again survival mechanism. In a prehistoric world with limited food supply, the less movement (the fewer calories you burned), the longer you could survive. You would move when you needed to build shelter or search for food. Again in a world where shelter and food are often abundant, there is no intrinsic mechanism to initiate movement.

Sexual arousal for reproduction: Men are often captured by pornography. They can watch for hours and feel aroused. The whole porn industry is based upon hijacking our sexual drive for reproduction.

Our brain does not discriminate between actual visual and auditory stimuli, imagined or film/video images. Until the late 19th century everything we saw and heard was real. Only in the 20th century could we produce images and sounds that appeared real. These film, TV , and the ever present digital displays activate the same neurophysiological pathways as when the stimuli were actually real.  A scene on a digital screen triggers the same biological pathways and responses that for thousands of generations supported survival. If we did not respond we would not have survived.  If you have any doubt, watch a scary horror movie and check how you feel afterwards. You may feel more scared, your sleep may be disturbed, your heart rate increased, and you probably interpreted any noise around you as possible danger. Thus, cues in the environment may become evolutionary/ecological traps in the same way that birds on Midway Island in the North Pacific, 2000 miles from any other islands, mistook the attractive coloring of plastics as food. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtJFiIXp5Bo. Should the birds be blamed because they have no self-control?

What can you do!

Recognize that modern industries for the sake of profits have hijacked our cues that had evolved to aid survival (Kemp, 2014).

Recognize that not reacting to product cues means inhibiting the intrinsic biological triggered survival responses. Yes, it is possible not react to the stimuli and demonstrate self-control; however, it is not only a problem of will. It is a problem that our cues have been hijacked and tricked for commercial profit.

Society may need to protect its own populations from commercial exploitation of evolutionary/ecological traps. A young child is automatically drawn to the visual stimuli on a smartphone and tablet which parents use to quiet the child during dinner. In this process they are activating the pre-wired biological pathways that captured attention for survival. By over activating these pathways, the brain is changing in response to this activation which increases the risk of developing ADHD, autism, and mood deregulation including anxiety, depression, and anger management, and other forms of addictive behavior (Swingle, 2015). In addition, school performance and memory retention are reduced when students take notes using their keyboard or read text from digital screens (OCallaghan, 2014). It will take the family and society to limit the availability of these cues until self-control has been developed. Similarly, the availability of cheap calories in large food portions, sugars in soft drinks and sugar and fats in snacks, need to be limited if the epidemic of obesity and diabetes is to be reversed.

It may be unreasonable to think that people can easily interrupt their biological responses to cues that have been created to increase profits. We need to take collective responsibility and limit the availability of commercially augmented evolutionary traps and cues in the same way we need to limit the plastic in the ocean so that the birds at Midway Island may be able survive. Without respecting our evolutionary past, our future may not be different from those Midway Island birds.


Kemp, C. (2014). Trapped!. New Scientist, 221(2960), 43-45

OCallaghan, T. (2014). Goodbye, paper: What we miss when we read on screen. New Scientist.224 (2993). 41-43.

Peper, E. (2014). Support Healthy Brain Development: Implications for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Psychophysiology Today, 9(1), 4‐15.

Robertson, B. A., Rehage, J. S., & Sih, A. (2013). Ecological novelty and the emergence of evolutionary traps. Trends in ecology & evolution, 28(9), 552-560.

Swingle, M.K. (2015). i-Minds. Portland, OR: Inkwaterpress.com ISBN-13 978-1-62901-213-1

Schlaepfer, M. A., Runge, M. C., & Sherman, P. W. (2002). Ecological and evolutionary traps. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 17(10), 474-480.

Are herbicides a cause for allergies, immune incompetence and ADHD?

