Category Archives: Brain Health

Information, news, useful articles about brain health. Different professionals propose advice, tricks, and recommendations that may help keep your brain balanced

What Is Brain Freeze: Why we get it and ways to avoid it

Summer is finally here. It’s time for ice-cream! YAYYYY!!!! Woops I got carried away and ate mine too quickly. Now I have a brain freeze! Hold on, why is my brain suddenly in pain if there are no pain receptors in the brain itself? Keep reading to find out what is brain freeze, why does it happen and how can we avoid it?

Brain Freeze

What is Brain Freeze?

Brain freeze, also commonly known as ice cream headache, is commonly experienced during the summer. However, it doesn’t have to be. A brain freeze, in simple terms, is a sudden onset of an extremely intense headache that also ends very quickly. Brain freezes are often associated with the consumption of cold foods and drinks, such as ice cream, iced coffee, and so much more. There are plenty of reasons why people get brain freeze, but there are also plenty of ways to stop it once it’s happening as well as strategies to avoid it for the future!

What Causes Brain Freeze?

Ice-cream headaches are caused by cold material moving across the warm upper palate (roof of the mouth) and the back of your throat, such as when you eat a popsicle quickly or gulp your milkshake. It normally happens when the weather is very hot, and the individual consumers something too fast.

Scientists are still unsure about the exact mechanism that causes this pain. Research conducted by Dr. Jorge Serrador, at Harvard Medical School, explained that until now, scientists have not been able to fully understand what causes brain freeze.

“The brain is one of the relatively important organs in the body, and it needs to be working all the time. It’s fairly sensitive to temperature, so [expanding arteries] might be moving warm blood inside tissue to make sure the brain stays warm” -Jorge Serrador

The team of researchers recruited 13 healthy adult volunteers. They were asked to sip ice-cold water through a straw so that the liquid would hit their upper palate. Blood flow in their brain was monitored using a Transcranial Doppler test. They found that that the pain associated with ice-cream headaches were brought on by a rapid increase in blood flow through a major blood vessel into the brain – the anterior cerebral artery. As soon as the artery constricted, the brain-freeze pain sensation wore off.

The brain itself does not feel pain because there are no pain receptors located in the brain tissue itself. This is why neurosurgeons can operate on brain tissue without causing a patient discomfort, and, in some cases can even perform surgery while the patient is awake. The pain associated with brain freeze is sensed by receptors in the outer covering of the brain called the meninges, where the two arteries meet.

Brain freeze can affect anyone. But previous studies revealed that you may be more susceptible to ice-cream headaches or have more-severe ice-cream headaches if you’re prone to migraines. Because of this, neuroscientists think the migraines and ice-cream headaches might share some kind of common mechanism or cause, so they decided to use brain freeze to study migraines.

Headaches like migraines are difficult to study because they are unpredictable. Researchers are not able to monitor a whole one from start to finish in the lab. They can give drugs to induce migraines, but those can also have side effects that interfere with the results. Brain freeze can quickly and easily be used to start a headache in the lab, and it also ends
quickly, which makes monitoring the entire event easy.

Analyzing brain freeze may seem like silly science to some, but it’s actually very helpful in understanding other types of headaches. Here is a video summary on what causes brain freeze.

How do we get brain freeze?

1.Consuming something cold in a warm climate.

Our bodies go through homeostasis, the mechanism to return a body back to its comfortable condition, often. Brain freeze is another form of homeostasis. Our bodies don’t like an extreme change in temperature, ever. In addition to being in a warm environment, our bodies internal homeostatic temperature rests around 98.6. Meaning, you can experience brain freeze in both warm and cool climates. So, when we eat something very cold, our brains and our bodies go into a form of shock, and brain freeze is the immediate response that happens as a means to tell you to stop eating whatever you’re eating.

2.Having something cold touch the top of your palate.

As explained before, our brains can’t actually feel pain. What can feel pain, however, are our cranial nerves or nerves in general. It is believed that there are nerves connected to the roofs of our mouths that when cold touches them, the natural nerve response is the swelling and shrinking of blood vessels. As you could imagine, when something swells and shrinks this can cause a form of pain that mimics the pain that people feel when they have a throbbing headache.

3.Genetics

You may be reading this article and thinking, “I’ve never experienced brain freeze even though I’ve done these things”. As it turns out, that is actually normal! There seems to be a huge genetic predisposition for people to get brain freezes if they are predisposed to getting migraines as well. If you get brain freezes and ask your parents if they do as well, it is very likely that both of your parents will tell you that they experience brain freezes as well. Unfortunately, there is no way to help with this factor, but there are ways to stop your brain freezes when they do occur!

How do you to stop a brain freeze once it has commenced?

1.Raise your tongue to the top of your mouth.

Unsurprisingly, since a brain freeze often occurs because your palate is too cold, pressing your tongue to the top of your mouth will heat it up, alleviating brain freeze faster than if you did nothing.

2.Put your thumb on the top of your mouth.

Shocking! This is the exact same reason that one would suggest for you to put your tongue on the top of your mouth. However, sometimes you’re when eating something cold your tongue can also get cold, thus making it harder to warm the top of your mouth. Your finger is most likely warmer than the inside of your mouth and will help instantaneously!

3.Tilt your head back for at least 10 seconds.

This trick does not consistently work for everyone, but for some people, it’s a great strategy! A change in your blood flow around your brain area can often help with the fast alleviation of discomfort. This strategy is less embarrassing to do in public so you may want to see if this is a good strategy for you!

4.Cover your mouth and nose with your hands and breathe quickly.

This will create a somewhat instantaneous warm environment for you to breathe into and it will warm the top of your mouth extremely fast. Sort of like when you’re in snow and your natural reaction is to cover your mouth with your hands. This trick will work for a brain freeze as well!

5.Spit out whatever you’re eating or drinking.

This one definitely doesn’t need an explanation, but getting rid of the problem will, obviously, get rid of the problem!

6.Take a short walk.

If you take a short walk (or a long walk, if you’re in for it!) you will catalyze blood flow all around your body. This will additionally send some added blood flow to your brain, which will alleviate the discomfort that you are feeling as a result of brain freeze. Don’t stay seated, perhaps do some jumping jacks! Any form of movement will actually help and speed up the recovery time.

7.Drink a drink that’s warmer than your cold food or drink.

Just like your brain didn’t appreciate you quickly changing your temperature by eating or drinking an extremely cold food or drink, it won’t love it if you drink a piping hot drink either. So, drink a room temperature drink to will help warm up the top of your palate but not make your body go into shock.

8.Give yourself a massage in the area that hurts.

Not everyone experiences brain freeze in the exact same areas. So, depending on where you’re feeling pain, if you rub or put pressure on that area, it will actually release some of the tension in that area. It’s sort of like when you rub a sore muscle. This in fact also works for headaches!

9.Waiting.

Okay, this may not be the most helpful tip. However, just as a brain freeze is a sudden onset of the discomfort you experience, it also goes away relatively quickly. So, if you just suck it up for a little bit, it will go away before you know it. Maybe distract yourself in the meantime so you’re not completely focusing on it. Other than that, do the other suggestions mentioned above!

Brain Freeze

How to prevent a brain freeze in the future?

1.Eat/drink slower!

It is often the speed in which you are drinking or eating that causes your brain freeze, not only the temperature of what you’re drinking. The slower you drink, the less shock you’re giving to your palate and the more likely that you can just experience the typical experience of consuming something cold.

2.Don’t drink cold drinks through a straw.

Straws make people drink must faster than if they’re drinking from a cup. So, for the same reason that you’re supposed to drink slower, try to not use a straw to help yourself slow down in the consumption of your drink.

3.But if you are going to drink through a straw, aim the straw to the side of your mouth.

This is another strategy for you to miss your palate when you’re eating. Anything that you can do to consume something without touching your palate is going to make it that much more likely that you won’t experience brain freeze.

4.Eat cold items without touching the food to your palate.

This is extremely logical as the cause of brain freeze is from the cold touching your palate. So, if you can figure out a strategy to eat or drink and miss your palate, you’re going to be good to go! Enjoy your meal without worrying about the uncomfortable effects of brain freeze.

5.Take smaller sips or bites.

If you haven’t realized by now, the common theme here is eating or drinking your cold item less quickly. So, by taking smaller sips or bites, you will make it more likely that you won’t eat or drink as quickly as you would’ve otherwise.

6.Stand by a refrigerator or something else that’s cold before eating or drinking.

As it was mentioned earlier, people are more likely to experience a brain freeze when they are in a warm climate. So, if your body is as cold as the drink you’re drinking, you’re a little less likely to get the brain freeze that you would on a beach. Although this is not always the most practical solution, it is another one!

7.Keep your drink in the front of your mouth for a while before you swallow.

As weird as this sounds, this will actually warm up your drink and not hit your palate when it’s at its coldest temperature. If you really want to enjoy the flavor of your cold drink but can’t endure the pain you get from brain freeze, this is a perfect preventative measure for you!

All in all, the biggest takeaway is that brain freeze is an extremely unpleasant and painful sensation for those of us who experience it. Luckily, even without these strategies, brain freeze doesn’t often last more than a minute. But, using a different plan of action to avoid brain freeze will help extremely. Especially since those of us that experience brain freeze, myself included, also experience migraines. Although migraines are much worse and there’s medication to help with that issue, there is no reason for anyone to experience brain freeze! Our bodies are extremely smart and evolutionarily adaptive for having brain freeze, but every logical person knows they shouldn’t be drinking something that is really cold too fast. Check out more things that can be migraine triggers.

So, just think about the pain you will inevitably experience when drinking a cold drink and use these tactics to make your life less difficult! Now that you’ve got the best tips, you’re ready for the summer. Enjoy! Feel free to leave a comment below.

References

Blatt MM, Falvo M, Jasien J, et al. Cerebral vascular blood flow changes duringbrain freeze‘ FASEB Journal. 2012;26:685.4

Frontal Lobe: Areas, functions and disorders related to it

The brain is divided into four lobes, differentiated by their location and functions. In this article, we are going to focus on one of the lobes: the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is the biggest lobe in the brain and the most important lobe for the human species. 

Why is the frontal lobe so relevant? What are its functions? The following article will give you an all-inclusive look on the frontal lobe. 

Frontal lobe

Frontal Lobe: Anatomy and Functions

The Frontal lobe is located at the front of the brain, at the front of each cerebral hemisphere and in front of the parietal lobe. It is considered the most important lobe due to its functions and because it takes up one-third of the total brain. In other species its volume is inferior (chimpanzees 17% and dogs 7%).

The functions of the frontal lobe depend on the area we focus on. It plays a part on movement control as well as in high-level mental functions or behavior and emotional control. The frontal lobe is divided into two main areas: the motor cortex and the prefrontal cortex.

Motor cortex in the frontal lobe

The main function of the motor cortex is to control voluntary movement, including the ones in expressive language, writing, and ocular movement. This cortex is divided into three areas:

Primary Motor Cortex

Sends commands to the neurons in the brain stems and spinal cord. These neurons are in charge of specific voluntary movements. Inside the primary motor cortex, of both hemispheres, there is a representation of the contralateral half of the body. That is, in each hemisphere, there is a representation of the opposite side of the body.This is known as the motor homunculus and it is inverted, therefore the head is represented at the bottom.

Premotor Cortex

This area is in control of the preparation and movement programming. Premotor cortex automates, harmonizes and archives movement programs related to previous experiences. Within the premotor cortex:

  • Supplementary motor area: in charge of controlling postural stability during stance or walking.
  • Ocular field: controls the joint deviation of the gaze when voluntary exploring a field.
Broca’s Area

It’s considered the center for producing speech, writing, and also in language processing and comprehension. It coordinates movements of the mouth, larynx and respiratory organs that control language expression. Injuries can produce different language disorders. 

Prefrontal Cortex of the Front lobe

The prefrontal cortex is located in the front part of the frontal lobe. It is considered the ultimate expression of human brain development. It is responsible for cognition, behavior and emotional activity. Prefrontal cortex receives information from the limbic system (involved in emotional control) and acts as a mediator between cognition and feelings through executive functions. Executive functions are a set of cognitive skills necessary for controlling and self-regulating your behavior. Within the prefrontal cortex, three areas or circuits are important: dorsolateral, anterior and orbital cingulum.

Dorsolateral area of the frontal lobe

It is one of the most recently evolved parts of the human brain. It establishes connections with the other three brain areas and transforms the information into thoughts, decisions, plans, and actions. It is in charge of superior cognitive abilities such as:

  • Attention: Focus, inhibition, and divided attention.
  • Working memory: maintenance and manipulation of the information.
  • Short-term memory: ordering events.
  • Prospective memory: programming upcoming actions.
  • Hypothesis generator: analysis of the possible outcomes.
  • Metacognition: self-analysis of cognitive activity and continuous performance.
  • Problem Resolution: analysis of the situation and development of an action plan.
  • Shifting: the ability to adapt to new situations.
  • Planning: organizing behavior towards a new objective.

General Cognitive Assessment Battery from CogniFit: Study brain function and complete a comprehensive online screening. Precisely evaluate a wide range of abilities and detect cognitive well-being (high-moderate-low). Identify strengths and weaknesses in the areas of memory, concentration/attention, executive functions, planning, and coordination.

Anterior cingulum of the frontal lobe

This area regulates motivational processes. It’s also in charge of perceiving and resolving conflicts as well as regulating sustained attention.

Orbital area of the frontal lobe

This area is in charge of controlling emotion and social conduct. It regulates emotional processing, controls behaviors based on context and detects beneficial or detrimental change.

A neuroscientist explains the frontal lobe and the types of disorders that can happen after an injury.

Frontal Lobe: Disorders related to it

As we have explained, the frontal lobe is involved in different processes (motors, cognitive, emotional and behavioral). This is why disorders due to injuries suffered to this area can vary from concussion symptoms to others more severe.

Motor disorders

Injuries to the primary or premotor cortex can cause difficulties in the velocity, execution and movement coordination, all leading to different types of apraxia. Apraxia is a disorder in which the individual has difficulty with the motor planning to perform tasks or movements when asked, provided that the request or command is understood and he/she is willing to perform the task. A University of Toronto scientist has discovered the brain’s frontal lobe is involved in pain transmission to the spine. If his findings in animals bear out in people, the discovery could lead to a new class of non-addictive painkillers.

  • Ideomotor apraxia: Deficits or difficulty in their ability to plan or complete previously learned motor actions, especially those that need an instrument or prop. They are able to explain how to perform an action but can’t act out a movement.
  • Limb-kinetic apraxia: voluntary movements of extremities are impaired. For example, they can’t use their fingers in a coordinated fashion (waving).
  • Buccofacial or orofacial apraxia: Difficulty carrying out movements of the face, tongue, mouth, cheeks, etc. on demand.

Apart from the apraxias, other disorders can be developed from injuries to the frontal lobe, such as language disorders or aphasias.

  • Transcortical Motor Aphasia: language disorder due to which the person has a lack of verbal fluency (slow speech with reduced content and poorly organized), limited spontaneous language (lack of initiative) and difficulty or incapacity in writing.
  • Broca’s Aphasia: language disorder that generates a lack of verbal fluency, anomia (inability to access the lexicon to evoke words), poor syntactic construction in speech, difficulties in repetition, reading and writing.

Dysexecutive syndrome

It consists of a group of symptoms, cognitive, behavioral and emotional that tend to happen together. However, the symptoms are going to depend on the injured area:

Dorsolateral Area

An injury in this area is usually related to cognitive problems such as:

  1. Inability to solve complex problems: decrease in fluid intelligence (reasoning, adapting and resolving of new situations, etc.).
  2. Cognitive rigidity and perseveration: the person maintains a thought or action despite being invited to change it.
  3. Decreased learning ability: difficulty in acquiring and maintaining new learning.
  4. Temporal memory impairment: deficit in the order things happened
  5. Deficiency in motor programming and changing motor activities: difficulties in the organization of sequences of movements and the time to change an activity.
  6. A decrease in verbal fluidity: impairment in the ability to recall words after an instruction. This action not only requires the lexical part but also organization, planning, focus and selective attention.
  7. Attention Deficit: difficulty maintaining your attention and inhibiting other irrelevant stimuli or changing the focus of attention.
  8. Pseudo-depressive disorders: similar symptoms to depression (sadness, apathy, etc.).
Anterior cingulum area
  1. Reduction of spontaneous activity: appear to be static.
  2. A loss in initiative and motivation: noticeable apathy.
  3. Alexithymia: difficulty identifying emotions and therefore inability in expressing own emotions.
  4. Language restriction: answers tend to be monosyllabic.
  5. Difficulty in controlling interference: selective attention impairment.
  6. Pseudo-depressive disorders. 
Orbital area

The symptoms of an injury in this area are more behavioral. The person’s behavior tends to be uninhibited.

