Tag Archives: brain health

Photographic Memory: What is this Interesting Phenomenon, How Does it Work, and is it Even Real?

Is having a photographic memory real? A photographic memory is usually used to describe when someone has the remarkable ability to recall visual information in great detail. Pop culture today portrays geniuses as those with photographic memories, but do our brains actually hold onto memories with inner photos or videos? Many times, television sitcoms, movies, and novels show a “genius” character as one who can look at a page in a book for two minutes and then repeat verbatim what was written. Are there actual people in the world today who can do this too? Read more to discover if a photographic memory is real!

Is photographic memory real?

Is Photographic Memory Real?

Photographic memory, also known as eidetic imagery in the neuroscience world, is the ability to remember an unlimited amount of visual information in great detail. Just like a camera can freeze a moment in time in the form of a photograph, someone with a photographic memory is supposed to be able to take mental snapshots and then later recall these snapshots without error.

However, according to the University of Chicago, San Diego Professor Larry Squire, who specializes in Psychiatry, Neuroscience, and Psychology, the brain simply does not work this way. In Professor Squire’s lab, he has asked people who think they have photographic memories to read two or three lines of text and then report the text in reverse order. The notion is that if memory works like a photograph, then these people should be able to accomplish the task with ease. However, none of the participants could do this successfully.

For Professor Squire, “Memory is more like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle than a photograph. To recollect a past event, we piece together various remembered elements and typically forget parts of what happened (examples: the color of the wall, the picture in the background, the exact words that were said)…We are good at remembering the gist of what happened and less good at remembering (photographically) all the elements of a past scene.” And this works to our advantage as our brains sift through what is important for us to remember and holds onto it while throwing away the superfluous, unneeded details.

To show that photographic memory is non-existent among most people, cognitive psychologist Adriaan de Groot did an experiment with expert chess players to test their memory functioning. The players were first shown a chessboard with pieces on it for a brief period (about 15 seconds) and then asked to reconstruct what they had seen on a new chessboard.

The expert chess players succeeded at this task with higher efficiency than novice players. De Groot hypothesized that the experts had developed an enhanced ability to memorize visual information. However, in another experiment, the expert chess players were asked to do the same thing, but this time, they were shown boards with pieces arranged in ways that would never occur in a game of chess. Not only did their ability to remember the positions go down, but it dropped to the level of the novice players. De Groot concluded from this experiment that the original, enhanced performance of the chess players at remembering the positions came from their ability to mentally organize the information they had observed, not from any ability to “photograph” the visual scene.

How to Explain Cases of Photographic Memory

Is photographic memory real?

There have been a few well-documented cases of such remarkable photographic recall, such as “S,” the subject of Alexander Luria’s book, The Mind of a Mnemonist, who could memorize anything from the books on Luria’s office shelves to complex math formulas. Luria also documents a woman named “Elizabeth,” who could mentally project images composed of thousands of tiny dots onto a black canvas. Both also had the ability to reproduce poetry in languages they could not understand years after seeing it written. This type of recall seems to be correlated with the phenomenon of flashbulb memory, where, in highly emotional situations, people tend to remember events so vividly that the memories take on a photographic quality. Until recently, such memories were thought to be permanent, always strong in quality. However, recent studies have indicated that over time, people’s memories of such events will inevitably fade away.

However, it should be kept in mind that people vary in their ability to remember the past. In the article How to Improve Your Short-Term Memory: Study Tips to Remember Everything, we go over how pieces of information go through series of stages before they are retained in your long-term memory: first, the information is sent as a sensory input to your visual system, then it is received by the visual cortex, then it is processed by your short-term memory, and finally, it is stored in your long-term memory.

How well we remember things largely depends on how well we pay attention when information is presented to us. Also, the extent to which we replay material in our minds and connect it to what we already know affects our memory as well.

Since there are only isolated examples of people with eidetic memory throughout the study of neuroscience, many have concluded that there isn’t any explanation for how this phenomenon works neurologically. It is thought that for the rare cases of people with photographic memories, visual information gets stored as an actual image in the sensory input/reception stage. Since photographic memory involves seeing visual images, it must be on the very basic sensory level that eidetic memory functions.