A couple of customers reported that they could eat our baguette even though they were gluten intolerant. –Clerk at a bakery that sells organic baguettes

When I was a little boy, allergies almost never occurred. I remember only one boy in our class of 38 who had asthma and allergies.  –71 year old male

Fruit flies fed on organic raisins, bananas, soy, and potatoes, lived significantly longer, had much higher fertility and survived longer after starvation than those fed non-organic foods. —From Chhabraet al, 2013). For more detail see:  Live longer-Enhance fertility and increase stress resistance-Eat organic foods.

After a year of practicing stress management and changing to a totally organic food diet, to my own surprise my nut allergy totally disappeared. –-25 young woman (Peper, 2015).                                                                        

Many people report being allergic to gluten, nuts, cat hair, etc, or have hay fever or some form of autoimmune disorder. In our 2014 survey 36% of 264 students at an urban university (average age 24.5 years) reported having allergies (Peper and Del Dosso, 2015 unpublished). Over the last forty years more and more people are reporting allergies. Allergies are often dismissed because they are not a serious—just uncomfortable and may limit what you eat or where you visit (e.g., I can’t eat a morning bun or I can’t visit my aunt because she has a cat). In rare cases it may trigger life-threatening allergic reactions (anaphylaxis). By injecting a single dose of epinephrine using an EpiPen,®  it helps the body override the allergic reaction for a short period of time. This allows people who are suffering anaphylaxis some time to get emergency care. Epinephrine does NOT resolve allergic reaction. Other drugs, such as antihistamine and steroids, are required to suppress the reaction while the body metabolizes the allergen. This usually takes many hours and people typically have to stay in the hospital for 8-24 hours to be monitored for their safety.

Allergies and autoimmune illnesses  have become so common that we forget that they may be markers of immune incompetence and may affect the ability of the body to optimize health. The increase in allergies is an early indicator that something harmful is affecting the body. People who have allergies, autoimmune illnesses, diabetes or other disorders are possibly the “canaries in the coal mine” for the rest of the population. In earlier times before carbon monoxide and other poisonous gasses could be measured with instruments, miner used a canary as a poisonous gas meter. If the canary died, the miners would exit the mine before they would die of the poisonous gasses.

There are many factors that  contribute to the radical increase in asthma, rhinitis, allergies, Type 2 diabetes and autoimmune disorders. These include excessive hygiene, lack of breast feeding and introducing foreign foods too early in the first year of a baby’s life, ingestion of acetaminophen (Tylenol) by the pregnant mother and during the first year of  baby’s life,  low Omega 3 levels during pregnancy,  increased exposure to plastics and other endocrine disruptors, stress, etc. Many of these factors are outside of our control; however, diet and the ingestion of residual herbicides and pesticides in food appear to be a major risk factors.

In the last thirty years there has been a radical change in our diet. The food may look and even taste the same, yet it is totally different. Almost all grains, corn, soy, processed foods, and meats contain low levels of Monsanta’s  herbicide Roundup® and other herbicides and pesticides. Almost all grain, corn, soy and cotton are now genetically modified crops and herbicide tolerant to Roundup®.

Roundup® was first introduced in 1974 by Monsanto and is the most widely used herbicide for farm and urban use. The active ingredient is glyphosate with numerous other inert ingredients which may also be harmful to humans. According to the US Department of Agriculture, as of 2012, 99% of durum wheat, 97% of spring wheat has been treated with herbicides. It is also used on rice, seeds, alfalfa, dried beans and peas, sugar cane and sweet potatoes (Swanson et al, 2014). As Roundup® and equivalent herbicides are used more and more, numerous illnesses including food allergies have increased. For the correlation between celiac disease (gluten intolerance) and glyphosate use see Figure 1.

Slide1Figure 1. The correlation between increase in celiac disease (gluten intolerance) and increase of the use of the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup®) on the genetically modified grain (From: Samsel, A., & Seneff, S. 2013).

Presently, more than 95% of all grain, corn and soy as well as cotton is genetically modified to be herbicide tolerant as shown in Figure 2.


Figure 2. Adoption of GE crops in US to which glyphosate is applied. Reproduce with permission from: Swanson, N. L., Leu, A., Abrahamson, J., & Wallet, B. (2014). Genetically engineered crops, glyphosate and the deterioration of health in the United States of America. Journal of Organic Systems, 9(2), 6-37.