  1. Changes in personality: high instability between who he is and how he acts. Similar to what happened to Phineas Gage. 
  2. Irritability and aggressiveness: exaggerated emotional reactions in daily life situations.
  3. Echopraxia: imitation of observed movements in others.
  4. Disinhibition and impulsivity: lack of self-control over their behavior.
  5. Difficulty adapting to social norms and rules: behaves socially unacceptable.
  6. Judgment is impaired: many reasoning errors.
  7. Lack of empathy: difficulty understanding other people’s feelings.
  8. Euphoria
 The frontal lobe is incredibly important for humans to function to their full potential. Even without brain injury, it’s crucial to maintain our cognitive skills active. CogniFit offers a complete assessment of your cognitive skills and brain training not only as a rehabilitation due to injury, dementia, etc. but it can also strengthen your current neural patterns. Brain health is essential to lead a full life.
Hope you liked this article, feel free to leave a message below!
This article is originally in Spanish written by Natalia Pasquin Mora, translated by Alejandra Salazar. 

Mirror neurons: The most powerful learning tool

Mirror neurons. Imitation has always been a powerful learning tool. The human brain is enabled with different mechanisms that allow us to imitate actions. Babies are capable of reproducing facial expressions, and as adults, we imitate basic behavior. Laughter can be spread, we can cry while watching a sad movie… It seems like we have the capacity to feel what others feel, empathize with them and understand their feelings. What happens in the brain for this to happen? The answer is mirror neurons. In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about mirror neurons. What are they? How do they intervene in education and empathy? Why is emotion contagious? 

What are Mirror Neurons? Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

What are Mirror Neurons?

In humans and primate species there are neurons called Mirror Neurons. These brain cells activate when we see someone doing something. For example, when a chimpanzee sees its mother opening a nut with a rock and then tries to imitate her with another nut. Mirror neurons are related with empathic, social and imitations behavior. They are a fundamental tool for learning.

“We are social beings. Our survival depends on our understanding the actions, intentions, and emotions of others. Mirror neurons allow us to understand other people’s mind, not only through conceptual reasoning but through imitation. Feeling, not thinking.”- G.Rizzolatti.

In the 90’s a group of neuroscientists, directed by Giacomo Rizzolatti from the University of Parma (Italy), discovered something surprising. A hundred group of neurons in the brain in primates were activated not only when the monkey was doing something but also when the monkey saw another one doing that same action.

Mirror neurons can be defined as a group of neurons that activate when we perform an action or when we see an action being performed. 

Mirror neurons are essential for imitation which is key in the learning process. From birth these group of neurons are active and it allows us to learn to eat, dress, speak… Mirror neurons are also important in planning our actions as well as understanding intentions behind actions.

In the next video, Ramachandran a neuroscientist, explains what are mirror neurons and why they are important.

Mirror Neurons and Education

Mirror neurons allow us to learn through imitation. They enable us to reflect body language, facial expressions, and emotions. Mirror neurons play an essential part in our social life. They are key for the child development, as well as relationships and education.

Humans are social beings programmed to learn from others. We all reach our goals working as a group than individually. Seeing a parent, professor or student show a cognitive skill or any other skill, gives us a tangible experience rather than learning from explanation.

How do mirror neurons intervene in our daily lives?

  • Mirror neurons are responsible for yawning when we see someone else yawn.
  • These neurons also act when we see someone sad or crying and in turn feel sad.
  • The same thing happens with smiling or laughing. The way laughter can be contagious.
  • Studies suggest that there is an activation of the anterior insula when we see someone expressing disgust.
  • Another study shows that the somatosensory cortex is activated when we see someone touching another person the same way it activates when we are the ones being touched.

8 tips: How do mirror neurons influence education?

Thanks to mirror neurons the emotions we portray have a direct influence on others. This is why teachers have to make the effort to control their emotions, avoid teacher burnout, in order to use mirror neurons as an asset.

  1. Show happiness and optimism and that way you will transmit that to your students and children.
  2. Control and avoid negative emotions. We all have bad days but teachers have to be sure this doesn’t reflect on the children. However, the tricky part is that this doesn’t mean children should repress these emotions. As a teacher be sure to detect what emotion the child is feeling and help them learn to identify and manage them accordingly.
  3. Use visual signs and imitation any chance you get. Make examples practical with physical demonstrations so that children can imitate you.
  4. Encourage group interactions. This will maximize the use of mirror neurons and therefore the child’s social relationships and empathy.
  5. Use imitation in any activity that you want the children to learn (washing teeth, cleaning up after themselves…)
  6. Run from violence. Children learn what they see. If a child is educated in a hostile environment, his mirror neurons will activate and he might repeat these violent behaviors.
  7. Teach children the importance of how we listen, particularly body language. That way when someone has to share something or needs help the mirror neurons will activate and empathy will be reinforced.
  8. Teach children about emotional intelligence so that they can be able to identify their own and other people’s emotions.

Mirror Neurons and Emotional Contagion

Do you feel happy when people around you are happy? Do you get sad or depressed around negative and pessimistic people? This is due to the emotional contagion produced by the mirror neurons.

Emotional Contagion is a process through which a person or group influence the emotions and emotional behavior of another person or group. This can be done through emotional induction conscious or unconscious.

When people communicate they have the tendency to imitate gestures and facial expressions and in many cases feel what others are feeling. It has been proven the high impact emotional contagion has in our personal and work relationships. We are still not conscious of the influential ability we have in other people’s emotional state and in turn other people on our own emotional state.

Mirror neurons allow us to literally feel what others are feeling and “live” their emotions. Mirror neurons are based on empathy.

Empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.

This is proof that we are social beings. Empathy has been essential to our species survival and shows how without attachments and protection we wouldn’t have survived.

How can we take advantage of emotional contagion?

The fact that we can interconnect to each other and understand each other’s feelings can work to our advantage.

  • Happiness is more contagious than sadness, so try to surround yourself with happy people. However, don’t avoid people who are sad, we all need support sometimes and giving them love might help them recover faster.
  • Imitate happy and positive people, do what they do. Practice sports and smile more (even if you don’t feel like it, you will later feel better). Keep a healthy self-esteem and stop thinking negatively.
  • Think before acting or saying anything, especially if its negative. Try to say it politely, educated and as calmly as possible since your emotional state can be contagious.

Check out how laughter can be contagious with this video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fM45JMTpkBU

Mirror Neurons and Culture

Does culture influence our brain? The answer seems to be yes. According to an investigation from the University of California, mirror neurons respond differently if the person in front of us shares our same culture or not.

Researchers used two actors, one American and another Nicaraguan to show a group of American participants a series of gestures (some American, others Nicaraguan and others without cultural meaning).

With Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) they investigated mirror neuron activities. They found that participants showed more activity when they saw the American do the gestures in comparison to the Nicaraguan. When the Nicaraguan showed American gestures to the group, the mirror neurons decreased their activity drastically.

It’s possible to conclude that mirror neurons are influenced by culture and in turn have an influence on our behavior. The results from this study show us that we are more prepared to understand and empathize with members of our own culture and ethnicity than those who are not. This also explains why we connect faster and easier with members of our own culture.

Mirror Neurons, empathy, and psychopathy

Psychopathy is a personality disorder distinguished by a superficial charm, pathological lies, and low empathy.

It’s common for psychopaths to lead a criminal life, however, not all become, serial killers or murderers. Some can actually lead a normal life.

If these psychopaths are not capable of empathizing, does that mean their mirror neurons are not working? A recent study answered this question.

Researchers observed the brain activity of two groups (18 psychopaths and 26 healthy people) while they watched short videos. The videos showed images of hands touching, gently, painfully, socially, rejecting each other and neutrally. They were instructed to watch the video and then to try to feel what the people were feeling. The next part of the study the participants were hit with a ruler to register their pain area in the brain.

Scientists found that only when psychopaths were asked to feel something did they actually feel something, mirror neurons even activated the same way as in the other group. However, when no instruction was given, the psychopath’s group showed less activation of the mirror neurons and pain receptors of the brain.

It’s not that psychopaths don’t have empathy, it’s that it’s a switch that can be activated and deactivated, and by default, it is always deactivated.

Mirror Neurons and Autism

Symptoms of autism include a delay in language and strained emotional recognition. They are not capable of perceiving different emotions, including their own.

Scientists, therefore, studied the mirror neurons in people with autism to check if they were “broken”. They found that the system has a developmental delay, where the activity is slower, weaker and less activated than in others. Nonetheless, the activity increases with age and by age 30 it becomes normal and then unusually elevated.

Other studies have discovered that not all people with autism have a delay in these neurons. They can be activated normally by familiar faces.

Hope you found this article interesting. Please leave a comment below!

References

Molnar-Szakacs, I., Wu, A. D., Robles, F. J., & Iacoboni, M. (2007). Do you see what I mean? Corticospinal excitability during observation of culture-specific gestures. PLoS One, 2(7), e626.

Meffert, H., Gazzola, V., den Boer, J. A., Bartels, A. A., & Keysers, C. (2013). Reduced spontaneous but relatively normal deliberate vicarious representations in psychopathy. Brain, 136(8), 2550-2562.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Motor Memory: Why You Never Forget How to Ride a Bike

Motor memory is the result of motor learning, which involves developing new muscular coordination. This allows us to recall motor coordination we have learned in order for us to interact with the environment. Playing the piano, catching a ball, and riding a bike are all examples of motor memory. These activities are also examples of things that are rather hard to forget how to do. How is this true? What makes our muscles able to remember so well?

Motor memory- Like riding a bike

Motor Memory: Types of Memory

Motor memory, like any form of memory, has a short and a long-term component. Short-term motor memory is very similar to that of verbal short-term memory in general concept but different in where it is stored in the brain and other aspects.

Short-term memory only encompasses the temporary stage of memory storage. In order to store memories for longer periods of time, repetition of the task must be done to move the memory from short-term to long-term memory. In long-term memory, especially when looking at the typical or “non-motor” memory, the information stored does not include specifics as time goes on. The information is rather stored with the big ideas of the memory and small details ultimately fall away.

Motor Memory: The Muscles (almost) Never Forget

The examples given earlier of playing piano, catching a ball, and riding a bike are all great ways to look at how durable long-term motor memory is. This is due to where in the brain motor memory is stored. Let’s look at the difference between short-term motor memory first and long-term first.

If you need to brush up on brain anatomy, take a look at this other CogniFit article!

Areas of the Brain Related to Motor Memory

Traditional information or episodic memory ultimately ends up in the cerebral cortex, but its journey begins in the hippocampus. This is not the same for motor memory. In fact, it begins its journey in the cerebral cortex. Purkinje neurons located in the cerebral cortex are the source of short-term motor memory. The type of neuron is important to understand because they transmit signals to the cerebellum, the area of the brain that governs movement.

These specialized Purkinje neurons are also important in converting short-term memory into long-term memory. This is because actions rehearsed in short-term memory eventually consolidate and are “moved” into long-term memory. Long-term memory is a bit harder to pin down to one specific area of the brain. A lot of research is currently being done in order to understand how the signals flowing out of the cerebellum to impact rehearsed coordinated movement. Most of the research is leaning towards the work of many interneurons working together. Interneurons are neurons that just transport signals to other neurons, most commonly observed in a reflex response. It is hypothesized that the interneurons lay out a ground map for movement signals to follow when an individual is introduced to a familiar external stimulus.

Motor memory

Motor memory: Remembering to Ride a Bike

All that time spent on as a kid on sidewalks, driveways, and cul-de-sacs with training wheels on your bike allowed for your brain to begin building and assigning interneuron pathways for your cerebellum to outflow muscle information to your legs. The general gross motor movements were different than walking, and your body needed to acclimate to the new challenge.

The first day you sat on your bike it was hard and awkward, and the second day was probably not much better. However, by the end of the week, you were most likely zooming all around your neighborhood. This is because the rate at which short-term motor memory transfers to long-term motor memory is extremely fast. A few days is the longest amount of time that this transfer usually occurs. This is far faster than typical memory being consolidated within at least a week.

However, if you were to hang up your bicycle for a few years and then take it down for a quick spin you would not forget how to ride it. You may feel wobbly, and a bit uneasy, but your brain and body quickly make corrections associated with balance, also governed by the cerebellum, in order to keep you upright and moving. Those slight adjustments are the work of your short-term motor memory impacting your long term memory.

Motor memory: Memory of Playing the Piano

Remembering to play the piano, or any musical instrument that requires dexterity is also similar to remembering how to ride a bike. Although, with music, there is a non-motor memory component: how the piece sounds.

Sitting down at a piano might not conjure up that specific Bach concerto you spend months working through, but allowing your hands to run up and down the familiar keys will allow you to remember the piece or the composer. Music and sound has a very distinct impact on our memory and hearing how something sounds often works in a cyclical fashion to make the hands move more smoothly across the keys. However, just the like the bike example, it will take time in order to gain speed when playing.

Motor memory: Remembering to Catch a Ball

Unlike the other two examples, catching a ball is a better example of short-term motor memory. The overall outline of how to catch a ball remains the same, thanks to your long-term motor memory. However, your short-term motor memory is what allows you to process how the other person is throwing you the ball. This is equally true with how you are throwing the ball back. Perhaps you misjudged how far away you were from one another. Within a few throws, you will be able to throw consistently to each other, as well as understand how to catch a “trickier” or unexpected throw. The speed at which you are able to do this is evidence of how well your brain and muscles communicate.

Motor memory

Motor Memory and Age

In many neurodegenerative diseases, memory is greatly impacted. Many early symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease include loss of motor memory. In these cases, motor decline is coupled with cognitive processes decline, which suggests that the two are related.

New emerging therapies and treatments for Alzheimer’s patients include a physical exercises component. Exercise releases a handful of neurotransmitters (types of neurotransmitters) in relatively high doses, and this increase in neurotransmitter activity in the brain could be what makes this treatment beneficial. Dopamine has a high number of receptors in the cerebellum, which governs motor control. The increase in dopamine in that area of the brain during exercise could reinforce the motor memory map laid out by interneurons extending from the cerebellum. This alternative to pharmaceutical intervention may even help us further understand why long-term and short-term motor memory differ from our typical memory schematic.

Have any questions? Leave me a comment below!

Female Brains: Are they as different from male brains?

Everyone seems to know that males and females think and act differently. There is a lot of debate about how much the actual structures of the brain differ between the sexes, but there is no denying that humans have been wondering why and how the male and female brains differ. But, while some brain features are more common in one sex than the other, some are typically found in both, most people have a unique mix. So the answer to how male and female brains differ is more complicated than it seems at first.

How different can male and female brains be?

Female brains-The Human Brain

The human brain is the central organ of the human central nervous system. The central nervous system, or CNS, is made up of the brain and the spinal cord. It receives input from the sensory organs and sends output to the muscles. The human brain has the same basic structure as other brains in mammals but is larger in relation to body size than any other brains. The brain is made up of many specialized brain areas that work together:

  • The cerebral cortex – the outermost layer of brain cells. Thinking and voluntary movements begin in the cortex. The cerebral cortex also plays a key role in memory, attention, perception, awareness, language, and consciousness.
  • The brain stem – connects the spinal cord and the rest of the brain. The brain stem controls basic functions like breathing and sleeping.
  • The basal ganglia – a cluster of structures in the center of the brain. The basal ganglia coordinate messages between multiple other brain areas. The basal ganglia also control voluntary motor movements, procedural learning, routine behaviors or “habits” such as teeth grinding, eye movements, and some parts of cognition and emotion.
  • The cerebellum is at the base and the back of the brain. The cerebellum is responsible for coordination and balance.

The brain is also divided into several lobes:

  • The frontal lobe, obviously located in the front of the brain, is responsible for problem-solving, judgment, and motor function.The frontal lobe also handles and integrates emotional memories with input from the limbic system.
  • The parietal lobe is located above the occipital lobe and behind the frontal lobe. The parietal lobe can actually be divided further into two regions, which control different functions. One region manages sensation and perception and the other manages integrating sensations, primarily processing information from the visual system. The first region integrates the sensory information it receives and forms a single perception, which is then called cognition, or thoughts. The second region constructs a spatial coordinate system to represent the world around us, and basically, tells us where our body is.
  • The temporal lobe is located below the frontal and parietal lobes and is separated by the lateral fissure. The temporal lobe is involved in processing sensory input, which is then retained as visual memory, language comprehension, and emotion association.
  • The occipital lobe is the smallest lobe and is located in the very back of the brain. The occipital lobe contains the brain’s visual processing system.

Female brains- What’s Different?

It is well known that boys and girls differ in their emotional development throughout childhood and adolescence, but the timing, patterning and neurobiological parallels of the difference of development remain poorly understood. Studies suggest that sex steroid receptors are distributed throughout the brain and influence neurodevelopment. Estrogen, androgen, and progesterone receptors are all found in the hypothalamus, consistent with its central role in the control of the sexual and reproductive function. Areas that also have receptors are the amygdala, hippocampus, and cerebellum. The chemistry differences explain why boys sometimes need different methods of stress release than girls.

In 1989,  the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) initiated a large-scale longitudinal study of typical brain development, which to date has acquired data regarding brain development and function from over 1000 children (including twins and siblings) scanned 1-7 times at approximately two-year intervals. This study has provided much of the information we know about the developing brain today. Studies utilizing this data have found that the peak brain size in females occurs around 10.5 years, while the peak occurs around 14.5 years in males.