The Neuroscience Behind Photographic Memory

Neuroscience researchers hypothesize that photographic memory involves something in the brain being wired incorrectly in patients like “S” and “Elizabeth” that has caused sensory stimuli to last in the memory for longer durations than most people. Memory is thought to be facilitated by changes at the neuronal level due to long-term potentiation. This means that over time, the synapses that work to hold onto our memories are strengthened through repeated usage, producing long-term memories. Normally, this induction takes many rounds of stimulation to start working so our brain can hold onto memories for long periods of time (which could be a reason why we don’t remember many events of our childhood and why we have virtually no recollection of the first two years of our lives).

Neuroscientists assume that people with photographic memories have a genetic mutation that lowers their threshold for long-term potentiation to hold onto memories. This then results in more visual images being stored as sensory memories and then long-term memories in the brain. Multiple stimulations do not seem to be necessary to retain the visual images; rather, one brief presentation of a stimulus would be sufficient.

Future Research on Photographic Memory

So, is photographic memory real? Photographic memory may be so rare that it appears to be almost fictional because it could be the result of an uncommon genetic mutation or an unlikely combination of environmental and genetic factors. Advancing the study of photographic memory requires scientists to find more subjects with unusual memory abilities. One recent case is that of “AJ,” a woman who seems to remember every detail about even the most trivial events during her lifetime. Neurological testing may yield a greater understanding of the location of memory in the brain and what causes such clear and detailed memories to form. With neuroscience technology increasing and the hope that more people with exceptional memories will come forward, it is possible that more research can be done to answer interesting questions about photographic memory.

Do you have any questions or comments? Leave me a message below! 🙂

Brain Gym: 16 Activities That Will Help Your Brain Stay Younger

Brain Gym for a healthy mind. A few years ago, we started to learn about the importance of training our brains. Today we know that in order to enjoy life to the fullest, our brain needs to be in shape as well. Find out the 16 brain gym exercises that will help your brain health.

Life expectancy has risen, and as we age, our brain starts deteriorating. A few good habits can help slow down cognitive aging and help keep the human brain in shape. In this article, we’ll talk to you about different brain gym strategies that will help you build new neural connections and boost your cognitive reserve. Lifestyle and our habits play an important role in the physical changes that our brains undergo. The sooner you start training your brain, the longer it will stay in shape. Sign up for your brain gym!

CogniFit Cognitive Brain Training adapts to your specific cognitive needs. Train your cognitive skills with this popular tool.

Is it really possible to improve a specific cognitive skill by training with a brain gym routine? Sometimes you may find yourself wondering if a brain gym routine will actually make it possible to improve our memory, planning, spatial orientation, processing speed, reasoning, creativity, etc. While there isn’t any magic recipe to keep cognitive aging at bay, you can start some exercises to slow it down and improve cognitive reserve. Take your brain seriously and try some of the brain gym exercises that we have below.

Brain Gym can your brain plasticity. The brain has the amazing ability to adapt and change depending on our experiences. Brain plasticity is what makes this adaptation easy, and is what allows us to help mold and adapt our brains to different circumstances or surroundings.

There is one notable type of brain plasticity, called functional compensatory plasticity, that causes a small group of elderly people to achieve almost the same amount or higher cognitive activity than their younger counterparts, despite their age. If we think of the average aging individual, we can expect their cognition to slowly decline as they age. However, in the case of functional compensatory plasticity, the brain actually compensates for the lack of cognitive activity, ultimately activating more brain parts than others of their own age or supposed cognitive state.

Brain gyms help the brain adapt, which we have shown is an essential part to brain health, especially as we age. Changing some simple habits and practicing mentally stimulating activities can help keep the brain active which makes it easier for the brain to create neurons and connections. Take a look at our suggestions and put them into action.

Brain Gym: 10 ways to keep your brain sharp

Exercising these powerful cognitive skills helps regenerate neural connections. Brain gyms can help slow down cognitive decline, which can delay the effects of neurodegenerative effects.

1. Brain gym while you Travel

Travelling stimulates our brains, exposes to new cultures and languages, and helps us learn about the history of a new place. According to a study, having contact with different cultures gives us the ability to learn about different cultures, which helps improve creativity and has important cognitive benefits.

Brain Gym: If you have the resources to travel, do it! Visit new places, emerge yourself in the culture, and learn from the natives. If you can’t travel, make an effort to surround yourself with different cultures and people, and visit new places right in your own city.

2. Brain gym while you Listen to music

Listening to music can be a great activity because music is a powerful stimulus for our brains. Certain studies have shown how listening to music activates the transmission of information between neurons, our ability to learn, and our memory. Listening to music can also slow neurodegenerative processes (this effect was only present in those who were familiar with music).