In the USA glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide and about 250 million pounds are applied to U.S farms and even lawns every year.  In addition, the common wheat harvest protocol in the United States is to drench the wheat fields with Roundup® several days prior to harvesting. This allow crops to dry down for an earlier, easier and bigger harvest (Swanson et al, 2014; Sarah, 2014).  Glyphosate and the many other herbicides and pesticides are in our food, animal fodder and thus in the meat, clothing, water supply and even air. Almost all human and animal food now contains low levels of glyphosate and its inert but poisonous additional ingredients which may impact our health.

The increased application of glyphosate with the increase of chronic diseases over the last 35 years correlates highly  (great than 0.9) and is highly significant for obesity (R=0.96), diabetes (R=0.98), end stage renal disease death (R=0.97), Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (R=0.94), death due to intestinal infection (R=0.97), autism in children (6-21 years) (R=0.99), deaths from senile dementia (R=0.99), and death from Alzheimer’s (R=0.93). Figure 3 and 4 shows the relationship between diabetes, autism and glyphosate.


Figure 3. Correlation between age-adjusted diabetes prevalence and glyphosate applications and percentage of US corn and soy crops that are genetically engineered. Reproduce with permission from: Swanson, N. L., Leu, A., Abrahamson, J., & Wallet, B. (2014). Genetically engineered crops, glyphosate and the deterioration of health in the United States of America. Journal of Organic Systems, 9(2), 6-37.

Slide3aFigure 4. Correlation between children with autism and glyphosate applications. Reproduce with permission from: Swanson, N. L., Leu, A., Abrahamson, J., & Wallet, B. (2014). Genetically engineered crops, glyphosate and the deterioration of health in the United States of America. Journal of Organic Systems, 9(2), 6-37.

Correlations are not proof and similar correlations could be plotted between these illnesses and increased production of plastics, intake of high fructose corn syrup, computer use, cell phone use, antidepressant and ADHD medications. Correlations may suggest relationships that should be investigated.

Correlations may suggest possible  relationship which should be investigated. It is very difficult to investigate the correlation because  most people unknowingly have ingested glyphosate. When using naturalistic observations such as comparing people who eat organic versus non-organic foods, there are many other variables that could account for the differences.

Roundup® residues in food is harmful is from a biological perspective. The purpose of using glyphosate and its inert ingredients is to act as a herbicide and biocide to suppress weed growth and act as a drying agent to improve harvest. As human beings are biological organisms, glyphosate affects our cellular metabolism and especially our bacteria that live in our gut and are necessary for our health. As Samsel & Seneff, (2013) point out, ‘it kills the beneficial bacteria in our gut, leading to the steep rise in intestinal diseases.’ Specifically, Shehata et all (2012) found that “highly pathogenic bacteria as Salmonella Entritidis, Salmonella Gallinarum, Salmonella Typhimurium, Clostridium perfringens and Clostridium botulinum are highly resistant to glyphosate. However, most of beneficial bacteria such as Enterococcus faecalis, Enterococcus faecium, Bacillus badius, Bifidobacterium adolescentis and Lacto-bacillus spp. were found to be moderate to highly susceptible” (Swanson et al, 2014).

Given the very strong correlations of increased disease with increased use of Roundup®, the demonstrated evidence that glyphosate disrupts gut bacteria balance, cellular metabolic processes, kills human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells, and acts as endocrine disrupters, the recent decision by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which is the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization that glyphosate is a possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), I strongly recommend avoiding glyphosate and other types of herbicide and pesticide contaminated foods. Use the precautionary principle and eat only organic foods.