The other areas most frequently reported as being different are the hippocampus and amygdala, with the larger size or more rapid growth of the hippocampus is typically reported in females, and the amygdala is larger or grows more rapidly in males. The hippocampus controls emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system, and the amygdala is responsible for instinctual reactions including fear and aggressive behavior. Because of the larger hippocampus, girls and women tend to input or absorb more sensory and emotive information than males do.

Additionally, the right and left hemispheres of the male and female brains are not set up symmetrically. Females tend to have verbal processing centers on both sides of the brain, while males tend to have verbal processing centers only in the left hemisphere. Girls tend to use more words when discussing or describing all of the details of a specific experience, however, males have more difficulty discussing their feelings, emotions, and senses, especially when having to describe them all together.

Scientists have also noticed that on average, male brains tend to have slightly higher total brain volume than female brains, about 10% more. However, it has not been found to factor into intelligence; in fact, a recent study found no average difference in intelligence, but males were more variable in intelligence than females.

Male brains have been found to utilize nearly seven times more gray matter, while female brains utilize nearly ten times more white matter. The brain’s white matter is the networking grid that connects the brain’s gray matter together. Gray matter makes up the processing centers of the brain. Brain activity has shown different patterns of activation in the presence of equal cognitive performance, which suggests that male and female brains may follow slightly different paths to achieve similar levels of function. This difference between male and female brains is probably why girls tend to transition between tasks more quickly than boys do. Also, in adulthood, females are great multi-taskers, while men excel in highly task-focused projects.

Female brains-Why it’s important

The differences between the male and female brain begin when the brain is just developing. But it’s important to remember that all of the differences are only generalized differences in brain functioning and that all of the differences have advantages and disadvantages. Even though popular culture is abundant with supposed examples of intellectual and behavioral differences between the sexes, only a few are supported scientific research, such as higher aggression in men. Sex differences in the brain may even just depend on your family, and the culture you grew up in. Even if male and female brains start out similarly, the differences over time may come around because boys and girls are treated differently, and have different expectations. Your brain is a muscle and can adapt to almost any situation, but it is important to understand gender differences from a neurological perspective, in order to understand different psychological needs, such as stress release and listening skills.

References:

Jantz, GL. Brain Differences Between Genders. Psychology Today. Accessed April 22, 2017 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hope-relationships/201402/brain-differences-between-genders

Ritchie, Stuart J., et al. “Beyond a bigger brain: Multivariable structural brain imaging and intelligence.” Intelligence 51 (2015): 47-56.

Self-appraisal: apply this method to improve your performance.

What is self-appraisal? What is it for? What are its advantages and disadvantages? In this article, we will answer these questions and more. Also, we will give advice so that you can apply, self-evaluations to any aspect of your life. This method is not only great for students, it’s also necessary to establish what abilities are needed from us in different areas of life.

Self-appraisal

Self-appraisal: Meaning and importance

What is self-appraisal? A self-appraisal or self-evaluation is a method that allows evaluation of one’s own strengths and weaknesses in a specific task. The difference from hetero-evaluation and co-evaluation, is that the first is usually done by your boss or a superior and the latter is done by members of your group.

It’s possible to do self-assessments or self-appraisals through different methods. They are an essential tool in order to face with assurance any challenge. If we want a positive outcome it’s important to do a self-assessment in order to extract convenient conclusions and act accordingly.

Practice tests in driving education or at the end of a book chapter are examples of self-appraisals. Here you will find out everything you need to know so you can adequately estimate your knowledge and performance in different areas.

What are the purpose of self-appraisals?

We have all done have done a self-appraisal for one reason or another, be it to cause a good impression public speaking, to test our memory, or to inquire our strengths and weaknesses as friends or partners, etc. We will write the areas in which self-appraisal is key and how to use this tool.

Self-Appraisal in education

Regardless of the education stage, self-evaluation of knowledge, aptitude and cognitive abilities is essential to pass any subject. Generally, even if we haven’t done a self-assessment, when taking an exam or giving in a paper, we have an idea what the outcome might be. However, taking practice tests beforehand may help adjust our skills to the task objectives and help us overcome our academic challenges with precision and effectiveness. Self-appraisals allow each student to learn at their own pace in a responsible manner.

Nerves before an exam or a challenge is something natural in spite of our preparation. However, if we have practiced and corrected our mistakes previously we can tackle the task with trustworthiness and self-control. On the other hand, professors can also benefit from this tool to enhance their work performance or even make self-appraisal a class objective.

Neuroscience and educational neuroscience have aimed to improve formative assessments and self-appraisals in schools. CogniFit educational technology and platform, based on neuro-education, is one of the most popular and used computer-based program in educational neuroscience. It has been applied in different schools around the world with high effectiveness for all students, especially for students with special needs or learning disabilities.

Self-appraisal: CogniFit neuro-education evaluation

This scientific resource, designed to optimize self-appraisal and educational processes, has been created for educators and has proven to be quite effective in exploring cognitive processes involved in learning.

This CogniFit tool evaluates different cognitive areas that can help teachers, parents, and students know themselves better and identify certain neurological causes related to school failure.

Through this tool, CogniFit, develops personalized cognitive training and rehabilitation for children so that they can improve their cognitive abilities such as attention, memory, planning and others that are fundamental for learning and performance in different subjects.

How does it work? This tool is easy to use, the first is for students to develop a baseline by completing the full cognitive evaluation. This self-evaluation and its report will determine with precision which cognitive areas are strong and which require training. All of the brain games developed by CogniFit have been designed and validated clinically in order to identify cognitive strengths and weaknesses involved in learning.

Also, using the results of this initial evaluation, CogniFit program, designs and programs specific training for each child according to their needs.

School failure is one of the biggest concerns in the educational system. Therefore it is of importance to teach about brain knowledge in education.  For students to develop full learning skills it’s important for schools to have neuro-educative tools at their disposal.

Self-Appraisal at work

Self-assessment at the workplace should become a habit for most of us. Some companies ask their employees that they self-evaluate periodically while others just expect the initiative to come from themselves.

When faced with a promotion or discovering that we are not being efficient, it’s crucial to reflect on our strengths and weaknesses in order to maximize our capacities and correct our mistakes. To elaborate a previously reasonable diagnosis is the first step to problem resolution.

Moreover, self-appraisal is not the only thing necessary when evaluating our performance. If the analysis of our self-evaluation is correct, we can even manage to increment our motivation, self-efficacy, and self-control. Sometimes we are stuck in our ways and can’t see a different way of doing things, making it difficult to leave our comfort zone. However, asking ourselves if we are responsible, on time, team players, organized or have other qualities that are relevant for our job might help us find other opportunities. Stopping to examine our work situation in a holistic and unbiased way may open the doors to improving our performance, work relationship, correcting mistakes, etc.

Self-Appraisal in health

There are signs and symptoms relative to our mental and physical health that we can observe in our bodies. Checking our body for these signs is important when detecting or discarding any diseases. Negative thoughts and self-evaluations can cause acne or other skin problems. Nonetheless, if after a self-appraisal we notice something unusual it’s important not to rush into conclusions without consulting with a physician or other professionals capable of professionally making a diagnosis. Currently, there are several online cognitive assessments, that help us measure our cognitive abilities and understand brain areas and brain functions.

Self-evaluation in everyday life

It’s common for people to question their acts and thoughts. Have I offended him with my words? Is this outfit fit for an interview? It’s normal, healthy and acceptable to reflect on our day to day actions (unless we are being irrational or too hard on ourselves).

In this case, we don’t have specific parameters from which to make a self-evaluation. Everyone is free to choose what are their aspirations and goals. Our well-being depends mainly on who we want to be and what aspects we consider relevant. Therefore, our self-appraisals will differ from person to person.

There are no reliable, valid or fair guides about what models should we follow when doing a self-assessment, however, we must not let subjectiveness lead the way. Aspects such as our social relationships, how much time we dedicate to what makes us happy if we behave according to our values and other aspects of our personal life should be reviewed periodically in order to develop our personal growth.

Self-Appraisal: Examples

With these examples, you will be able to apply these different self-appraisal methods to the areas you consider most important. The most crucial thing to keep in mind is that you must feel comfortable with the method and it should adapt to your goals.

  • Book: textbooks usually have different chapters which end with a review section where they invite readers to critically think about aspects in the chapter and sometimes even include mini assessments or tests. This is a self-appraisal that allows checking how much knowledge we retained of the subject at hand.
  • Digital resources: Web pages and apps that enable us to evaluate our knowledge are in constant growth. Online self-appraisals or self-evaluations give immediate answers to different questions and are accessible at any moment in time. Unfortunately, they are limited to closed answers and don’t leave much space for creative answers. For example, we can download tests on a specific topic in Biology or on our knowledge of emotions.
  • Self-appraisal sheet: We can write how we think we did in a specific activity, the areas that need improvement, our strengths, how much progress have we made since our last self-appraisal, etc. We may find a document that already includes the questions we need or custom make it fit your needs. In order to create your own, it’s paramount to think about relevant things (for example, Am I nice to strangers), order and rate them accordingly.

Regardless of the format, the fundamental aspect is that we know how to interpret our results and continue practicing motivated. Any resource that helps us learn, maintain information and retain content will contribute to further skill building in any field.

Self-Appraisal: Benefits

Self-evaluations have many benefits, that combined with other strategies are a fantastic tool.

  • They are fit for any age: From preschoolers to older adults can benefit from this tool and learn to be critical about themselves (in a healthy way). In each stage in life we have interests and different missions, therefore, we have to self-evaluate ourselves in different spheres. No matter the case, a self-assessment is always going to be helpful.
  • They grant us to know our level in a specific task: Sometimes we think we have tried everything in order to reach our goals. We have been polite to our neighbors, we have read loads of information on leadership, etc. However, we might not be adapting how we should to the different circumstances. If the self-appraisal is done correctly, it is easier for us to tackle our goals with a more realistic approach.
  • Useful way to practice: Self-appraisal facilitates knowledge and abilities in a flexible and practical way that we can adapt to our needs. They are a perfect addition to activities we decide to do, regardless of the activity itself.
  • Reinforces knowledge: When taking a moment to establish new goals, we usually review the subjects we studied or focus on a specific aspect of our life. When performing a self-evaluation we tend to make connections between ideas, enabling for them to be retained in our long-term memory.
  • Helps us get to know ourselves better: Self-appraisal stimulates self-examination. It not only allows us to dive in our general knowledge but also leads us to question personal aspects of ourselves regardless of the purpose of the self-evaluation. For example, the things we most question are our sense of responsibility, virtues, defects, etc.
  • Encourages independence: self-appraisal is a habit we should incorporate in our lives since it permits us to control our progress and deficits and helps us be more responsible and independent when dealing with tasks.
  • Increases our motivation: Receiving feedback can motivate us to continue working hard. Knowing our deficiencies and still being able to get good results is a good incentive to continue. Are you up for a self-appraisal?

Self-Appraisal: Tips to improve learning

Do self-evaluation relaxed

If you are tired, stressed or for some reason can’t concentrate in the self-appraisal, it’s better to postpone it. If you carry on in that state, your performance will decrease and your results won’t be representative.

Be realistic

Only by performing a self-assessment we won’t progress, we need to establish a specific goal. For example: improve our memory.

Be honest with yourself

It’s tempting to perform a self-appraisal guided by a book that contains answers or have a friend help us answer, or search the internet for the best option, etc. However, this is just a way to cheat ourselves. If we want to take advantage of this tool, we have to be as truthful as possible.

See failure as a good thing

It’s normal to fail and our self-appraisals will not be what we expected. Don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s important to recognize our mistakes but also our merits. It’s important to know the weight of our criticism on ourselves. Pessimism will only come back as negative performance.

Be organized

If you want to progress it’s important to be systematic in your actions and never stop challenging yourself. If meditating these aspects is difficult, set a time and place for self-appraisal, it doesn’t take much time and the benefits are worth it.

Test different types of self-appraisal

You might not like a multiple choice test but rather short essay questions where you can write about your opinions and knowledge. It’s ok to try different methods and you can even combine as many as you like in order to achieve a broader perspective.

Take advantage of new technologies

Recently, neuro-education is booming. Thanks to new advances in this field and in different technologies, life is changing rapidly and many resources are being created to increase the quality of life. Each day we have more information on how our brain works.

CogniFit is a leading company in cognitive evaluation and cognitive stimulation. It’s mainly for professional researchers and doctors. However, anyone can have access to its online platform. Through different and fun brain games it makes it possible to detect and train cognitive areas that need a bit more exercise.

 

Thank you for reading. Have you ever performed a self-appraisal? Do you think it’s a good tool? What strategies do you use? Please feel free to comment below.

 

This article is originally in Spanish by Ainhoa Arranz Aldana, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Synapses: How Your Brain Communicates

A synapse is the space between two neurons which allows for neural communication, or synaptic transmission. Synapses are found throughout the body, not just located in the brain. They project onto muscles to allow muscle contraction, as well as enable a multitude of other functions that the nervous system covers.

It might be helpful to familiarize yourself with neuron cell body and structure and function when understanding the synapse!

Synapses

Parts of a Synapse

As a synapse is the gap in between two neurons, we need to establish which neuron sends out the signals and which neuron receives those signals.

Parts of a Synapse: The Role of the Presynaptic Neuron

The presynaptic neuron is the neuron that initiates the signal. At many synapses in the body, presynaptic neurons are vesicles filled with neurotransmitters. When the presynaptic neuron is excited by an action potential, the electrical signal propagates along its axon towards the axon terminal. This excitation signals the vesicles in the presynaptic neuron, filled with neurotransmitters, to fuse with the membrane of the axon terminal. This fusion allows for the neurotransmitters to be dumped into the synaptic cleft.

Once the neurotransmitters are released, they can act on receptors on the postsynaptic neuron.

Types of neurotransmitters

Parts of a Synapse: The Role of the Postsynaptic Neuron

The postsynaptic neuron is the neuron that receives the signal. These signals are received by the neuron’s dendrites. When there are neurotransmitters present in the synapse, they travel across the gap in order to bind to receptors on the postsynaptic neuron. When a neurotransmitter binds to a receptor on the postsynaptic neuron’s dendrite, it can trigger an action potential. That action potential can then be propagated and influence further communication.

Where Are Synapses Located in the Brain?

Synapses are found throughout the nervous system. They allow for complex thought, coordinated movement, and most of our basic functions. Synapses are located in the brain and spinal cord, which make up the central nervous system, and the peripheral nervous system, which includes neural projections onto muscle cells.

The Neuromuscular Junction

A good example of the location of synapses in the body is the neuromuscular junction. A neuromuscular junction is made up of a motor neuron and a muscle fiber, which is part of the peripheral nervous system. In this case, there is no postsynaptic neuron, but the muscle fiber has a specialized area that acts synonymously to how a postsynaptic neuron would respond. This area is called the motor end plate and has receptors that bind with the neurotransmitters released into the synapse.

In a neuromuscular junction, presynaptic neurons release acetylcholine as the neurotransmitter. At the neuromuscular junction, acetylcholine excites the muscle fiber and causes muscle contraction.

The presynaptic neuron in the neuromuscular junction needed to be told to release acetylcholine into the synapse. This doesn’t occur through the neuron’s own volition, but rather through a series of other neurons communicating with each other through synapses.

What do Synapses do?

It has been established that synapses are important in neural communication, but what do synapses actually do? How do they really allow for neural communication, and who starts the conversation?

When introducing the role of the presynaptic neuron above, the excitative qualities of an action potential were mentioned. Action potentials are the way that neurons can send information they receive down their axons and, hopefully, initiate the continuation of the signal to another neuron. These action potentials are created by a depolarizing current.

Action potentials allow for electrical signals to be sent down a neuron’s axon, and then the signal can be transmitted to the other neurons by a synapse. As stated before by introducing the role of the presynaptic neuron, neurotransmitters are released into the synapse in order for the signal to be transmitted to the next neuron. The chemical release is then received by the postsynaptic neuron and then converted back into an electrical signal in order to reach other neurons.

Although, not all synapses function on chemical or neurotransmitter release. Many synapses in the brain are purely electrical.

Types of Synapses

In the nervous system there are two main types of synapses: chemical synapses and electrical synapses. Thus far, for simplicity and understanding the basics of how a synapse functions only chemical synapses have been discussed. This poses the question: why does the nervous system need two types of synapses?

Types of Synapses: Chemical Synapses

Chemical synapses are any type of synapse that uses neurotransmitters in order to conduct an impulse over the small gap in between the presynaptic and postsynaptic neurons. These types of synapses are not in physical contact with each other. Since the transmission of a signal depends on the release of chemicals, a signal can only flow in one direction. This direction is downward from presynaptic to the postsynaptic neuron. As previously stated, these types of neurons are widely spread throughout the body.

The chemicals released in these types of synapses ways excite the following neuron. The neurotransmitters can bind to the receptors on the postsynaptic neuron and have an inhibitory effect as well. When inhibition occurs, signal propagation is prevented from traveling to other neurons.

