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December 28, 2015
By Susan Callahan, Contributing Columnist

All of us, to some degree, live in the past.  But for some of us, the past
is so compelling that the memories keep us from moving forward in our
present lives.  Intrusive past memories can cause fear, make us relive
trauma, and paralyze us, robbing us of the energy we need to
function.  When remembering the past becomes this burdensome,
scientists call it “rumination”.  Like an overplayed video on MTV,  the
past is on heavy rotation in our minds.  We try to distract ourselves
from it, and sometimes we succeed for a moment, but soon something
minor will trigger the memories and drag us once again back into the
grip of reliving the past. Is there a natural remedy that can help to
break the cycle of repetitive thinking? Can any foods or habits help us
stop re-living the past?

How Many People Suffer from Chronic Reliving of the Past?

There are no hard figures for this condition, mainly because reliving the
past is not technically a medical condition. There are forms of emotional
illness which encompass repetitive thoughts of bad experiences such as
rumination also known as “ruminative thinking”. Another condition that
involve recycling the past is “post traumatic stress disorder”.  

According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, National Center for
PTSD, 6.8% of Americans suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome
at some point in our lives. That would mean approximately 22 million of
us will have post traumatic stress syndrome. Men have a higher lifetime
risk for PTSD, at 3.6%, compared to women, who have a 9.7% lifetime

People who ruminate feel literally as though the event happened “just
yesterday”, according to a 2015 study from School of Psychology,
University New South Wales in Australia.

Why Ruminating Destroys Happiness

Rumination is dangerous because when you ruminate about a past
event that made you angry, you actually increase the amount of anger
you feel, scientists have learned. As time goes on, the anger builds and
builds and builds. People who ruminate “stew” over something and
make themselves and others miserable. They can sometimes “blow their
tops” and explode over something that happened 5 , 10, 20 years ago.

Inside your brain, rumination is a very specific activity.  Rumination
activates more functional connectivity of the region of the brain called
the “inferior frontal gyrus” with the amygdala and thalamus. The
amygdala processes emotional, memories and decision-making and is a
part of the limbic system of your brain. The limbic system also is
connected to your brain’s pleasure centers, responsible for sexual
pleasures, for example.

These connections may explain why it is so hard to break repetitive
ruminative thinking --- re-thinking and re-experiencing the anger may
somehow bring a certain level of pleasure, which then feeds into a
loop. More anger, more pleasure, which leads to more anger. This
particular theory of looped pleasure has not been proved by science yet
but it does make intuitive sense,

The Danger of Asking “Why”

When you ruminate about an incident in the past which made you
angry, be careful about the type of questions you fix upon.  After all,
when it comes to past events, you can choose to ask “why” something
happened, “what” actually happened or “when” something happened.

Scientists have discovered something strange. If you ruminate about
“why” something happened reported even more intrusive, repetitive
thoughts 24 hours later, a 2008 study from School of Psychology, The
University of New South Wales found.  The process of asking “why”
seems to trigger ruminations, much like pouring gasoline on a fire.

Instead of asking “why”, it is better to remember “what” happened, in
a mechanical way. X did this, which made Y happen and caused Z.  
Think of yourself as a reporter re-telling the event that happened to
someone else. Strip out the emotion in the re-telling.

Putting yourself in the third person and “re-appraising” helps to
diminish reliving the anger, according to a 2008 study from Stanford
University. Writing down what happened helps to move you from anger
to detached analysis.

Distraction Reduces Anger

Scientists have discovered that distraction also helps to reduce the
amount of anger you would otherwise feel when recalling a past event
that made you angry. Just 20 minutes of distraction worked better than
re-appraisal in reducing the level of anger, a 2012 study from New
South Wales found.

Curcumin Inhibits Depression and Bad Memories

Certain foods can help break repetitive thinking.  Curcumin, the spice
that gives turmeric and curry its yellow color, has shown promise as an
aid to help break the cycle of repetitive thinking.

Scientists have learned that dogs who are given a diet enhanced with
curcumin have trouble reliving memories of fear. In a set of
experiments conducted by scientists from Yale University, dogs were
trained to experience fear when exposed to certain triggers (Pavlovian
fears). Then, the dogs were put on 1.5% curcumin diets  and exposed
to the same triggers. Surprisingly, the dogs were unable to re-
consolidate the fear memories. They forgot the past.

The curcumin apparently interfered with two genes which help to
increase fear when the dogs remembered the past event. These genes,s
(IEGs) Arc/Arg3.1 and Egr-1, are in the lateral amygdala (LA) of the
brains of dogs and humans.

Curcumin is easy to incorporate into your diet. Add curcurmin to your
eggs for breakfast, add it to burger mix, soups, spaghetti sauce, hot
vegetable dishes and casseroles, pizzas and of course to curries. Some
people even enjoy curcumin in their tea and with warm milk.


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Add curcumin to spaghetti sauce.
Curcumin helps to interrupt reliving bad
memories, scientists have learned.