If the radical increase of allergy and immune incompetence is linked to low level chronic exposure to glyphosate, than avoiding glyphosate and other pesticide and herbicide laced foods may reverse the allergy and immune incompetence.  When people adapt an holistic lifestyle which includes stress management and eating  organic foods, some report that their immune system became more competent and their allergies disappeared. For example,  a 25 year old young woman who successfully reversed cervical dysplasia and eliminated high strains of HPV (her last Paps were normal and the HPV was gone) also found that her nut allergy disappeared (Peper, 2015). As she stated, “I was able to rid myself of a nut allergy that I developed when I was 19. I frequently had trouble breathing therefore I went to an allergist and they told me I had a nut allergy to peanuts (4 out of 4) and tree nuts (2 out of 4). This past July, knowing how truly healthy I had become and after noticing a little to no reaction when I accidentally consumed a nut, I decided to go back to the allergist. I got the test done, and no signs of a nut allergy came up. I believe it was due to this lifestyle change.”

In summary eat only organic foods when possible and follow the wisdom of numerous countries that have banned the use of Roundup®. This year, the Netherlands followed Russia, Tasmania, and Mexico to ban Roundup®.  To understand more of the hidden dangers in our food supply from genetic engineering, herbicides and pesticides watch the following impressive videos by Robyn O’Brien presented at TEDxAustin 2011 and MIT researcher Dr. Stephanie Seneff describing in detail the politics and the harmful physiological impact of glyphosate.


Chhabra R, Kolli S & Bauer JH (2013). Organically Grown Food Provides Health Benefits to Drosophila melanogaster. PLoS ONE 8(1): e52988. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052988

Peper, E. (2015). Thinking out of the box with biofeedback for the treatment of psychogenic non-epileptic seizures, vulvodynia, and CIN III carcinoma in situ cervical dysplasia. Paper accepted for the 46th Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Austin, Texas, March 11 – 14, 2015.

Peper, E. & Del Dosso, A. (2015 unpublished). Skipping breakfast a risk for blanking out on exams.

Samsel, A., & Seneff, S. (2013). Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance. Interdisciplinary toxicology, 6(4), 159-184.

Sarah (2014). The real reason wheat is toxic (it’s not the gluten). The Healthy Home Economist, November 13, 2014. Retrieved January 10, 2015  http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/real-reason-for-toxic-wheat-its-not-gluten/

Saw, L., Shumway, J., & Ruckart, P. (2011). Surveillance Data on Pesticide and Agricultural Chemical Releases and Associated Public Health Consequences in Selected US States, 2003–2007. Journal of medical toxicology, 7(2), 164-171. http://download.springer.com/static/pdf/604/art%253A10.1007%252Fs13181-011-0152-8.pdf?auth66=1421018047_4db65b4e5f0e0349a608560a6c1392e7&ext=.pdf

Shehata, A. A., Schrödl, W., Aldin, A. A., Hafez, H. M., & Krüger, M. (2013). The effect of glyphosate on potential pathogens and beneficial members of poultry microbiota in vitro. Current microbiology, 66(4), 350-358.

Swanson, N. L., Leu, A., Abrahamson, J., & Wallet, B. (2014). Genetically engineered crops, glyphosate and the deterioration of health in the United States of America. Journal of Organic Systems, 9(2), 6-37. http://www.organic-systems.org/journal/92/JOS_Volume-9_Number-2_Nov_2014-Swanson-et-al.pdf




Support Healthy Brain Development*

Factors that support brain development and contribute to the possible development of ADD/ADHD is the focus of  my recently article, Support Healthy Brain Development: Implications for Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder, published in Psychophysiology Today,9(1), 4-15. The article takes an evolutionary perspective of development and  suggests that our lifestyle interacting with the digital devices has implications for our health.  This blog extracts some parts of the published article. For the complete article with references see: http://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/support-healthy-brain-development-psychophysiology-today.pdf

In class, he fidgets, every auditory and visual stimulus distracts him– he gets up, talks to other students and disrupts the class. Nothing seems to hold his attention, he looks at the page and moments later turns around and disturbs the boy behind him. At home, he grabs his food and leaves the table. He is continuously distracted. The only thing that seems to capture his attention is his computer games.