Chemical synapses are the most abundant type of synapse in the body. This is because various neurotransmitters and receptors are able to interpret signals in a large combination. For instance, a neurotransmitter and receptor combination may inhibit a signal on one postsynaptic neuron, but excite a large amount of other postsynaptic neurons. Chemical synapses allow for flexibility of signaling that makes it possible for humans to engage in high-level tasks. However, this flexibility comes at a cost. Chemical synapses have a delay due to the need for the neurotransmitter to diffuse across the synapse and bind to the postsynaptic neuron. This delay is very small but still is an important point when comparing the two types of synapses.

Types of Synapses: Electrical Synapses

Synapses

Electrical synapses are types of synapses that use electricity to conduct impulses from one neuron to the other. These synapses are in direct contact with each other through gap junctions. Gap junctions are low resistance bridges that make it possible for the continuation of an action potential to travel from a presynaptic neuron to a postsynaptic neuron.

Due to their physical contact, electrical synapses are able to send signals in both directions, unlike chemical synapses. Their physical contact and the use of sole electricity make it possible for electrical synapses to work extremely fast. Transmission is also simple and efficient at electrical synapses because the signal does not need to be converted.

Another key difference between chemical and electrical synapses is that electrical synapses can only be excitatory. Being excitatory means that an electrical synapse can only increase a neuron’s probability of firing an action potential. As opposed to being inhibitory, which means that it decreases a neuron’s probability of firing an action potential. This can only be done by neurotransmitters.

Despite being extremely fast, these types of excitatory signals can not be carried over great lengths. Electrical synapses are mainly concentrated in specialized brain areas where there is a need for very fast action.

The best example of this is the large amount of electrical synapses in the retina, the part of the eye that receives light. Vision and visual perception are our dominant senses, and our eyes are constantly receiving visual sensory information. This information also runs on a feedback loop when we interact with our environment, which means that we receive information from our surroundings and immediately create an appropriate response to it. This is why it makes sense that electrical synapses are seen in a large concentration here. The fast action, multiple directions, and efficiently all allow for prime functionality.

Synapses in Neuroscience

Understanding synapses allow neuroscientists to further understand how communication within the brain works. This is extremely important when trying to decipher causes, and eventually, develop treatments for neurological diseases and disorders.

Knowing about synapse function is not just beneficial to neuroscientists, it is beneficial for anyone with a brain! Increased synaptic density can improve the quality of life for anyone, it is essentially a tactic for making your brain work smarter.

Natural Ways to Improve Your Synapses

1. Reduce Stress

Too much stress, as well as long periods of stress, can have harmful impacts on the body, especially the brain and nervous system. By reducing stress, you are reducing the amount of cortisol that is circulating throughout your body. Cortisol is important if you need to outrun a bear, but elevated levels in your daily life can damage chemical synapses all over the body. Stress and aging are also closely related, so controlling your stress levels may help you prevent early aging.

Chemical synapses are susceptible to desensitization, which will occur is abnormally high concentrations of a neural transmitter are fighting to stimulate a neuron.

2. Stimulate Your Brain With CogniFit Brain Games and Cognitive Assessments

It is important, at any stage in life, to keep your brain stimulated. Our synapses play an important role in keeping our brains healthy and helping them improve over time, rather than fall victim to the natural cognitive decline that occurs as we age. With the consistent training and challenging of the brain, the synapses work to perform better and more efficiently, ultimately making it possible to improve the cognitive function that may have seemed lost. This is the idea behind brain or neuroplasticity and is the basis of CogniFit’s program.

CogniFit’s  brain training system works by adapting the games and tasks to each user’s cognitive level, ensuring that the brain, its neurons, and all of the synapses involved are being trained and challenged as efficiently as possible.

3. Exercise

Exercise is very important in keeping the brain healthy. People often get frustrated within the first few weeks of a new workout regime when physical changes are not yet visible. It turns out that the first changes of regular exercise are actually neurological, starting in the brain. Exercising promotes brain growth by increasing oxygen levels in the brain. Brain growth first starts at the synaptic level. Read more about the benefits of exercise on the brain!

Your Synapses

Hopefully, now that you’re familiar with the basic structure, ins and outs, functions, and types of synapses in the brain you can think about what is happening on a microscopic level to ensure your body is functioning at top notch. Small improvements on the synapse level can have a large effect on your overall health.

Test Yourself!

1. What is a presynaptic neuron?
2. What is a postsynaptic neuron?
3. What is one difference between an electrical and chemical synapse

Hypothalamus: the importance of hormones in the brain

What is the hypothalamus? Let’s start by painting a picture: Your stomach starts churning. It’s been hours since you last ate and you can feel the hunger intensely. You start craving every food available and it starts to become difficult to concentrate. The only thing you can think about is food and it becomes too uncomfortable to bear so you decide to eat. Does this sound familiar?

If you want to learn in depth about the hypothalamus don’t miss “the extend further” section at the end of this article!

The responsible of this whole process is the hypothalamus, a small sub-cortical structure located in the center of the brain. Being only the size of a pea, the hypothalamus is in charge of regulating different functions that are essential to our day to day life, such as eating and homeostasis. If it weren’t for the hypothalamus, we wouldn’t know when we needed to eat and we would end up dying of hunger.

It modules the food intake by increasing or decreasing hunger and satiation awareness. – Ali Inay on Unsplash

What is the Hypothalamus?

The hypothalamus and the thalamus are part of the diencephalon. They are part of the limbic system and contain the main diversity in neurons of the whole brain. It’s in charge of the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system. It’s an endocrine gland that releases hormones in charge of modulating behaviors relating to species maintenance. It also regulates hormone secretion of the hypophysis (pituitary gland) with whom it shares the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. It’s made of two different secreting neurons: The parvocellular (who secrete peptidic hormones) and the magnocellular (which secrete neurohypophysial hormones).

Where is the Hypothalamus located?

Having a perfect spot in the brain is important. It is located in a brain part just beneath the thalamus (from there the name) and right above the brainstem. It connects with the hypophysis through the pituitary stalk. The hypothalamus central position allows it to communicate perfectly, receiving information from different body structures and sending information to others.

What does the Hypothalamus do? How does it keep us alive?

Its functions are essential to our daily life. It is responsible for maintaining the body’s systems, including body temperature, body weight, sleep, mating, levels of aggression and even emotional regulation. Most of these functions are regulated by a chain of hormones that inhibit or release between themselves.

  • Hunger: when our body detects that we have don’t have enough energy saved, it sends Ghrelin (hunger hormone) to the hypothalamus, telling us we need to eat. It then releases a neuropeptide that produces the hunger feeling in our body. In the painted picture above our body is producing so many neuropeptides that we feel overwhelmed by hunger.
  • Satiation: when we have eaten enough, our body has to tell our brain that we don’t need any more food and that we need to stop eating. While we are eating our body produces insulin which in turn increases the production of a hormone called Leptin. Leptin travels through our blood until it reaches the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus. This inhibits the production of neuropeptides, therefore, stopping the hunger sensation.
  • Thirstiness: Similar to hunger, when the body is thirsty it releases an antidiuretic hormone (vasopressin) that allows for the body not to lose water and stimulate drinking more.
  • Temperature: The blood temperature when it arrives at the hypothalamus will determine if we need to reduce or increment our body temperature. If the temperature is too high, we need to lose heat, therefore, the anterior portion with inhibit the posterior, producing certain events such as sweating, in order to lower heat. On the other hand, when the temperature is too low, the posterior portion will inhibit the anterior. This will enable the release of a thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), both helping heat conservation.
  • Sleep: The reason why it’s so difficult to sleep with the light on is because of the hypothalamus. The sleep cycle is regulated by circadian rhythms, which in turn are managed by a set of neurons in the medial hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. This nucleus receives information from ganglion cells in the retina through the optic nerve tract. This way the retina is capable of detecting a change in lighting and sends the information back to the hypothalamus. The set of neurons process the information and then it is sent to the pineal gland. If there is no light, the pineal gland will secrete melatonin (sleep hormone). If there is light, the gland reduces melatonin levels which promotes wakefulness.
  • Mating and Aggression: Even though these behaviors are opposites they are highly related in the animal world and are also regulated by the hypothalamus. Some neurons are stimulated when there is mating behavior present while others when there is aggression. However, there are other neurons that happen to respond to both scenarios. The amygdala sends in information related to the aggressive area in the hypothalamus so that it can release important and pertinent hormones depending on the situation.
  • Emotions: when we experience an emotion this comes with many physiological changes. For example, when walking in a dark alley by yourself the natural response is to feel fear. Therefore the body has to prepare to respond appropriately given the circumstance. So, the hypothalamus sends information to the different parts of the body (increasing our breathing rate, contraction of the blood vessels, pupil dilation and muscle contraction). This way, the hypothalamus allows us to detect threats and run if necessary away from it. That being so, it enables the physical response to the emotion.

What relationship does the hypothalamus have with love?

One of the most important brain functions is processing emotions. These emotions are processed in the limbic system. The hypothalamus is a big part of this system since it’s in charge of letting the whole body know what emotion the brain is feeling. How emotions work in the brain is a complex task, nevertheless, the hypothalamus is responsible for how we feel love. The hypothalamus produces phenylethylamine, a type of neurotransmitter with similar effects to amphetamines. This is the reason why when we fall in love we feel happy and euphoric. This neurotransmitter also leads to an increase in adrenaline and noradrenaline, which rises the heartbeat, oxygen levels and blood pressure (triggering the sensation of your “heart skipping a beat”).

On the other hand, the brain also produces dopamine and serotonin, which allows us to focus our attention on the person that makes us feel these emotions and regulate our emotions accordingly. Consequently, the hypothalamus is very important since without it, we wouldn’t be able to fall in love.

Without the it, we wouldn’t be capable of falling in love.

What link is there between the hypothalamus and the hypophysis (pituitary gland)?

The hypothalamus regulates the emission of hormones from the hypophysis. The hypophysis is also an endocrine gland and its under the hypothalamus, protected by the sella turcica (bone structure in the base of the cranium). The pituitary gland function is to secrete hormones, under the hypothalamus command, through the blood that our body needs to maintain homeostasis (level our temperature or balance different hormones). Their relationship is so close that they form the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and they couldn’t work separately. The hypophysis allows for the hypothalamus to extends its effects to the rest of the body.

What happens when the hypothalamus is disturbed? In what disorders o diseases is the hypothalamus involved?

Given the relevance of the hypothalamus, an injury in any of the hypothalamus’ nuclei can be fatal. For example, if the satiation center is damaged (not being capable of being satiated), we wouldn’t stop eating and therefore eat non-stop with a high risk to what this conveys. Some of the most frequent pathologies are:

  • Diabetes insipidus: It is when the supraoptic, paraventricular and the supraoptic hypophysial fasciculus nuclei are injured. Due to low production of ADH, there is more liquid intake and more urine output.
  • Injury in the caudolateral hypothalamus: If this region is damaged all sympathetic activity of the nervous system will diminish including body temperature.
  • Injury in the medial hypothalamus: all parasympathetic activity of the nervous system will be damaged but the body temperature will rise.
  • Korsakoff Syndrome: with the mammillary nucleus (related to the hippocampus) altered, there will be anterograde amnesia, the person will have difficulty remembering new information in long-term memory. Since remembering is difficult, people with this syndrome tend to use fabrications to fill the gaps. This disorder is usually associated with chronic alcoholism it can also happen as an alteration in the mammillary tubers and their connections.

To extend further…

What hormones are produced in the hypothalamus?

The hypothalamus function is through hormone release. Some of the hormones are:

  • Neurohormones: Antidiuretic hormone and oxytocin.
  • Hypothalamic factors: The hypothalamus uses corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH or corticoliberin), thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH or gonadoliberin), growth hormone–releasing hormone (GHRH or somatoliberin).

Of what nuclei is the hypothalamus made of and what is their purpose?

Each nuclei has a main purpose:

  • Arcuate nucleus: it’s part of the emotional function of the hypothalamus. Its endocrine function consists of synthesizing hypothalamic peptides and neurotransmitters. In charge of liberating the gonadotropin hormone.
  • Anterior hypothalamic nucleus: it’s in charge of releasing the heat when sweating. It’s also in charge of liberating thyrotropin in the hypophysis.
  • Posterior hypothalamic nucleus: Its function is to keep the heat inside the body when it’s cold.
  • Lateral hypothalamic nucleus: it regulates thirst and hunger. When it detects a lack of sugar or water it tries to find homeostasis.
  • Mammillary nucleus: given its connections with the hippocampus, it’s related to the memory.
  • Paraventricular hypothalamic nucleus: It regulates hormone release from the hypophysis (oxytocin, vasopressin, and corticotropin).
  • Preoptic Nucleus: it influences functions such as nutrition, locomotion, and mating.
  • Supraoptic nucleus: It regulates arterial pressure and liquid equilibrium through the antidiuretic hormone.
  • Suprachiasmatic nucleus: In charge of hormones relating to circadian rhythms.
  • Ventromedial nucleus: its role consists of regulating satiation.

From where does the hypothalamus receive information? Where does it send it?

The hypothalamus has great different connections due to the brain area where it’s located. On one side, it receives information from other structures (afferent) and then sends information to other parts of the brain (efferent).

Afferents

  • Reticular cephalic flexure: From the cephalic flexure to the lateral mammillary nucleus.
  • Median prosencephalic fasciculus: from the olfactory region, septal nuclei and amygdala region to the preoptic lateral and lateral hypothalamus.
  • Stria terminalis: from the hippocampus to the septum and mammillary nucleus.
  • Precommissural fornix fibers: connect with the dorsal hypothalamic area, septal nuclei and preoptic lateral nucleus.
  • Postcommissural fornix fibers: takes the information to the medial mammillary nucleus.
  • Retinohypothalamic fibers: Take information from the amount of light in the retina and sends it to the suprachiasmatic nucleus for circadian rhythm regulation.
  • Cortical projections: receives information from the cerebral cortex and sends it to the hypothalamus.

Efferents

  • Dorsal longitudinal fasciculus: from the medial and periventricular regions of the hypothalamus to the grey matter.
  • Mammillary efferent fibers: From the medial mammillary nucleus to the anterior thalamic nuclei, and also from the mesencephalon to the ventral nuclei.
  • Supraoptic nucleus: from the supraoptic nuclei to the posterior lobe of the hypophysis.
  • Tuberohypophyseal: from the nuclei arcuati to the infundibular stalk.
  • Descendent projections to the brainstem and spinal cord: from the paraventricular nucleus to the solitary nucleus and the ventrolateral regions of the medulla oblongata.
  • Efferent projections to the suprachiasmatic nucleus: it connects directly with the pineal gland.

Questions? Leave a comment below 🙂

This article was originally written in Spanish by David Asensio Benito, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Lucid Dreaming: Controlling Your Unconscious Brain

Lucid dreaming is a dream state where the person is completely aware that they are dreaming. In this state, a dreamer can control what happens in their dreams. How is this possible? Is there a way to increase your chances of lucid dreaming? What does neuroscience say is going on in the brain of a lucid dream? Keep reading below!

Lucid dreaming

Conscious Sleeping: 4 Essential Lucid Dreaming Tips

There are plenty of tips circulating the internet that provide various avenues to improve the likelihood of lucid dreaming. These sources provide the dreamer with an arsenal of tactics to differentiate whether or not they are dreaming. Some of these tips include: keeping a dream journal, attempting to read while dreaming, looking down at your feet while in a dream, and looking up at the sky when dreaming.

Lucid dreaming

1. Keeping a Dream Journal

The one trick that you can do while being awake is keeping a dream journal. After you wake up in the morning, write down everything you dreamt the night before. This will allow you to remember your dreams, as well as look back on previous dreams and see if any repeat. Once you are able to see a pattern of repeating dreams, you are able to recognize whether or not you are asleep.

For example, if you have a reoccurring dream that you are riding through the purple mountains on a unicorn, you can remember that you have experienced this specific dream before. Once this realization is made, you can recognize that you are in a dream. As this realization occurs, you have begun to lucid dream.

Lucid dreaming

2. Attempt to Read While Dreaming

People who experience lucid dreams claim that words and letters appear nonsensical when dreaming. This is a form of reality check that can help your unconscious mind shift into a dissociative state that holds characteristics of both wake-fullness and dreaming. By recognizing that the letters and words do not make sense, you can then acknowledge to yourself that you are dreaming. The moment you are aware that you are dreaming, you have begun lucid dreaming.

Lucid dreaming

3. Look Down at Your Feet

Another reality check that you can use to differentiate between wake-fullness and lucid dreaming, is staring down at your feet. This is a rather interesting tip and can be explained by the brain’s somatosensory cortex function. When dreaming, lucid dreamers claim that their feet are not actually on the ground, but instead are floating above the surface. This is most likely explained because when sleeping, proprioception and other somatosensations are unable to be processed.

Proprioception is the sense of knowing where in space one’s body parts are in relation to one another, as well as the surrounding environment. For instance, if you are blindfolded and move your arm above your head, you are still able to recognize that your arm has moved from your side to above your head. Even though you can not see that your arm placement has changed, you know that you moved your arm because of proprioception.

Other somatosensations like proprioception include thermosensation and mechanoreception. Thermosensation is the ability to recognize temperature, and mechanoreception is the ability to recognize touch and pressure.