Listening to music can also positively affect our mood and activate almost all of our brain, which makes it a great way to stimulate the brain.

Brain Gym: You can add music to so many parts of your day. Turn on the radio when you’re cooking or driving in the car. Play your favorite “cardio” or “pump-up” playlist when you’re at the gym… and remember, it’s never too late to learn how to play an instrument! There are tons of video tutorials on YouTube that can help you get started.

3. Brain gym while enjoying nature

The best gym is being in nature. It helps us disconnect from our daily routines and obligations, and reduces stress and anxiety. According to this study, being in nature, whether it be out at a park or seeing trees from the window, helps reduce attentional fatigue. Living in areas with gardens or trees improves attention and inhibits our impulses. Being in nature also gets us moving and helps us increase the amount of physical exercise we do.

Brain Gym: Being in nature is good for our health and well-being. You don’t need to go live in the countryside to get these benefits- talking away in green areas, or even hanging some pictures of nature, can give us some of these benefits. Try to get away on the weekend and go to the mountain or beach. Find a great hiking route and make it a weekend activity. You’ll get some exercise and it’s a great brain gym!

4. Write things by hand and train your brain

Take handwritten notes rather than typing on a computer or tablet. Writing by hand is a brain gym exercise because it helps boost memory and learning, according to this study. Writing also helps us process and integrate learned information.

Brain Gym: Leave your laptop at home and get yourself a notebook. You can also think about getting a tablet that allows you to write and later turns your words into text.

5. Brain gym: Physical exercise

According to many studies like this one, doing and enjoying exercise created new neurons within our brain, improves learning, cognitive performance, and boosts neuroplasticity. A recent study established that starting physical exercise when there are already signs of dementia might not be that a beneficiary as starting while being completely healthy. Therefore, you should start exercising as soon as possible.

Brain Gym: According to studies, aerobic exercise is the best for us. Get out and run, dance, swim, skate, or even just walk around. Getting started can be difficult, but just think about the pay-off!

Brain gym and exercise

6. Brain gym: Keep your work area clean and organized

A recent study has shown that doing work that doesn’t challenge your brain, as well as working in an untidy environment, can actually cause damage to your brain health in the long-run.

Brain Gym: A clean work environment makes us feel calm, which allows our brain to work better. Throw out papers and things that you don’t need. Clean up your desk and the space around you.

7. Learn a language and exercise your brain

According to a study, speaking two or more languages helps protect from cognitive deterioration. The study discovered that bilingual people had a higher IQ and received higher points in the cognitive tests compared to others in their age group. This can happen even after learning a language as an adult.

Brain Gym: Sign up for a class in French or Spanish or Portuguese or any other language you’ve ever thought about learning! Try to watch movies in their original languages (with or without subtitles), you’ll start to pick up the sounds and your brain will get a great workout. Today, we have access to great resources online, all it takes is a little searching!

8. Brain gym: Sleep

According to a study, sleeping too much or too little is associated with cognitive aging. As an adult, it has been shown that less than 6 or more than 8 hours of sleep leads to worse cognitive scores as a consequence of premature aging in the brain.

The right amount of sleep is vital for the proper function of our bodies, as well as our well-being. Both sleeping too little and sleeping too much can have negative effects on cognitive performance, response time, recognizing errors, and attention.

Brain Gym: Try to keep an adequate sleep schedule by creating a routine. Try to go to sleep and wake up everyday at the same time. If your one of those people who tends to sleep too little, try going to bed a little earlier over time. Put your phone, TV, computer, etc. away at least 30 minutes before bedtime to reduce any symptoms of technological insomnia. Make sure your room is a comfortable temperature, there’s not too much light or sound coming in, and that your room is clean and ready to be slept in. Doing this can even help you become a morning person!

9. Brain Gym: Read

People who don’t read a lot have been shown to have lower cognitive performance compared to avid readers, according to a study. Those who don’t read often receive lower scores in processing speed, attention, language, and abstract processing.

According to researchers, this low performance in subjects who read little affects their brain’s ability to adapt after suffering from brain damage. More highly educated people use their brain’s resources to compensate for the cognitive deterioration due to aging. In others words, they have a higher level of functional compensatory plasticity, as we mentioned before. This can be applied the same was for people who read often.

Brain Gym: If you like to read, you’ve got it pretty easy. If you don’t like reading and it doesn’t appeal to do, don’t worry! There are tons of different genres to try out. You’ll find that some things are easier to read, like graphic novels. You can read magazines, newspapers, etc. about anything you like, and you’ll still get all the benefits of reading. It’s just a matter of keeping your brain active.