ADD/ADHD has become an epidemic in the last 30 years. Now one in seven boys by the time they reach the age of 18 have received this diagnosis according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as shown in Figure 1.

figure 1

Figure 1. Rate of office-based visits per 1000 US population aged 5 through 18 with diagnosis (Dx) of ADHD and rate of use of medication (Rx) for boys and girls. Redrawn from: Sclar, D. A., Robison, L. M., Bowen, K. A., Schmidt, J. M., Castillo, L. V., & Oganov, A. M. (2012). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder among Children and Adolescents in the United States Trend in Diagnosis and Use of Pharmacotherapy by Gender. Clinical pediatrics, 51(6), 584-589.

The increase in ADD/ ADHD diagnoses cannot be explained by genetics alone. It may depend upon the interaction of genetics and the environment. It may develop into a disorder as a result of disrespecting and not understanding our evolutionary background during our development. We attempt remedy them with medications (e.g., Adderall, Concerta and Ritalin) that provide an 8 billion dollar revenue stream for pharmaceutical companies. Yet, there is little or no evidence of long term benefits. Self-mastery approaches such as Neurofeedback have demonstrated long term benefits in improving reading, writing, and mathematical scores as well as decreasing impulsive behavior. Neurofeedback training teaches children how to control their brain function.

Our modern lifestyle has compromised the healthy development of the brain and behavior. To prevent this we need to support those factors  that during the course of evolution increased survival, reproductive fitness and promoted healthy brains.

1) Breast feed children at least for one year and concurrently introduce new foods slowly after 6 or 8 months to reduce the risk of developing food allergies.

2) Respect the importance of face-to-face contact to provide safety, develop empathy and nurture social connection.

3) Encourage motor development such as crawling, playing in nature, and physical movement that occurs while playing games support brain development instead sitting and being entertained by smartphones, computers, tablets or TV screens. Physical movement during play– without being distracted by the overwhelming rapid changing stimuli shown on LED and TV screens–is necessary for brain development.

4) Reestablish circadian (daily) rhythms. Until the 19th century our biological and activity rhythms were controlled by natural light. It is hard to imagine not having light at night to read. When the sun went down, we went to sleep. Light not only illuminates, it affects our physiology by regulating our biological rhythms by blocking melatonin production which interferes with sleep.

5. Support touch and movement with vision and sound to develop the brain. During the first years of life, the baby/toddler integrates the visual and auditory world with touch and movement. Motor development is the underpinning of brain development..

6. Provide constancy and reduce novelty. When reading a bedtime story, the child wants to hear the same story again and again. If part of the story is skipped, the child interrupts and reminds us to read correctly. When the child is stressed, it wants to hear a past story for comfort and safety. Repetition while feeling safe allows memory to create appropriate neural connections. Neural growth depends upon the appropriate level and type of stimuli.Too few stimuli hinders brain development and too many novel stimuli may decrease brain development.

7. Limit hours of watching or playing computer games that trigger orienting and activation. The rapidly changing visual stimuli from these screens evokes the biological reflexes to attend– there is something new and it could be safe, dangerous or life threatening. The physiological processes and the important implications for health and illness have been elucidated by the polyvagal theory developed by Professor Stephen Porges.

Slide1 Over-stimulation with digital devices has been associated with impaired learning and decreased ability to self-regulate. The flood of novel visual and auditory stimuli trains the brain to react, to react again, and again. The ongoing external novelty captures the child’s attention, instead of directing attention from within.

8. Provide face to face safety as infants begin to explore the world. In the last 50 years we have radically increased the visual and auditory input to a developing baby following the concept of more is better. Babies are now exposed to visual and auditory stimuli which rapidly pass by them without repetition or the ability to interact  kinesthetically with them. Babies are often carried on the chest or in baby carriages/strollers facing forward- leading the charge into the unknown–instead of receiving face-to-face reassurance from the parent, touching the parent, or hiding behind the parent for safety.

baby TV carriage and on chest

In a study of 2722 observations of parent-child pairs by developmental psychologist Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, parents talked twice as much to their baby when it faced them than when the baby was facing forward in the stroller. The impact of stress was measured by the decrease in baby laughing. Babies who faced their mother/caretaker while being pushed laughed 90% more than those who faced forward. As babies become older they do want to face the environment as it is more interesting; however, when the infants feel overwhelmed or threatened there is an opportunity to automatically reconnect with the caretaker to feel safe.