When dreaming, the brain and body are not processing stimuli. Due to the lack of stimulus input, the brain can not process what it feels like to stand on a surface. This is why you appear to be floating.

Lucid dreaming

4. Look Up at the Sky

Looking up at the sky is yet another reality check that you can use to make yourself aware that you are dreaming. This tip is harder to explain than examining various parts of your body. It is commonly discussed that if you look up at the sky you will not see what you expect. Dream skies are not blue and filled with clouds, but instead appear as a painting.

Some sources claim that the sky is far too complex for your mind to recreate. This idea could be plausible but has more to do with the lack of stimulus reception, as mentioned before.

The sky is blue because blue is the shortest wavelength of light and is scattered more by atmospheric particles than other wavelengths of light. Our brain can make up the color blue because it has been exposed to the stimuli that allow us to perceive blue. However, the main reason for the distorted sky in dreams is due to how our brains perceive where the light comes from.

We assume that light comes from above. This assumption is due to our environment, the sun is above us and casts its light down. We perceive the directions of shadows, relative distance, and time of day based on light being cast from above us. This assumption is carried through to our dreams. So, when instructed to look up at the sky in a dream, where the brain is directing it’s falsified light source from, the sky appears to be a wash of color and movement.

As is the case for the other reality checks, acknowledging that this is not how the sky normally appears allows the individual to realize that they are in fact dreaming.

Lucid dreaming

Consciousness and Lucid Dreaming

The tips mentioned above can be explained to have an impact on whether or not you are dreaming based on how the brain interacts with sensation and perception. What other aspects of lucid dreaming can be explained by looking at the differences between the conscious and unconscious brain?

Consciousness is the state of being awake, and through neuroscience research, is thought to be a result of metacognition. This term just encapsulates many everyday tasks such as planning, reasoning, and the ability to interact with one’s environment. These higher-level processes are governed by the brain’s prefrontal cortex, but it is unclear as to whether consciousness is housed here. This is because the prefrontal cortex also interacts with many other brain regions, so it is hard to pinpoint whether or not consciousness is dedicated to one brain region.

Consciousness: Out Like a Light

We do, however, know that there is an on/off switch in the brain that controls consciousness. This switch is called the claustrum and is a thin sheet of neurons that is attached to the underside of the insular cortex. The insular cortex is a small part of the brain that is nestled deep down, separating the temporal, parietal, and frontal lobe. The functions of the insular cortex are tied to perception, intricate motor control, self-awareness, and other cognitive functions. These functions all sound like everything we experience while in a conscious state. Although some literature suggests that this where consciousness is held in the brain, it is a much more popular opinion that consciousness is an overarching state which is governed by multiple areas of the brain.

Due to the enhanced awareness, as well as the full control that a lucid dreamer has in the dream state, it is hypothesized that like in consciousness, there is some evidence of metacognition. This is also is correlated to the amount of gray matter found in the prefrontal cortex. Gray matter is neural tissue rich in unmyelinated neurons. The more neurons, as well as connections between neurons, that exist in the prefrontal cortex, the more likely that an individual will have enhanced capabilities to lucid dream.

The similarities between the conscious brain and the lucid dreaming brain seem to conclude that lucid dreaming is more closely related to consciousness. Hopefully, through using the tips you can try to lucid dream! The personal experience can prove to you whether or not you felt as alert as you are when conscious.

Migraine Triggers: What are Migraines and How to Avoid Them

Knowing migraine triggers may help you avoid them

What are migraines?

Though migraines are common (migraines and tension type headaches are the second and third most common disease in the world) the exact cause of migraines is still not fully understood. However, specialists have been able to determine common migraine triggers. Knowing what these triggers are might help you prevent a future migraine by avoiding the migraine triggers that we’ll talk about below.

Migraines are ranked as the seventh most disabling disease among all diseases globally, and the leading cause of disability among all neurological disorders. Migraines and headaches are leading causes of outpatient and emergency department visits and are particular issues for women during their reproductive years. However, many people who suffer from migraines and headaches do not receive adequate treatment and care, instead choosing to rely on over the counter medications, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Healthcare and lost working days due to migraines cost as much as $36 billion in the US alone.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are four types of headache disorders:

  • Migraines
  • Tension type headaches
  • Cluster headaches
  • Medication overuse headaches

Migraines will often begin in childhood, mostly during puberty, and mostly affects those between 35 and 45 years old, but recurs over the lifetime. It is also twice as common in women than men, mostly due to hormonal differences. Migraine frequency can vary from between once a week to once a year.

Different types of neurotransmitters

Though the causes are not completely understood, it appears to result from a combination of genetics and environmental factors. Brain chemistry, such as the lowering of serotonin levels, may be a factor, but researchers are still studying the role of serotonin in the brainstem. Migraines are thought to be the result of the activation of a mechanism in the brain, which releases the inflammatory substances around the nerves and blood vessels of the head that causes a migraine. You can tell you have a migraine as opposed to a regular headache because your headache will be:

  • Moderate or severe
  • Pulsating
  • On one side of your head
  • Aggravated by movement
  • Lasting from hours to 2-3 days

If your headache has all of these features, accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and sound, you’re probably experiencing a migraine. Hopefully, this list is helpful in avoiding potential triggers and future migraine attacks.

15 Common Migraine Triggers

Stress

It’s well known how bad stress is for the body. Stress is the most commonly reported migraine trigger, most likely because it is so personal and difficult to control. Stress can cause more frequent migraine attacks, make migraine attacks worse, and make migraine attacks last longer. Even after the stressful situation ends, the sudden release of tension can cause a migraine to occur – this is called a weekend migraine. Though it is virtually impossible to avoid stress, you can learn ways to manage it better, such as eating healthy, exercising regularly, and learning relaxation techniques, like yoga or meditation.

Hormone changes

Since migraines affect twice as many women as men, it’s no surprise that hormones play a large part. Fluctuations in estrogen seem to be the trigger for many women. Those with a previous history of migraines often report that they have headaches before or during their periods when estrogen levels are at their lowest. Hormone medications, such as contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy have been reported to either worsen or help migraines, depending on the woman.

Sleeping in

Changes in sleeping patterns can trigger a migraine, which is why it’s important to try to wake up around the same time every day. Sleeping in may cause what’s known as a “weekend migraine” especially if there is a large difference between your weekday and weekend timetables.

Too much or not enough sleep may be migraine triggers

Lack of sleep

On the other hand, fatigue and a lack of sleep is also a very common migraine trigger. Fatigue can also be a warning sign for an impending migraine attack. Either way, it seems that any kind of sleep disturbance is a trigger for many people, and you should try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day regardless of it’s a weekday or weekend.

Perfume

Many migraine sufferers report that attacks are triggered by strong perfume and other strong odors. Additionally, osmophobia is an aversion to that is a unique characteristic of migraine sufferers, during their attacks.

Weather and barometric pressure changes

Weather can cause changes in brain chemistry causing a migraine, especially on days with bright sunlight, extreme heat or cold, pressure changes, or high humidity. Even though you can’t change the weather, you can track what weather conditions are your personal triggers, if any, and stay indoors or take migraine medications at the first signs of a migraine.

Alcohol

Alcohol increases blood flow to the brain, which can cause a migraine. Any kind of alcohol can act as a migraine trigger, but it seems to be particularly red wine, especially in women.

Medications

Self treating with medication can be a double-edged sword; taking too much can lead to a medication overuse headache, which are caused by chronic and excessive use of medications used to treat headaches.

Caffeine

Unfortunately, caffeine can act as both a trigger and treatment for migraines. You just have to be aware if you are sensitive to caffeine, and carefully monitor how caffeine affects you.

Cheese

Tyramine is a substance that is produced as the protein in a food or drink ages. It’s not sure why tyramine causes migraines, but it can be found in in foods like aged cheeses, processed meats, dried fruits, and even red wine.

Sex

Any kind of fervent physical activity can cause headaches and migraines, including sex.

Dehydration

Dehydration and hunger are bad for the body overall, and one of the results can be a headache or migraine. People who suffer from migraines should try not to skip meals and drink plenty of water.  

Food additives

Artificial sweeteners, and preservatives such as sulfites and nitrates can trigger a migraine.

Tannins

Tannins are found in red wine, but they are also found in teas, red apples, and pears. Tannins are flavonoids mostly found in the skins of the fruits which give those foods and drinks their bitter taste.

Bright lights or loud sounds

Bright, flickering, or pulsating lights can be a trigger for a migraine attack. Unfortunately for some, bright sunlight on its own can be a trigger for some migraine sufferers.

Bright lights and flashing lights may be migraine triggers

Migraines are so prevalent, but so treatable, why is this? There seems to be a stigma around seeking treatment for headaches; as a chronic migraine sufferer myself, I also prolonged seeking treatment because I believed I could just self medicate with pain relievers. Keep in mind that many of these triggers act in combination with each other, so keeping a sort of headache journal can help narrow down your own personal migraine triggers, avoid future migraine attacks, and be helpful in describing your migraine disorder to your physician.

Questions? Leave me a comment below!

References:

Burch RC, Loder S, Loder E, Smitherman TA. The prevalence and burden of migraine and severe headache in the United States: updated statistics from government health surveillance studies. Headache. 2015 Jan;55(1):21-34. doi: 10.1111/head.12482.

Cutrer FM, et al. Pathophysiology, clinical manifestations and diagnosis of migraine in adults. 2015.

Dalkara, T. & Kılıç, K. Current Pain and Headache Report (2013) 17: 368. doi:10.1007/s11916-013-0368-1.

Fukui, PT, Gonçalves, TRT, Strabelli, CG, Lucchino, NF, Matos, FC, Santos, JPM, Zukerman, E, Zukerman-Guendler, V, Mercante, JP, Masruha, MR, Vieira, DS, & Peres, MFP. (2008). Trigger factors in migraine patients. Arquivos de Neuro-Psiquiatria, 66(3a), 494-499. https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0004-282X2008000400011

Houle TT, Butschek RA, Turner DP, Smitherman TA, Rains JC, Penzien DB. Stress and Sleep Duration Predict Headache Severity in Chronic Headache Sufferers. Pain. 2012;153(12):2432-2440. doi:10.1016/j.pain.2012.08.014.

Steiner TJ, Stovner LJ, Birbeck GL. Migraine: the seventh disabler. The Journal of Headache and Pain. 2013;14(1):1. doi:10.1186/1129-2377-14-1.

Tekatas A, Mungen B. Migraine headache triggered specifically by sunlight: Report of 16 cases. European Neurolology. 2013;70:263-266

Triggers: Environmental and physical factors. National Headache Foundation.

Weather-related migraines. Neurology Now. 2013;9:12.

World Health Organization (WHO)

 

More on CogniFit’s brain games

10 Percent of Brain Capacity: Is It True?

It’s a myth that commonly appears in advertisements, books and movies: humans can only use 10 percent of brain capacity. But is this really true? Is it possible that the organ we commonly think to be the body’s control center, is really only useful for 10 percent of its function? Read below to find out!

Debunking the 10 percent of brain capacity myth

Where did the myth come from?

No one is really sure where the myth actually originated from. There have been many theories when it comes to the brain, some sounding much crazier than others. So it’s kind of hard to pinpoint exactly which crazy idea the myth came from, but here are a few theories.

In the early 1800’s, scientists thought that brain functions were located in specific parts of the brain. Scientists Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Spurzheim brought up phrenology, or the idea that bumps on the skull indicate human behaviors and characteristics. However, some scientists disagreed with their theory, and instead argued that the brain worked as a whole, even though different parts of the brain had different functions. This idea was known as equipotentiality. Scientists tried to prove this theory by removing parts of the brain and observing that the deficits that occurred were more prominent when more of the brain was removed. But this idea remained in debate for many years, and many think that this debate might have sparked the myth somewhere along the way.

Another possible origin of this myth is the work of psychologist Karl Lashley, who believed that memory was not specific to a portion of the cerebral cortex. He tested his theory by first removing certain amounts of the cerebral cortex (get to know your brain!) of rats. He then put the rats through simple mazes and activities that tested visual discrimination. He found that as long as he kept a certain amount of cerebral cortex, the rats would behave normally. For example, he reported that even removing up to 58 percent of the cerebral cortex wouldn’t cause any changes in behavior. But it is likely that the parts of the brain Lashley did remove, he didn’t test in his experiments, making it seem like the rats were behaving normally. His work wasn’t applicable to other parts of the brain, or to more complex beings.

Why does this myth continue?

Other figures such as Albert Einstein and Margaret Mead had also made claims stating that humans only use a small part of the brain. And even though these scientists had no training in neuroscience, people took their word for it.

Today, the 10 percent of brain capacity myth is present in advertisements for programs that claim to tap into the unused potential of the brain. And of course, we can’t forget about the fancy Hollywood movies showing that using the brain’s full capacity would give people super human abilities. Take the film Lucy, for example. Lucy is able to “use 100 percent of brain power”, which allows her to perform super-human acts. But if you know the science behind it, you know that our brain is almost always at full capacity.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsR2-v554Hs

But what would happen if we actually did use 10 percent of our brain? Well the brain weighs about 3 pounds, and if we took away 90 percent of it, we would be left with 0.3 pounds, which is the size of a sheep’s brain. But any kind of damage to just a small area of the brain could cause great effects. For example, a stroke could cause very serious disabilities. (In some cases, this acquired brain injury miraculously doesn’t cause any disabilities.. just read about the Phineas Gage case!)

10 percent of brain capacity myths persist because of modern media

How do we know that we don’t use 10 percent of brain capacity?

There is no scientific evidence that we use 10 percent of brain capacity. Here’s a few reasons why:

Action potentials of neurons

Action potentials are the electrical impulses that travel through a neuron so that information can be transmitted to the next neuron. Action potentials only fire when there is enough stimulus to reach a threshold. It works in an “all or none” fashion, meaning that if it doesn’t reach the threshold, the action potential won’t fire. This is helpful because it ensures that all of our neurons aren’t firing at the same time- that would just be too much activity for the brain! But even when neurons are at “rest”, they’re still receiving information from other neurons. So essentially, the neurons are never inactive.

Evolution

When it comes to evolution, there’s the common theme that those who have the advantage in the environment would survive long enough to produce offspring with the same advantageous traits. It wouldn’t make much sense that humans evolved from creatures with smaller brain sizes if there wasn’t an advantage. Functional brain imaging shows that we use all parts of the brain, even when we’re sleeping!

Synaptogenesis

In development, there are many new synapses formed. There is actually a critical period for development in children- where it is important for a child to reach certain neurological milestones in order to lead a healthy life. Some synapses are even eliminated during development as well. The point is, our brain is constantly “fine tuning” itself. The more we learn and expose ourselves to, the more synapses we grow. But there’s a catch. The brain sort of runs a “use it or lose it” policy, meaning that if we stop using the neural connections made, then the function is lost. For example, not having any visual input as a developing child would lead to dramatic vision impairments.

So what’s the takeaway here? That the idea that humans only use 10 percent of brain capacity is a complete myth. So be weary the next time a company advertises that they can help you achieve untapped brain capacity.

Tips to Keep Your Brain Sharp in the City

Keep your brain sharp in the city

There are many easy ways for city dwellers to keep our brains sharp while on the go. Millions of people live and work in big cities and come in contact with a myriad of faces, sounds and smells on a daily basis. For people who are new to the city, their brains have a field day with all of the external stimuli. But for those of us who have gotten used to city life, we often forget to seek ways to keep our brains sharp when we are in the city.

By following these simple tips, you can help keep your brain sharp while traveling around in the city:

Ditch the Buds

Most city-dwellers become so accustomed to the sounds of the city that they experience something called “habituation.” Habituation is a psychological term for when people pay less and less attention to stimuli that have become familiar. Habituation has proven evolutionarily beneficial for many species of animals and it makes sense. Once we encounter a seemingly non-threatening stimulus countless times (like the sounds outside our apartments), we lose interest in that stimulus and shift our focus to new, potentially urgent stimuli. Yes, music does have positive cognitive effects. But if it ever feels like your learned habituation has sucked you into a routine of ignoring the world outside of your headphones or feeling bored when traveling around the city, leave them at home for a change!

The cognitive benefits of absorbing the surrounding sounds are plenty. Overstimulation of the ears, such as listening to loud music frequently, can lead to less sensitive eardrums. When we receive auditory input, it is processed in the temporal lobe (on the sides of the brain near the ears) and naturally, our ears’ sensitivity declines with age. But if you have a tendency to turn up the volume on the music coming in through your earbuds, you can prevent premature degradation of your eardrums by tuning into the outside world rather than your music every once in a while. Furthermore, the sounds around us can serve as a protective barrier; the whiz of oncoming traffic and the blares of car horns can warn us when we are crossing the street. Who knows? Perhaps by noticing your surroundings once more you might see or hear something that piques your interest, urges you to start a conversation or pleasantly keeps you wondering for the rest of the day.

Walk, Forrest, Walk!

