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Lavender and smoke

June 13, 2011

Sharks never sleep, says Melillo. Instead, the two halves of the brain are each able to carry out the same functions, and while one half sleeps, the other watches the world.

Not so with us.

The right hemisphere is responsible for seeing the big picture; the left for seeing the small parts that make the big picture. So someone with a left hemisphere deficiency may be unable to read words; someone with a right hemisphere deficiency can read the words ok but doesn’t get what the story said. To those whose brains function normally, it seems incomprehensible that someone could read the words and not get it, but that is what happens. But how are you to get the large picture without going through the small? Sometimes it is just not possible. Other times it is possible to get a large picture, but it remains impossible, in the face of a left-hemispheric deficiency, to lay out your conclusion in detail. You just don’t know how to process the details.

Or someone with a right hemispheric deficiency may be very sensitive to flower smells, but not notice that the cookies are burning because it’s the right brain that processes bad smells, danger signals. You would think that smell is just smell, and if you can smell the roses, you can smell the smoke, but though this is true at the level of the nose, it is not how the brain works. Roses and lavender are details; smoke is a big-picture thing. The right brain processes bad smells; the left brain processes good ones.

Well, but coffee; where does that go? It’s a burnt smell, but aromatic, surely? So maybe that’s why it wakes us up — both sides may be at work. I don’t know. It’s all much more complex than I thought.

Another surprise is the distinction between food allergies and food sensitivities. Allergies are immediate reactions to various foods. Sensitivities can take much longer to develop, can last many days, or even weeks, and consist of things like irritability, fatigue, and bedwetting. Such responses are much harder to distinguish from the general run of life in an imperfect world.

You are thinking that food sensitivity is in the gut, not the brain; what are we talking about? But the maturity of the gut is related to the maturity of the brain, and it can fall behind in ways that leave the person unable to digest food normally. When the brain imbalance is addressed, says Melillo, food sensitivities often disappear.

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