In summary, do not park children in front of smart phones, tablets, computer games, and television screens that flood the auditory and visual senses without the ability to integrate the information through touch and movement. Although TV and computer games are superb baby sitters, it is not the same as interacting and playing with a baby and toddler to develop the appropriate motor and emotional control. Let’s create an environment that is in harmony with our evolutionary background–An environment where infants play interactively with objects, explore nature and have face-to-face contact with their caregiver.

Even if the initial conditions during growing up were less than optimum, the brain can change—a process known as neuroplasticity. Thus, nurture inner directed attention by having the child develop skill mastery. Learning these skills can include neurofeedback training, back-to-nature explorations, learning to play a musical instrument, practicing a sport or martial art technique, or participating in yoga and meditation. These and many other practices will change the neural structure: it is never too late to learn, change, and optimize health.

To view or download the whole article with references: http://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/support-healthy-brain-development-psychophysiology-today.pdf

*I thank Drs. Stephen Porges, Linda Thompson, Michael Thompson, Monika Fuhs, and Annette Booiman for their constructive feedback.

Screens will hurt your children

We park children in front of tablets, smartphone, computers and TVs.  The visual and auditory stimulation captures their attention. It is a superb baby sitter.  We substitute electronic displays for human attention.


To distract the baby at dinner in a restaurant, we hand the baby a smartphone.   To have some private time, we let the child play games on the tablet.  To reduce stress before dinner, we hand the child the tablet to watch video clips or play games. The short term benefits of letting handheld devices capture the child’s attention may have long term costs.

The child sits, sits and sits while being captured by the rapid changing visual scenes and auditory sounds instead of playing and enhancing motor development.  The addictiveness of electronic devices occurs because we automatically attend to and are captured by rapidly changing stimuli—it is new and could be dangerous. This reaction to attend which is continuously evoked by the handheld devices may occur at the expense of developing self-directed attention.

The handheld devices expose the brain and dividing cells to electromagnetic radiation which can harmful. This is the radiation by which hand held devices communicates with connect cell phone towers or the server as it connects to the web.

From the precautionary principle and the numerous research studies, young children should limit the use of hand held devices. I totally agree with Cris Rowan’s superb blog, 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12, which is reprinted below with her permission.

10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12

Cris Rowan pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, speaker, author

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics state infants aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to technology, 3-5 years be restricted to one hour per day, and 6-18 years restricted to 2 hours per day (AAP 2001/13, CPS 2010). Children and youth use 4-5 times  the recommended amount of technology, with serious and often life threatening consequences (Kaiser Foundation 2010, Active Healthy Kids Canada 2012). Handheld devices (cell phones, tablets, electronic games) have dramatically increased the accessibility and usage of technology, especially by very young children (Common Sense Media, 2013). As a pediatric occupational therapist, I’m calling on parents, teachers and governments to ban the use of all handheld devices for children under the age of 12 years. Following are 10 research-based reasons for this ban. Please visit zonein.ca to view the  Zone’s Fact Sheet for referenced research.

1. Rapid brain growth
Between 0 and 2 years, infant’s brains triple in size and continue in a state of rapid development to 21 years of age (Christakis 2011). Early brain development is determined by environmental stimuli or lack thereof. Stimulation to a developing brain caused by overexposure to technologies (cell phones, internet, iPads, TV), has been shown to be associated with executive functioning and attention deficit, cognitive delays, impaired learning, increased impulsivity and decreased ability to self-regulate e.g. tantrums (Small 2008, Pagini 2010).