Exercise is a great way to stimulate blood flow, engage the cardiovascular and nervous systems and sharpen the brain. Replacing the time that you stand or sit on public transportation with just a few added minutes of walking can help you feel more awake and more active. Moreover, walking is a convenient way to put the brain to work in ways you otherwise would not if you were stationary.

We all know that walking requires coordination. At a certain stage in our lives the activity becomes second-nature and almost automatic, but as we know from babies and toddlers, that was not always the case. Initially, for us to walk our brains had to learn to do so, which required our brains to make a series of neural connections in the process. Each time we walk we don’t even think about it, but our brains still do although the energy it takes is imperceptible to us. Whenever you can, plan ahead so that you can hop off of the bus four blocks early or get off of the subway one stop before you normally do. By choosing to do so, your body will burn more calories and your brain will fire more neurons.

Keep your brain sharp by noticing your surroundings

Keep Your Head Up

A lot of people keep their eyes on the ground or gaze around randomly in efforts to avoid eye contact with other people. In fact, seeing other human faces is a great way to keep our brains sharp due to the fact that looking at faces is much more cognitively stimulating than staring at the pavement.

When we look at different faces, even if only for a moment, we activate the “facial recognition” region of the brain known as the “fusiform gyrus.” This area has been shown to play an important role in face recognition, as neurons in the region are excited when humans look at another face. With evolution, the benefits of brain excitation when we look at other humans has to do with the importance of our ancestors being able to recognize members of their families, communities and even their enemies. While it would be an unrealistic demand and daunting task to attempt to remember every face that passes you by, just by looking up rather than looking down you can give your brain a bit more of an exercise when walking amongst throngs of people.

In one of the world’s busiest, brightest and most populated cities, there are many ways for New Yorkers to keep our brains sharp while on the go. CogniFit’s online Brain Games offer exciting and effective ways to train your brain while on the go or at home. The Brain Games that CogniFit has created are scientifically validated and have been shown to actually improve and train brain cognition. Go ahead and try some of CogniFit’s unique and specialized Brain Games now.

The tips and exercises I mentioned are just a few ways to keep your brain sharp and put your neurons to work when moving around in a big city. No matter which city you may reside in, you can get more out of your everyday commutes by choosing to actively absorb the world around you.

References:

Gleitman, Henry, James Gross and Daniel Reisberg. Psychology. 8th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2011. Print.

Jaffe, Eric. “About Face.” APS: Association for Psychological Science. Observer, February 2008. Web. 18 July 2016.

Understanding Your Brain and Stress: What Happens When We’re Stressed?

It’s time to talk about our good ol’ buddy stress. For most of us, it seems to cling to us all day every day, no matter how many times you try to part ways. It’s just become a part of us, so much so that we might feel weird or empty without it. But what is stress? What exactly does stress do to our bodies, to our brains? Why is it such a good thing to have sometimes, but other times seems to overwhelm us? It’s time that we learn more about the delicate relationship between our brain and stress.

Understand your brain and stress

Check your understanding

How much do you know about stress? Take this short quiz to find out!

4. Stress is inevitable.
  • These days, it may seem like we can't avoid stress. Often times, what you think is stressful now you probably won't think is stressful in the future. Try looking at the things that stress you out in a different perspective, or look for ways to make your life easier!
5. People can choose whether or not to be stressed.
  • As you'll learn in this article, stress isn't a switch you turn on and off. Stressful situations spark many complex reactions within your body and cause physiological changes so that you're equipped to handle the stress. While we can manage it, we can't choose whether or not to be stressed.
6. Exercise is a good stress reliever
  • While it may be hard to fit it into tight schedules, exercise is great to relieve stress! It releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins, and lifts your mood for the day. And even better, it clears your mind so you can be more focused and productive in the workplace.
7. Stress is a good for when you need to be motivated
  • When talking about reaching deadlines or a set goal, some stimulating stress can be good for you. It may provide you with enough to get though the day, or to be a little more productive. But pay attention to how you feel- frustration, irritability, and anger can be signs that you're experiencing too much stress.
8. We'd all be bored without stress
  • Stress has become such a big part of our lives that we might feel empty without it- but we don't have to! Think about all the things you could take time to enjoy without the stress of all your responsibilities. It's very possible to do, so start looking for ways you can de-stress!

The biological mechanisms of stress

When we experience a stressor, it sets off reactions in our body to help prepare us to handle it. For example, let’s say you’re camping in the woods for the weekend, and you’re just about head to the tent for the night. All of a sudden, you hear a loud crash, and you turn around to find a huge bear looking through your stuff!

Seeing the bear stimulates your hypothalamus to release two hormones, called corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) and arginine-vassopressin (AVP)CRH travels down to the anterior pituitary and stimulates the release of corticotrophin into the blood stream. Once corticotrophin reaches the adrenal cortex (a gland on top of the kidneys), the adrenal cortex increases the production of cortisol and other hormones called catecholamines. 

Surely this must sound very complicated, but here’s the basic idea. Seeing the bear stimulates the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis, which eventually causes the production of the stress hormone known as cortisol. This hormone causes many changes in our body so that we can properly deal with our stressor.

Your body and stress

AVP rushes to the kidneys and tells it to make less urine and bring more water back into the body. It also sends signals to our blood vessels to constrict, which raises our blood pressure and allows the oxygenated blood to go where its needed. Cortisol limits the amount of insulin production so that less glucose is stored. It then sends all the glucose it can to the rest of the body, so that it has immediate energy when it goes into the “fight or flight” response. Finally, catecholamines such as epinephrine (adrenaline) work with cortisol to get the heart pumping more blood, faster.

Different types of stress can have different impacts on our body. When stress is prolonged, it can have detrimental effects. Here are just a few:

  • Cortisol suppresses the immune system, so the longer cortisol stays in your system, the more at risk you are of getting colds, infections, cancer, food allergies and gastrointestinal issues.

  • The longer your blood vessels are constricted and your blood pressure is elevated, the more at risk you are for vessel damage and plaque buildup. In other words, you’re much more likely to have a heart attack the more you’re stressed.

  • Cortisol can cause weight gain in many ways. One way is because of the high levels of glucose in the blood and the low levels of insulin. This means other cells that need the glucose can’t get it, so they send signals to your brain to tell you you’re hungry. As a result, you overeat, and the unused glucose is stored as fat.

Your brain and stress

Stress can change neural networks

Prolonged periods of stress can cause increased branching in the amygdala– the fear center of the brain. This means that small, less stressful situations can cause huge rises in cortisol levels. Conversely, the hippocampus– which is responsible for learning, memory, and controlling stress- deteriorates and weakens our ability to control our stress.

Stress can shrink your brain

Studies with rat brains have shown that stress can also cause your brain to shrink. Fewer connections between neurons in the prefrontal cortex inhibit our ability to make decisions and judgments. And because the hippocampus deteriorates with prolonged stress, it can make it harder to learn and remember things.

Stress can be detrimental to mental health

Serious mental health problems can arise from stress because of the chemical imbalances cortisol can cause. Because cortisol can make us feel tired after a while, large amounts can have us feeling low in energy or depressed. In other cases, stress activation can lead to severe feelings of anxiety. In many cases, it can actually influence our personality, causing us to be more irritable, hostile, angry or frustrated.

Since stress is such a big part of our daily lives, its more important than ever to take precautions to protect our brain and our body. For tips on how to reduce your stress, click here.

Zika Virus and Microcephaly: What to Know

The weather’s getting warmer and school is coming to a close. This can only mean one thing- summer is here! But with summer fun also comes those darn mosquitos. No doubt that by now you’ve heard of the Zika virus and its dangers, especially for pregnant women. Infection of the virus during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects for your child. Learn more about how the Zika virus and microcephaly, and how you can prevent getting infected. 

Zika Virus and Microcephaly

Zika virus: knowing the basics

The Zika virus gives rise to what is known as Zika fever. Symptoms are usually mild, including joint pain, fever, rash, or conjunctivitis. The symptoms last about a week at most, and are are usually not serious enough to require hospitalization. In fact, many people don’t show symptoms of the virus, and may not even realize that they have it. And once you’ve been infected with the virus, you’re safe from future infections.

So where did it come from? The Zika virus is named after the Zika forest in Uganda, where it was originally discovered in 1947. For years, the virus infected those in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. The virus was actually considered to be somewhat harmless, considering that most people didn’t show symptoms, or the symptoms weren’t severe enough to cause hospitalization. But the real problem began when people started noticing the dramatic increase in birth defects, especially in places like Brazil. Since then, its rapid and unpredictable spread has send public health officials in a frenzy.

The Zika virus and microcephaly

Microcephaly is a serious birth defect where the baby’s head is much smaller than usual. The small size indicates the lack of full brain development, which predicts developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, seizure, hearing and vision loss, and more. The severity of microcephaly can vary, but the more serious cases can be life-threatening.

How does this happen?

Like all other viruses, the Zika virus is able to survive in the body by inserting its genetic material into a host cell in our body. Once inside, the virus can use the cell’s machinery to make copies of its genes, so that new viruses can be made. In some cases, when the virus is replicated the host cell is destroyed.

When a fetus’ brain is developing, it expands enough to create pressure on the skull to cause it to expand. However, a virus can stop brain growth and cause the pressure to drop and the skull to collapse. Everything else continues to develop, but the baby’s head is much smaller than what it needs to be.

Mild cases of microcephaly typically won’t need any treatment or services, just careful monitoring of development. The more severe cases require treatment of lifelong conditions. Services provided early on can help reduce developmental and intellectual delays. Therapy can also be used to improve speech and physical impairments. In some cases, medications may be used to control seizures and other conditions.

How to prevent transmission of the Zika virus

Prevent getting mosquito bites

This seems like common sense, but it may be harder than you think. Mosquitos are everywhere, but you can take preventative steps to avoid the dreaded bites. Try to limit skin exposure by wearing long sleeve shirts and long pants. If you do have any skin exposed, use an Environmental Protection Agency approved insect repellant. These repellants are tested to make sure that they are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women. You can also try to stay in places with air conditioners and window screens to keep the mosquitos out. Be sure to avoid areas where mosquitos like to stay and breed, such as containers of still water.

Avoid traveling to areas where the Zika virus is prevalent

If you’re planning a vacation before the baby comes, this is something to pay attention to. According to the CDC, Zika virus outbreaks occurred in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands before 2015. Since then, the outbreak has spread through many countries and territories. But fear not, you don’t have to completely cancel your vacation plans. Just be sure to check the CDC’s website for information about Zika virus in the area you’re visiting.

Practice safe sex

Aside from mosquito bites, the virus can be spread through sexual contact. If your partner has been in an area infected with Zika virus, be sure to use protection when having sex. The virus can spread before, during or after the infected person displays symptoms. If you’re not sure if your partner is infected, check with your doctor just to be safe.

Check with your doctor regularly

If you’ve traveled to an area infected with the Zika virus, or if you live in an area where its common, this is crucial. If you start to show signs of a rash, fever, joint pain and red eyes, consult with your doctor as soon as possible. The only way to know if your child will have any birth defects is to track its growth during the pregnancy. So even if you don’t feel sick, check in with your doctor every so often to make sure everything’s okay.

Narrative Exposure Therapy: What’s your story?

A lot of time and resources have been spent on investigating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in soldiers- and it’s warranted (more on how to live with PTSD). With the constant bombing, fighting, and unavoidable death that surrounds them it is no wonder that people pay attention to soldier’s needs. But there is one huge group of people dealing with the same issues that are not getting the same amount of attention: refugees. As many as 40% of refugees meet the criteria for PTSD because of the prolonged, repeated exposure to trauma. Narrative Exposure Therapy is a fairly new treatment for survivors like these, who are extremely susceptible to PTSD and have suffered through multiple types of trauma.

Narrative Exposure Therapy

There are approximately 21.3 million refugees across the world right now. According to the UN, approximately 34,000 people are displaced every day- that is 34,000 more people facing loss, resettlement, war and torture, and a host of other traumatic experiences every day. Narrative Exposure Therapy is about reconciling those who have gone through that sort of trauma with their life story. With Narrative Exposure Therapy, you piece together a coherent, chronological narrative of your life, focusing on the traumatic events. Those who have a very unstable life, like refugees, often have fragmented, disjointed, memories. The goal of Narrative Exposure Therapy is to transform these disorderly memories into a cohesive story- a testimonial of sorts. This testimony, if you agree, can also be used as evidence when prosecuting humans rights violations or raising awareness about them. While Narrative Exposure Therapy is still an up-and coming therapy, it is supposed to help not only the patient process painful emotions but potentially others suffering from the same injustices as well.

Narrative Exposure Therapy: How it Works

Narrative Exposure Therapy functions under the premise that the more trauma you experience, the larger your fear network is. Your fear network is made up of the emotional memories that are associated with sensory, cognitive, and physiological elements. The larger your fear network is, the more triggers there are that can set off PTSD.

Narrative Exposure Therapy: The NET Model

In Narrative Exposure Therapy, there are two types of memories associated with trauma: hot memories and cold memories. The hot memories are the ones in your fear network: the sensory details, emotions, and physiological reactions to the trauma. For example, if you experienced increased heartbeat and smelled gasoline during the incident, these would be a part of the hot memories and your fear network. Your cold memories are the opposite: they are the facts. Place, date, time of day, the people that were there- these are the sorts of things that your therapist would try and make you remember. According to the Narrative Exposure Therapy model, when you have PTSD, your hot memories are triggered without any reference to the cold ones. By making a chronological autobiography, you link the hot memories to the “cold”, hard facts to solidify and contextualize the trauma. You revisit the traumatic event in a safe environment, this time from the perspective of your entire life, instead of reliving it as a reaction to stress in the present.

Narrative Exposure Therapy: The Lifeline

Lifeline is exactly what it sounds like- a line that describes your life. Taking a birds-eye view of your life allows distance and space to reflect on all the good and bad moments. With a therapist, roll out a long piece of rope, ribbon, or string- one end represents your birth and the other represents your life that is yet to be lived. There are two objects that you lay down to represent different events in your life: stones and flowers. The stones represent shameful, difficult, and especially traumatic memories, and the flowers represent positive ones. This exercise is usually done during the first session because using the lifeline you can plan out which ‘stones’ you want to focus on in your future sessions.

Narrative Exposure Therapy: Going Forward

The lifeline is actually not a mandatory part of Narrative Exposure Therapy but can be helpful. Over your therapy sessions, you can go through the flowers and the stones, taking the time to unpack and sort through the stones. The goal of talking about these traumatic memories is to bridge together the ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ aspects of the trauma. The therapist may start by asking the when, what, where and other contextually relevant things. What were you doing a few hours before the event happened? Who were you with when it happened? The therapist may tell you to stay in the past tense when talking about the trauma so that it doesn’t trigger a flashback or dissociation, but also they will challenge any attempts to avoid talking about it. Reconciling how you felt about what happened, the facts of what happened, and how you feel about it all now is the main goal of Narrative Exposure Therapy.

There are many people in the world today that require therapy but do not have the resources to do so. Specifically, those who are displaced or refugees who come from extremely traumatic backgrounds could really benefit from methods such as Narrative Exposure Therapy. Narrative Exposure Therapy model is not meant to be a long- term therapy, but rather a quick and effective short-term therapy. Hopefully, by the end, you have reconciled more of your past and have a better outlook on your future. Also, your sessions could have a larger impact on the world should you decide to turn your autobiography into a testimony.

Hopefully, by the end, you have reconciled more of your past and have a better outlook on your future. Also, your sessions could have a larger impact on the world should you decide to turn your autobiography into a testimony. Narrative Exposure Therapy at the end of the day can be not only helpful for you, but for others in similar situations.

What is Neurogenesis: Regrowing Your Brain

“…I have experience recovering from a stroke. At the age of seven I underwent a stroke that almost took my life and paralyzed me on the left side of my body as well as from the waist down, leaving me in a wheelchair. But through years of therapy, working alongside neurologists, and my brain’s neurogenesis ability, my body and brain have recovered and I am in full health”

What is Neurogenesis?

“Can you grow new brain cells?”

You may have heard at some point in your life that you cannot grow new brain cells. You may have been taught that from the moment you are born to when you die you can only lose brain cells. It is believed that this is due to hits to the head, consuming alcohol and narcotics, and from lack of cognitive stimulation. Well do not despair because your brain is not in danger, you can in fact “grow” new brain cells in a process called neurogenesis.

Before I explain this process, I would like to get you up to speed to clear any confusion. As you may know or have learned, what people typically refer to as a “brain cell” is the more colloquial term for the neuron. These are the cells that make up the nervous system including the brain and through the communication of neurons, we achieve thought, actions, and everything that makes a brain a functioning organ.

It is typically believed that we develop billions of neurons during fetal development and that is it! After our brains develop, it is believed that the only changes that occur in our brains are the pruning and changing of synapses (the junction between neurons used for communication). So through this belief, it is believed that concussions, alcohol consumption, and stroke cause us to lose neurons and they can never be replaced. Unlike the rest of our body, our brains cannot heal. If you receive a cut on your hand, your blood will clot and form a scab until new skin cells repair the damage. As you grow, your bone cells develop and your bones elongate, being replaced by new cells. Our organs themselves have the ability to grow, change, and be replaced, however, it is believed that the brain is just a stagnant organ that can only lose its cells and never undergo repairs and growth.

Luckily for us, this is a FALSE belief!

Neurogenesis

The ability the brain has to develop new neurons is coined “neurogenesis” (“neuro” = relating to the nervous system; “genesis” = the formation of something new). The root of the word properly defines the term, but why is it that we have been taught otherwise about our brain’s ability to develop new cells?

A quick neuroscience history, Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the forefather of neurobiology incorrectly proposed the “harsh decree” of neuroscience.  Ramon y Cajal believed that no new neurons were generated in the adult mammalian central nervous system. You cannot blame him though, because before Ramon y Cajal, people thought the brain was just a reticulum. It was Ramon y Cajal who discovered that the brain is comprised of small units working together to form the neural net that is the brain. Ramon y Cajal was the first to work with advanced microscopy techniques during his time, in the year 1913. Ramon y Cajal discovered a lot for modern neuroscience so we will let this one error slide.

However, his “decree” was taken as a fact of neuroscience for years extending into the 1960’s when Joseph Altman and Gopal Das at MIT were finding evidence in rats, cats, and guinea pigs that these animals were able to develop new neurons. In their studies, the researchers found that these animals underwent neurogenesis in the hippocampus (a region of the brain responsible for developing new memories) and in the olfactory bulbs (a region of the brain involved in the sense of smell). Although Altman and Das had their research published in highly accredited academic journals, the dogma of Ramon y Cajal’s “harsh decree” was still taken as truth by neuroscientists at the time and their findings were silenced.

Fortunately, since the 60’s the neuroscience community has reduced their ignorance and it is now the topic of many researchers to discover new areas undergoing neurogenesis. It has been found that New York City taxi drivers have large hippocampi due to their spatial memories. Taxi drivers have an incredible ability to retain the vast network of streets and buildings which results in larger hippocampi due to the neurogenesis in this part of the brain.

High neurogenesis rates in hippocampus of taxi drivers

It is reassuring to learn that we are not constantly losing brain cells and losing cognitive ability. This is the whole premise behind CogniFit. Through brain training games and exercises we can learn how to improve your IQ, become sharper and faster in decision making, and overall improve our cognitive abilities thanks to neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. It has been found that we develop about 700-1000 new neurons in the hippocampus a day as adults (Spalding 2013). Although this number seems minuscule on the grand scheme of the billions of neurons that comprise the brain, over the years these 700 neurons add up to over 12 million neurons by the age of 50. These 12 million neurons are enough to completely replace the hippocampus alone.

Neurogenesis is such a new field of neuroscience that even experts in the field are still very uninformed on the subject. However, Dr. Sandrine Thuret is making efforts to introduce this new study of neurogenesis into the community and has sufficiently summed up the topic in her TEDTalk.

Do neurons die?

It is reassuring for those who experience head trauma, alcohol consumption, or stroke to hear that their brain cells are not lost forever. Although these can be difficult events to overcome (trust me, that hangover will eventually go away), head trauma and stroke are injuries that one can heal from.

Neurogenesis and Hangovers

Not only do I have experience with a hangover, I have experience recovering from a stroke. At the age of seven I underwent a stroke that almost took my life and paralyzed me on the left side of my body as well as from the waist down, leaving me in a wheelchair. But through years of therapy, working alongside neurologists, and my brain’s neurogenesis ability, my body and brain have recovered and I am in full health! I am not saying that I physically felt the neurons developing in my brain, but what I am saying is that there is hope.

In terms of head trauma such as concussion and alcohol consumption, your neurons are not literally dying. These types of brain damages are temporary, and they do not affect the cells directly, but more so effect the communication between cells, those synapses I was talking about earlier. Although you may not have to go through vigorous physical therapy to overcome a bump to the head or a night out with friends, there are other methods you can use to boost your brain’s neurogenesis. There are superfoods for your brain that you can consume that can truly boost your brain’s development and neurogenesis such as the intake of flavonoids, blueberries, or chocolate. Or you can try to pair these nutrition tips with specific exercise techniques such as intermittent fasting and calorie restriction to really increase your brain’s development. Using these techniques you can guarantee yourself a healthy brain that will continue growing through neurogenesis! 

 Test your knowledge-See how well you know your brain!

 

Altman, J., & Das, G. D. (1965). Autoradiographic and histological evidence of postnatal hippocampal neurogenesis in rats. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 124(3), 319-335. 

Ramón y Cajal, S. R. (1913). Estudios sobre la degeneracion del Sistema nervioso. Moya.

Spalding, K. L., Bergmann, O., Alkass, K., Bernard, S., Salehpour, M., Huttner, H. B., . . . Frisén, J. (2013). Dynamics of hippocampal neurogenesis in adult humans. Cell, 153, 1219-1227.

How Well Do You Know Your Brain: What Is It?

The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It controls everything, from the way we walk to the way we speak. Its has captivated scientists for centuries, yet we know a lot less about the brain than we do about the heart, liver, or kidneys. Research on the brain has surged greatly in recent years, allowing us to understand more about being human. Though, many people don’t know the basics about how the brain works. How well do you know your brain?

How Well Do You Know Your Brain

What is the brain made of?

Each organ in our body is made of specialized cells that work together to make that organ work the way it does. In the brain, these cells are called nerve cells, or neurons.

Each neuron contains a bulb-like structure called the cell body. Protrusions off of the cell body are called dendrites, and these are the receivers of information from other neurons. The information from other cells travels down a long fiber called the axon, which is covered with fatty material called myelin that helps the electrical impulses travel faster. The axon ends by branching out into many nerve fibers (collectively called the axon terminal), which connect to other neurons to pass on information. But don’t be fooled- neurons don’t actually touch each other. Instead, they’re separated by a gap called the synapse. 

Information traveling through a neuron can be both electrical and chemical. Electrical impulses called action potentials travel down to the axon terminal and trigger these tiny packages called vesicles to open. These vesicles contain neurotransmitters that are released into the synapse to communicate with the next cell.

These neurotransmitters are key to everything about us. It coordinates so many things, from our happiness to the way we sleep. You may have heard of some them and their effects. For example, dopamine is known as the “pleasure neurotransmitter” because when released, it makes us feel pleasure and happiness. Many drugs actually cause the release of dopamine, which explains how people can get addicted to drugs, since we repeat behaviors that we find pleasure in. Another example is adrenaline, or the “fight or flight neurotransmitter.” In stressful situations, adrenaline increases heart rate and blood flow to allow you to physically deal with your stressor.

There you have it- the inner workings of the brain. But fear not! We’re far from over, there’s so much more to learn.

So, why is it important to know your brain?

As you can see, the brain is as complex as defining the word “the”. Scientists have been pouring themselves over understanding the brain, only to make discoveries that just barely scratch the surface. Understanding how the brain works helps us understand the things that make us human. Why do we feel a certain way when we’re in love? Why do some people have a harder time with depression than others? What causes happiness, pleasure, stress, and anxiety (understand your brain and stress)? Advancements in neuroscience bring us closer to these answers everyday.

Aren’t there different parts of the brain?

Yes! The idea that different areas of the brain have specific functions was gained in the late nineteenth century. Scientists were actually able to figure out what these functions were when they studied patients who had deficits. By the time that the twentieth century came around, they had detailed maps and functional descriptions of the brain’s areas.

It would take forever to go through all the areas of the brain and its functions, so let’s talk about the basics. Your brain is divided into 4 lobes that controls things like your thinking, movement, and your senses. Other structures below the cerebrum are responsible for life functions, such as breathing, heart rate, motor coordination and balance.

The Frontal Lobe

The frontal lobe is the frontmost part of your brain- hence the name! The frontal lobe actually has many functions, and damage to this area is known to cause some pretty diverse effects. The most famous story about damage to this area belongs to Phineas Gage, who’s damage to this lobe caused his personality to change. Besides personality, some of its functions include emotional control, concentration, planning, and problem solving. Towards the back of the lobe is the motor cortex, which controls the movement of everything in your body.

The Parietal Lobe

Located at the top of the head behind the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe deals with mainly sensory information. The somatosensory cortex, located towards the front of the lobe, is responsible for the perception of touch, pressure, and taste. The body’s sensory areas are actually organized along the cortex in a map called a homunculus, where different areas have different representations. For example, you have more sensation on your lips than your elbow because your lips have more representation in the cortex. The other parts of the lobe take in all the sensory information and integrate it to help us understand the world around us.

The Temporal Lobe

Located on the sides of the brain (behind the temples), this lobe is responsible for recognizing faces, monitoring emotions, and long-term memory. It’s biggest job is to make sense of all the auditory information that comes our way. More specifically, its important for the comprehension of meaningful speech. In fact, when damage to this area occurs, a person would have trouble understanding what is being said to them, or being able to speak properly.

The Occipital Lobe

Has your mother ever told you she had “eyes” in the back of her head? Well, she wasn’t completely lying. Located in the back, the occipital lobe integrates all the visual information coming in from the eyes. From the visual cortex, the information goes to different association areas that processes it. For example, when reading this article, the visual information is being sent to areas specialized for reading comprehension. Damage to this area can cause visual impairments, where you can’t process the visual information coming in from your eyes.

The Cerebellum

The cerebellum (Latin for “little brain”) is located on the brainstem where the spinal cord meets the brain. It takes in all the sensory information from other parts of the brain and uses it to coordinate our balance and movements. It also helps with motor learning, where its responsible for fine-tuning motor movements to make them smoother and more accurate. For example, if you were to learn how to hit a baseball, the cerebellum would act to find the best way to make your movements as smooth and coordinated as possible.

7 Keys to Happiness: How to Get There

Why is it so hard to be happy? Why does it feel like happiness is always just out of our grasp? Even though we’re always learning and living new experiences, it seems like happiness is just out of reach. The good news is that there really are keys to happiness…and it doesn’t even involve any magic. In recent years, studies have been conducted to find out just what it is that makes us happy. Professor Tal Ben-Sharpar from Harvard actually studies happiness and assures us that the secret to a happy life is accepting it as it is, and that doing that will “free you from the fear of failure and perfect expectations.” Neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson, director at the Center for Happy Minds at the University of Wisconson-Madison says that “happiness and well-being are skills that can be learned and trained.” So, what does science say are the keys to happiness?

7 Simple Keys to Happiness

1. Stop looking for happiness and start living it

As professor Ben-Shapar said, one of the causes of unhappiness is the expectation that we have to be happy. When we constantly think and worry about being happy, it actually leads us to feel more unsatisfied with our lives. One study by Jane Gruber showed that happiness causes unhappiness…but why? If we’re unable to control our frustration, we won’t be able to “find” happiness.

We have to remember that happiness isn’t the result of doing one thing, but probably actually requires many actions working together in order for us to see a difference. Rather than deciding to sleep more, for example, we have to try to make a true lifestyle change, which will take longer than simply going to sleep earlier one night. The things that really matter, like learning how to relax, letting go, being thankful, and being kind to yourself, take time and patience.

Mathama Ghandi said “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony”. Listen to Ghandi and live how you feel. Spending your time worrying about what others are thinking or feeling is a waste of time, which we learned from Bonnie Ware’s palliative care patients. At the end of their lives, the only thing that they regretted was not having lived the life the wanted. They spent their time worrying out how other people wanted them to live their lives rather than living the life they really wanted. We have to be brave and live how we feel.

2. Live in the “now” to be happy

Living in the present and being connected to the moments that you’re living are some keys to happiness, but it’s one of the hardest things for us to do. In a famous study conducted by Killingsworth & Gilbert, they saw how people spend more than 47% of their time wandering and distracted, which ended up making them unhappier…and that number isn’t even the most staggering part of the study. They showed that a group of teenagers would actually prefer to receive electric shocks than to sit idly, just showing that living in the present is necessary for being happy.

Recent studies conducted by Dr. Davidson have shown that practicing mindfulness decreases the activity in the brain areas that light up when we are wandering or not doing anything (medial prefrontal areas and the anterior cingulate), which helps us focus on the present. This also means that meditation can help us as we strive to focus on the present and stop worrying about the future.

3. Learn to be grateful to be happy

Gratitude, being appreciative of the things that we have, is a key to happiness. Being appreciative means accepting your life for what it is and learning how to live in the moment.

Be grateful for what you have, for your friends, for your family, for the sun in the morning, for the nature that surrounds you, and for the universe. Learn to appreciate everything you can see, smell, feel, experience…

Studies have confirmed the impact that gratefulness has on emotional well-being and happiness. For example, professor Toepfer from Kent State University saw how writing thank-you notes increased happiness and satisfaction, while decreasing the feeling of depression in participants. It’s something so small, but writing a short thank-you note in the morning could make a big difference for your happiness in the long-run.

4. Exercise to be happy

Exercising is on every health and well-being list on the planet. The positive effects of exercise on both our physical and mental health are endless. When we exercise, our body releases endorphins, which are natural opioids that decrease pain and actually make us feel happier.

In a study with depressive patients, researchers saw how those who had changed medication for physical exercise didn’t only show improvement in their condition, but also had fewer relapses in the future.

So get out and do some exercise everyday. You don’t need to go running any marathons and you don’t have to start doing Crossfit, but getting out and walking just 30 minutes a day has been proven to help patients both physically and mentally.

5. Help others and be generous to be happy

If you want happiness for an hour- take a nap.

If you want happiness for a day- go fishing.

If you want happiness for a month- get married.

If you want happiness for a year- inherit a fortune.

If you want happiness for a lifetime-help others.

-Chinese proverb

They had the right idea, and for centuries they’ve known that the secret to happiness is other people’s happiness. Short-term benefits like fishing or taking a nap will only make us happy for a little while, but if we are able to help other people and positively impact their lives, that happiness will create more happiness, and it will last longer than short-term, material pleasure. In a meta-analysis (a study where various studies were done about a certain subject), for example, researchers saw how when a volunteer donated their time, they felt happier and had a higher sense of well-being.

In fact, one of the biggest indicators of happiness is quality of social relationships. When looking at the brains of people who were forced to live in social isolation, we can see that the same brain areas light up as when one experiences physical pain, which means that to our brain, being socially isolated is physically painful. So, what’s the best way to improve social relationships? Without a doubt, altruism and pro-social behaviors are what create and improve social links between people, which includes empathy (being able to understand others’ feelings), and compassion (genuine concern for others).

Pro-social behavior, or being kind to others, increases being accepted within a group. In other words, the nicer we are to our friends, the more we’ll like each other and the more likely we will be good friends.

Altruism, or being generous with others, also considerably increases our perception of happiness according to a study conducted by the University of British Columbia, where participants who spent money on other people felt happier than those who did not.

Altruism and pro-social behaviors aren’t only associated to happiness and well-being, but also to a healthier and longer life. We’ve seen this happen not only happen in children and adults of a certain society, but cross-culturally and universally.

So, you can see why one of the keys to happiness is to heed Ellen DeGeneres’ advice and be kind to one another.

6. Smile or laugh out loud to be happy

We all know the wonders a good laugh can do. It makes us feel happy, it relaxes us, and it even bonds us with friends. This isn’t just something we feel, but it’s actually been proven in a study. When looking at people who were genuinely laughing and then at people who forced a laugh, those who were really laughing actually improved their mood, while those who were faking decreased.

So, try to laugh…but don’t fake it! Think about good things and things that make you happy: holidays on a deserted island, think about your child or someone you love, about something funny that happened to you…

7. Surround yourself with positive people

They say that you can catch everything but beauty, which I’m not sure is actually true (you can’t actually catch everything…), because when you’re surrounded by happy, positive people, it rubs off a little on everyone around. The same goes for sadness. Have you ever felt exhausted and kind of angry after spending the day with a negative person? Have you noticed how some people seem to suck the energy out of you?

Well, it seems like science agrees with us. In a study conducted by Framingham Heart Study, 5,000 people were followed for 20 years. Over this time, they saw that their happiness actually depended quite a bit on the happiness of the people around them.

Stay away from toxic people and work to create a network of happy, positive people to share your time with.

There you have it! The steps are simple enough, but learning to follow them takes a lifetime. Work everyday on improving one aspect of your life- help someone everyday, try to really laugh, and surround yourself with positive, loving people.

13 Superfoods For Your Brain

Eating in some cultures is very important. It is a time when friends and family gather and enjoy a meal together. The Spanish even have a special word, sobremesa, to describe the time spent together after finishing the meal and talking with one another. Experts claim that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world, and thanks to a global market, we’re able to get a taste of this diet from around the world.

We all know how important it is to eat well, both for our physical and mental health. I don’t think I would be wrong in claiming that in the last couple years, there has been a surge in the amount of attention given to “brain foods”, the foods that help our brain work smoothly and at top level. The brain is like an orchestra. It has to be coordinated to work properly, and in order to be well-coordinated, we have to give it the proper nutrition. Our brain needs a ton of different nutrients that give it energy to do all of the many different tasks that it has to handle everyday.

We know that we want to give our brain the food it wants, but where can we start? Do apples make us smarter? Maybe onions keep our brain happy? What’s the deal with tomatoes? We’ll try to take away some of the mystery (and help you plan your grocery trip) below with some superfoods for your brain.