2. Delayed Development
Technology use restricts movement, which can result in delayed development. One in three children now enter school developmentally delayed, negatively impacting literacy and academic achievement (HELP EDI Maps 2013). Movement enhances attention and learning ability (Ratey 2008). Use of technology under the age of 12 years is detrimental to child development and learning (Rowan 2010).

3. Epidemic Obesity
TV and video game use correlates with increased obesity (Tremblay 2005). Children who are allowed a device in their bedrooms have 30% increased incidence of obesity (Feng 2011). One in four Canadian, and one in three U.S. children are obese (Tremblay 2011). 30% of children with obesity will develop diabetes, and obese individuals are at higher risk for early stroke and heart attack, gravely shortening life expectancy (Center for Disease Control and Prevention 2010). Largely due to obesity, 21st century children may be the first generation many of whom will not outlive their parents (Professor Andrew Prentice, BBC News 2002).

4. Sleep Deprivation
60% of parents do not supervise their child’s technology usage, and 75% of children are allowed technology in their bedrooms (Kaiser Foundation 2010). 75% of children aged 9 and 10 years are sleep deprived to the extent that their grades are detrimentally impacted (Boston College 2012).

5. Mental Illness
Technology overuse is implicated as a causal factor in rising rates of child depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, attention deficit, autism, bipolar disorder, psychosis and problematic child behavior (Bristol University 2010, Mentzoni 2011, Shin 2011, Liberatore 2011, Robinson 2008). One in six Canadian children have a diagnosed mental illness, many of whom are on dangerous psychotropic medication (Waddell 2007).

6. Aggression
Violent media content can cause child aggression (Anderson, 2007). Young children are increasingly exposed to rising incidence of physical and sexual violence in today’s media. “Grand Theft Auto V” portrays explicit sex, murder, rape, torture and mutilation, as do many movies and TV shows. The U.S. has categorized media violence as a Public Health Risk due to causal impact on child aggression (Huesmann 2007). Media reports increased use of restraints and seclusion rooms with children who exhibit uncontrolled aggression.

7. Digital dementia
High speed media content can contribute to attention deficit, as well as decreased concentration and memory, due to the brain pruning neuronal tracks to the frontal cortex (Christakis 2004, Small 2008). Children who can’t pay attention can’t learn.

8. Addictions
As parents attach more and more to technology, they are detaching from their children. In the absence of parental attachment, detached children can attach to devices, which can result in addiction (Rowan 2010). One in 11 children aged 8-18 years are addicted to technology (Gentile 2009).

9. Radiation emission
In May of 2011, the World Health Organization classified cell phones (and other wireless devices) as a category 2B risk (possible carcinogen) due to radiation emission (WHO 2011). James McNamee with Health Canada in October of 2011 issued a cautionary warning stating “Children are more sensitive to a variety of agents than adults as their brains and immune systems are still developing, so you can’t say the risk would be equal for a small adult as for a child.” (Globe and Mail 2011). In December, 2013 Dr. Anthony Miller from the University of Toronto’s School of Public Health recommend that based on new research, radio frequency exposure should be reclassified as a 2A (probable carcinogen), not a 2B (possible carcinogen). American Academy of Pediatrics requested review of EMF radiation emissions from technology devices, citing three reasons regarding impact on children (AAP 2013).

10. Unsustainable
The ways in which children are raised and educated with technology are no longer sustainable (Rowan 2010). Children are our future, but there is no future for children who overuse technology. A team-based approach is necessary and urgent in order to reduce the use of technology by children. Please reference below slide shows on www.zonein.ca under “videos” to share with others who are concerned about technology overuse by children.

Problems – Suffer the Children – 4 minutes
Solutions – Balanced Technology Management – 7 minutes

The following Technology Use Guidelines for children and youth were developed by Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist and author of Virtual Child; Dr. Andrew Doan, neuroscientist and author of Hooked on Games; and Dr. Hilarie Cash, Director of reSTART Internet Addiction Recovery Program and author of Video Games and Your Kids, with contribution from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society in an effort to ensure sustainable futures for all children.

Technology Use Guidelines for Children and Youth

hrs device use
Please contact Cris Rowan at info@zonein.ca for additional information. © Zone’in February

Follow Cris Rowan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zoneinprograms

Food for thought- Is my “healthy diet” harming me?

How can you imply that I have malnutrition! I eat a full, balanced diet including meats, vegetables, fruits, dairy, etc. I take a multiple vitamin every day and even shop for organic foods at my local farmer’s market. In fact, I shifted my diet to follow the American Heart Disease Association and USDA Food Plate and Pyramid guidelines!

Evolution optimized human genetics for a hunter-gatherer diet but in the last few centuries our diet has radically changed and is totally different from the ideal diet of our ancestors. We now mainly eat foods that were not part of our diet five to ten thousand years ago such as corn, wheat, milk and all packaged and processed foods. We eat on the average 160 lbs of sugar instead of less than two pounds of honey a year, and  steaks instead of the organ meats such as liver which would have provided essential vitamin A, D, etc.

A healthy diet is much more than  nutritionally poor a high caloric foods (e.g., cereals, hamburgers, white rice or flour) with some vitamins and minerals added; instead, it is congruent with our evolutionary past —a hunter gatherer diet–which supports the growth and maintenance of our body and brain. This diet would predominantly consist of natural, non industrialized produced foods such as vegetables, leaves, fruits, berries, nuts, roots, tubers, wild fish and meats from free ranging animals. When eating this type of diet, it significantly exceeds the FDA’s  Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) guidelines which is the daily intake level of a nutrient that is considered to be sufficient to meet the requirements of 97–98% of healthy individuals in the United States.

These minimum RDI for vitamins and minerals are often too low and do not include the myriad of micro and macro nutrients necessary to achieve and maintain optimum health. Nutrients do not act in alone but in concert with each other as Michael Pollan pointed out in his superb book, In Defense of Food.

Dietary guidelines from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) My Plate and Food Pyramid and organizations such as the American Heart Association are more the result of successful lobbying by large agribusiness than from research findings. By following USDA and FDA guidelines, we may set the stage for long term subclinical malnutrition which reduces our resilience to fight disease. 

If the recommended modern Western diet was sufficient then there would be no need to take additional vitamin or mineral supplements to prevent illnesses.  This is not the case!  Controlled research studies have shown that  numerous illnesses can be reduced or prevented by taking specific supplements.

Eating the industrialized produced western diet may also increase the risk developing neurological degenerative diseases.  Adults with low omega-3 blood levels had significantly lower total cerebral brain volume than adults who had the highest levels of omega-3s.  More importantly, adults with low levels of omega-3 levels did significantly worse on abstract memory, visual memory and executive function than the adults who had high omega-3 levels.

These research findings are worrisome; since, shrinking  brains are a feature associated with neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.  Is it possible that our diet contributes to the expanding epidemics of Alzheimer’s disease and ADHD?

If some illness can be prevented by taking supplements, would it not be wiser to eat a diet which provides sufficiently nutrients for the brain and body?

Watch the inspirational presentation by Dr. Terry Wahls, MD, Minding Your Mitochondria, who cured her multiple sclerosis which was untreatable by western medicine. She reversed her illness by eating a hunter and gathers diet which provided the optimum nutrition for her brain. Over a period of three to a year, she got out of herwheel chair, started to ride a bicycle, and eventually rode horseback as shown in her Youtube video.

Experience the benefits of eating a hunter gatherer diet. For one month eat as a hunter and gatherer. Eat nine cups of organic vegetables, leaves, berries, roots, fruit as well as tubers, some fish, and some organ meat from free ranging animals. Do not eat corn products, sugar and processed foods. In four weeks, you may notice a difference: more energy, less inflammation and improved cognition. For dietary guidelines see chapter 9 in the book, Fighting Cancer-A Nontoxic Approach to Treatment.