Get a delicious quinoa salad recipe here.

13 Superfoods For Your Brain

Whole-grain foods

When you can, choose the whole grain option. Whether it’s rice, pasta, quinoa, bread, or wheat, choose whole-grain. The brain, like we mentioned earlier, needs a lot of energy to be able to pay attention and concentrate all day long. Normal white bread or pasta, while undeniably delicious, releases glucose soon after eating, which means that all of the energy that you consumed is either not used, or not used efficiently. Whole-grains, however, release the glucose slowly, helping us stay alert and focused longer.

Fish

Oily fish, like salmon, tuna, sardines, and anchovies, along with seafood are rich in Omega 3 (specifically DAH), which helps protect our brains from cognitive decline and have been shown to improve memory and concentration. In fact, some studies have shown that low levels of DAH are related to Alzheimer’s Disease and memory loss.

Check out Bon-Appetit‘s recipes for easy weeknight fish dishes

Blueberries

This small blue fruit is considered a super-fruit by nutritionists and natural therapy-lovers alike, and now science has stepped in and jumped on the band wagon. Blueberries are one of the fruits that contain the highest amount of antioxidants (they’re what help our body get rid of free radicals that build up in our brain and cause aging and cell death), which helps our brain stay young and health. Some studies, like the one conducted at Tufts University in Boston showed that a blueberry-rich diet improved memory loss and reverted loss of balance and coordination in elderly rats, which helped rejuvenate their brain.

Try this delicious blueberry smoothie recipe

Nuts

Nuts sometimes get a bad wrap. It’s true, they have quite a bit of fat, but they’re also packed with vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. While maybe we don’t need to eat a Costco sized container in one sitting, we should try to make nuts part of our daily diet. Among the vitamins that many nuts provide, complex B vitamins are especially important for keeping our brain running well. Vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid (B9) improve oxygenation, which helps transport nutrients to cells and decreases homocysteine in the blood. High levels of this aminoacid are related to cognitive deterioration and Alzheimer’s Disease. Nuts also have a ton of vitamin E, which helps prevent cognitive decline in the elderly.

So, you know what do to. Grab a handful of nuts and sprinkle them on top of some of your favorite foods: oatmeal, salads, or just right out of the package. You’ll get some great vitamin E and B which will help prevent cognitive decline.

Mix up your nuts with this great spiced nuts recipe!

Broccoli

Broccoli is one of the richest foods in vitamin K, a super vitamin that improves memory and cognitive ability in general, as well as helping with the learning process. Other greens like kale or Brussels sprouts are also rich in vitamin K.

You can cook broccoli in a few different ways. Try making a soup, saute them, add them to a stir fry, steam them, or even eat them raw!

Take your pick of any of these amazing broccoli recipes

Avocado

A personal favorite. Avocado is the perfect final piece to any great dish… I put it on soups, salads, sandwiches, rice…It fits in well anywhere and it’s got a ton of vitamins to keep our brains working well. Guacamole, for example, is rich in vitamin E and omega 3, and some even say that its antioxidant powers are similar to those of the magnificent blueberry. The avocado’s downside comes from its notorious fat and calorie levels. Yes, we need to watch out for the calories, but it contains monosaturated fats which actually help blood circulation, lower blood pressure, and help with hypertension (which is a risk factor for cognitive decline).

Maybe you don’t have to eat quite as many avocados as me, but half an avocado a day won’t hurt you and can be great for brain health.

Give any of these creamy avocado recipes a try!

Go Tropical

Beta-Carotene or pro-vitamin A is one of the best vitamins for improving memory and protecting our neurons. We can find pro-vitamin A in fruits like mango and papaya, but also is orange vegetables like carrots and pumpkins. Now is a great time to go tropical! Make some delicious mango smoothies, or cut some up and put it on top of a fresh salad. It’ll give it some color and will provide you with important nutrients that your body and brain need.

Check out any of these mouth-watering mango recipes

Chocolate

There are (luckily) multiple benefits to eating chocolate. Chocolate can help improve memory and heart function. Cacao is rich in flavonoids, a powerful antioxidant that keeps our cells from maturing aging prematurely. It also naturally contains caffeine which helps improve concentration and stimulates the production of endorphins which makes us happy :).

So, does this mean you can eat chocolate like there’s no tomorrow? I’m sorry, but not quite. Even though it has multiple beneficial properties, experts advise that you eat it in moderation. You can get all the beneficial effects by eating just one ounce of chocolate a day, so no need to fill up on it. Just remember: it has to be dark chocolate, not white or milk chocolate.

I don’t think you need a recipe to eat chocolate…

Green Tea

Eastern cultures have been enjoying green tea for hundreds of years. It’s recently been proven to be a superfood..er, drink. It is beneficial for multiple different organs and systems in the body. Focusing on brain health, green tea is a super powerful antioxidant, which a lot of catechins and isoflavones that help prevent cardiac and cerebrovascular problems, as well as Alzheimer’s disease.

Some studies have said that catechins help to reduce amyloid protein levels, which is what is responsible for cell death in Alzheimer’s. It is also related to an improve state of alertness (increases concentration and makes mental processes easier), and memory.

Check out this recipe to spruce up your average green tea with a citrus mint tea recipe!

Chia Seeds

These nutty flavored little seeds pack a whole lot of nutrients. Originating in Central America, it has recently be converted into a crowning jewel of superfoods. It has high amounts of vitamins and minerals, and is also one of the best sources of vegetable Omega 3, which helps brain function and neuron health, and prevents aging. You can put them in a glass of water with lemon (antioxidant and detox), or put a spoonful in oatmeal on on top of a salad. There are a ton of recipes to use with chia seeds. What’s your favorite?

Get some ideas for your chia seeds here.

Pumpkin

We usually think that pumpkin is used for 2 things: Halloween or pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. But pumpkin really is one of those foods that you just can’t do without. You can make cream of pumpkin, bake it like squash, or add it to any of your favorite sautes. Pumpkin is a powerful antioxidant and is rich in folic acids. It’ll keep you sharp, improve processing speed, and help improve memory.

Try any of these delicious pumpkin recipes, perfect for fall!

Tomato

Lycopene (a powerful antioxidant) is what makes tomatoes so good for our brains. Multiple studies have shown how lycopene is an ally against cerebrovascular diseases and strokes, it specifically reduced the risk of hemorrhagic strokes and brain damage. You can eat it raw, or cooked, in salsas or soups or as a garnish. It’s fresh and perfect for the summer!

Check out my personal favorite tomato soup recipe here

Olive Oil

Last, but certainly not least, we have olive oil. Our Mediterranean neighbors believe it a liquid from the gods, and they’re not entirely wrong. Olive oil is an antioxidant that protects our brain from free radicals. It is also great for heart health and blood circulation, which allows the brain to get all of the nutrients and energy that it needs to function. Keep in mind that there are different types of olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed, meaning it carries the most benefits.

Now that we have our basket full of yummy, healthy foods, it’s time to try new recipes! As you can see, there are a ton of different foods that help keep our brain healthy and strong, and there are a ton more that we didn’t include on this list. What are your favorites?

11 Tips For Developing Emotional Intelligence In Your Kids

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and control our emotions. It allows us to interpret our own feelings, as well as the feelings of those around us. It’s important to learn how to use emotional intelligence from a young age, so we can interact with others with confidence, and be comfortable with ourselves. To help your kids develop and improve emotional intelligence, we’re going to give you a list of 11 tips to help your child develop their emotional intelligence.

Tips for developing emotional intelligence in your kids

Tips for developing emotional intelligence

1. Help them express their emotions

Many times, children don’t know how to control their emotions and they end up lashing out and yelling. It’s important that we teach them other ways to express their emotions, and that it is better to talk things through than to throw a tantrum.

Help them learn how to better express themselves. Maybe have them write in a journal, sing a song, hit a pillow, or draw. If they’re able to express their emotions, they’ll have a better possibility of understanding other people’s emotions.

2. Show them how to set goals

Help your children make their own goals and teach them to be responsible to be able to reach them.

3. Cultivate empathy

Doing this requires lots of questions on your part. Make them think about other people’s feelings. Ask them things like “why do you think your sister is sad?” or, “Do you think this would make mom happy?”

4. Develop good communication

It’s important to teach children to express themselves and ask when they don’t understand something. Learning to talk about things is a basic pillar in childhood education.

5. Control their anger

Children need love and affection until they reach 18 months. This will give them a sense of safety and help them adapt to their environment, control themselves and their fears. You should know, however, that after 6 months they will start developing emotions like rage, which is why it is so important to teach them to control their actions and correct their bad behavior. It is important to establish limits and talk to your child about how to control their anger.

6. Teach them how to recognize their emotions

Children start to interact more openly when they’re about 2 years old. This is when it becomes really important that they are able to recognize basic emotions, like happiness and anger. To do this, you can show them pictures or drawings of faces, and ask them to identify what emotions each face is showing. This will improve their empathy and help them relate to others.

7. Teach them how to listen

Make your children learn to listen without interrupting when others are talking. Teach them active listening, talking to them calmly and asking them if they understood what you said.

8. Show them secondary actions

Once a child reaches 10, they start to experience secondary emotions, like embarrassment and love. You need to be open and talk about these things to keep an open relationship between parents and children.

9. Try to keep the dialogue democratic

You have to teach your children to suck it up and admit when someone else was right. Learning how to get along with others is very important for both family and adult lives.

10. Try to get them interested in other people

Get them to think about other people and what they may be feeling. Try to make them interested in their family members so that they will learn how to be empathetic.

11. Make sure they are comfortable expressing their emotions

You have to make sure that the children know they can talk about their feelings and what’s bothering them. This will help them do better in school and excel in their adult life.

Keeping Your Brain Healthy And Young

Did you know the Milky Way has about 100 billion stars? That sounds like a lot, right? Well, in our brain alone, we have as many nerve cells as the Milky Way has stars. In other words, a lot. With time, these cells start disappearing, but there are ways to keep them young and keep them from aging prematurely. Let me tell you how to keep your brain healthy and young.

keep your brain healthy

Healthy habits to keep your brain healthy

-Eating nutritious foods: Try to avoid processed foods, and eat foods that are high in proteins, carbohydrates, and fats so that your brain has enough energy to make it through the day.

To make sure you’re getting enough healthy fats, try cooking with olive or coconut oil. You can also try to eat more omega 3, which you can find in fish and nuts.

You should also make sure to eat enough foods rich in vitamins B and E, like leafy greens and lean meats. Eating enough fruits and vegetables is also important for your brain health. Try to get a variety of bananas, kiwi, and plums, as they contain antioxidants and help prevent cellular damage.

Lastly, drink more water! Your brain is made up of 85% water, which is why it’s so important to stay hydrated.

-Exercise: Our health starts declining when we’re 25. Yes, twenty-five. Exercising is a great way to stay young and oxygenate our brain. It improves blood blow and helps our body make new branches of neurons.

-Keep good sleep habits: Resting is so important to keep our bodies from aging prematurely. Try to go to bed around the same time every night and get about 7 or 8 ours of sleep a night. It’ll help keep your brain refreshed and ready to take on the next day.

Brain exercises to keep your brain healthy

-Some past times may be good brain exercises, like Sudoku, word searches, or crossword puzzles.

-Memorize letter sequences, images, or numbers. Memory exercises will also help keep your brain young.

-Solve brain teasers and math problems. There are a ton of brain teasers and brain training games on the Internet. Take a look for yourself!

-Read a good book: Reading is a great way to keep your brain alert and exercise it with new ideas and points of view.

-Learn new skills: If you’re constantly learning new things, your brain will adapt and work better.

-Be social! I know it’s nice to stay in and watch TV sometimes, but make sure you get out and interact with other people, whether you get coffee with friends or join a class at the gym. Being with other people and keeping a steady conversation seems easy, but your brain is working to think and come up with an answer, it has to organize your thoughts, and works to imagine new perspectives and different ways to see things.

If you’re able to follow all of these tips, you’ll probably have a healthy brain for many years. It’s important to constantly challenge your brain. Learn something new, go to a place you’ve always wanted to go, learn a new language, play chess, complete a crossword, play brain games online… there are a ton of fun ways to challenge your brain and keep it young and healthy!

Exercise and the Brain: Does Running Longer Mean Better Brain Health?

A recent article from The New York Times brings up a question that many of us have been asking ourselves for years. What kind of exercise is really best for my brain? With the introduction of new fitness routines, namely high-intensity interval training (HIIT), more and more people have been shying away from traditional cardiovascular exercises like running and cycling to HIIT exercises, which involve short intervals of sprints or heavy lifting. So, when it comes to exercise and the brain, which is more beneficial?

A study carried out by the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland and published in the Journal of Physiology brings a new meaning to the term “gym rat”. By injecting rats with a substance that allowed scientists to track the neuroregeneration, or creation of new neurons in the hippocampus of the brain, they were able to accurately see the changes that different exercises have on the brain. The study used four different groups of rats- a control group (sedentary), a running group, a weight-lifting group, and a HIIT group.

Exercise and the Brain:

The Study- Exercise and the Brain

Over the course of seven weeks, each of the groups were given exercises to do. The running group had treadmills and running wheels to jog on, and ran up to a few miles a day. The weight lifting group had weights tied to their tails and climbed up walls. Finally, the high intensity interval training group was made to run sprints for a certain period of time, recover, and continue with a sprint, repeating this process for 15 minutes at a time. The neurogenesis of each of the groups was tracked to find which one had the most positive change in their hippocampal tissue.

After the course of the study, the running group had a noticeable increase in brain-derrived neurotrophic factor, a substance that regulates neurogenesis. Even more, the further that the rat ran, the more new neurons its brain had. This shows that there is a direct correlation between the amount of distance they ran and the amount of new neurons they generated.

The animals that followed a regimen of high intensity interval training, while showing significantly less neurogeneration than the runners, still increased neurons much more than the sedentary control group.

The final group, the real gym rats that practiced a weight training program, showed no neurogenesis. While they were clearly working out and improving other parts of their body, their hippocampal tissue looked like the control group that had not exercised at all.

What’s the Take Away?

This study answers some interesting questions and brings up even more. Does this mean that Crossfit is bad for you, or that your weight-loss regimen could be damaging your brain health? Not at all. Keeping an active lifestyle, especially as we age, is very important. This active lifestyle doesn’t only extend to physical health, but to mental health as well. Neurogeneration keeps our brains fit. It helps prevent many of the memory problems that come with aging and keeps our entire body working well.

So, you don’t have to give up your weight-lifting, but think about adding some running or long-distance endurance training into your weekly routine.

What is Love: Falling in Love Causes Changes in Our Brain

What is Love

Since the beginning of time, poets have asked themselves what is love, believing this feeling to originate in the heart. Science, however, proves otherwise. Love doesn’t come from the heart, but from the brain. The question for years was where exactly love is located in the brain. A group of scientists from the University of Concordia in Canada have discovered that this feeling comes from an area very close to the part of the brain that controls sexual desire.

Scientists have come to this conclusion by alternating between erotic images and the pictures of the subject’s loved one. Through this, they found out that sexual desire and love activate adjacent brain areas, but while sex activates the areas related to immediate pleasure, love was related to conditioning, which is a process related to rewards. We see love as a reward, something with added value, that transforms desire into something more.

Love also activates the areas of the brain that are related to monogamy. Jim Pfaus, one of the scientists of the study, says: “While sexual desire has a specific goal, love is more abstract and more complex, and it doesn’t depends so much on the physical presence of the person who they love”. Pfaus adds that love isn’t harmful, but it does cause an addiction in our brain.

What love does to our brains

Now that we know what the origin of this romantic feeling is, a team of Chinese and American neurologists have proposed discovering the way that love alters our brain structure. Although it seems untrue, those who say love makes us do silly things are wrong.

The journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience published that people who are in love have a better connection in the areas of the brain related to motivation, reward, social cognition, and mood regulation. Hongwen Song, the main author of the study, says that “the study proposes the first empirical evidence of alterations related to love in the functional architecture of the brain”.

To get these results, researchers used MRIs to analyze the connectivity patterns of 100 different students that were divided into three groups: single, in love, and those who were in love but aren’t anymore.

In the group of those who are in love, there was an increase in brain activity in the area located in the left hemisphere, which is known as the anterior cingulate cortex. This makes us think that the anterior cingulate cortex is related to how we feel when we fall in love.

On the other hand, the area of the brain related to reward, expectations, and goal planning was less active than the group of people who were no longer in love. The “lovebirds”, however, had a stronger connection between the anterior cingulate cortex and other parts of the brain related to motivation and reward.

According to experts, this increase in connectivity “may be the result of the frequent efforts (of the people in love) to control their own emotional state, as well as the emotional state of their partner”. The group of those in love also presented a stronger connection related to social cognition than other parts of the brain. The researchers conclude: “These results bring light to the underlying neurophysiological mechanisms of romantic love though the investigation of brain activity”.

Concussion movie brings awareness to traumatic brain injuries in sports

brain injuries in sports

Concussion movie brings awareness to traumatic brain injuries in sports. Do you think the movie will change the way America view football?