10. Brain gym: Practice yoga and meditation

Meditation can have long-term changes in your brain, according to this study. People who have been meditating for years have more gyri in the (ridges in the brain that are used in quickly processing information). This is also another proof of neuroplasticity, as our brain can adapt and change depending on our experiences.

According to another study, practicing yoga for 20 minutes improves speed and precision in working memory and inhibitory control (the ability to inhibit behavior when it’s necessary) tests. These measurements are associated with the ability to pay attention, and hold on to and use new information.

Yoga and meditation help us use our mental resources more efficiently, and helps us reduce stress and anxiety, which improves our performance.

Brain Gym: Meditation and yoga are “in” right now, so it shouldn’t be hard to find classes and get started. If you don’t want to go to a class, there are tons of instructors on YouTube to show you how to meditate and do yoga, without having to leave the house.

11. Brain gym: Eat well and avoid drugs

What we eat affects our brains. Eating well helps keep our brains young and prevents cognitive decline. We already know that there are “superfoods” can work together to help keep our bodies healthy. However, a diet of varied fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, and few processed foods, can also greatly improve our overall health. A healthy diet doesn’t only help prevent a large number of diseases caused by diet, but it also helps slow down physical and cognitive aging. Brain Gym comes also from the consumption of different nutrients. Watch below to discover how food affects your brain.

Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs all contribute to an increased risk of suffering from different types of diseases and contributes to premature aging.

Brain Gym: If you want to learn how to eat well, you should talk to a nutritionist or doctor who can best guide you to the best diet for you. Don’t trust “miracle diets”, they don’t work and can be dangerous for your health. Choose fruits and vegetables over sweets and whole grains over white bread. Keep an eye on how much sugar and fat your eating, and cut out as much alcohol as possible. It can be hard to get started, but ask for stop smoking tips if you need it!

12. Brain Gym: Control your stress levels!

Take care of your mental health! Mental health issues and constantly thinking negatively affects our overall well-being. However, this study has shown that it also affects our brain in the long-term. Having suffered from depression or anxiety disorders increases the risk of having dementia.

Brain Gym: Control your stress levels with some relaxation techniques. Listening to relaxing music helps relieve stress, and practicing yoga or meditation can also help keep stress at bay. If you’re not sure if you have a mental health issue, get in touch with a mental health specialist.

13. Brain Gym: Try new things

New studies have shown that immersing yourself in new hobbies that require some kind of mental challenge helps improve and maintain cognitive function and can help prevent cognitive deterioration.

Brain Gym: Take the time to try to learn new things. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at them or not! The important thing is that you have fun and you challenge your brain. Try learning how to play chess, how to sew, take on a DIY project, draw, write, learn how to play an instrument, etc.

14. Brain Gym: Spend time with your family and friends

Social relationships stimulate our brains, which helps keep it active and younger for longer. Socializing also helps reduce stress and improves our mood, which helps with our overall mental health.

Brain Gym: Spend more time with your loved ones (especially those who transmit positivity), meet new people, make new groups of friends, etc.

15. Brain Gym: Use your brain whenever you can

“Use it or lose it”, kind of. The best way to make sure your brain keeps working the best that it can is to constantly use and challenge it. We have access to new technology, which makes our lives easier, but it also makes our brain lazy. Before, we had to make an effort to learn and remember something. Now, many tasks have become computerized, which makes our brains go on autopilot. Try to give your brain the chance to work before reaching for the calculator or the GPS or Google.

Brain Gym: Try to solve math problems without a calculator, limit how often you use your GPS, and try to remember information on your own.

Memorize a list of words. For example, try to memorize your grocery list before leaving the house and time how long it takes you to remember it.

In the following video, you’ll see how you can help your brain work well and stay young. We can help our brains create new neurons, even as adults. Sandrine Thuret explains how we can help create new neurons.

This post was originally written in Spanish by CogniFit psychologist Andrea Garcia Cerdan

Not Sure If You Should Take The Leap? Cognitive Benefits of Learning Foreign Languages

We may not look back on our foreign language classes at school with much fondness.However, after reading about the following benefits of learning foreign languages, we may all be searching for our Spanish or French class notes.

Learning a foreign language can be difficult. The older you are, the more challenging it can be. Nevertheless, learning a new language can have a range of cognitive, health and cultural benefits.

Cognitive Benefits of Learning Foreign Languages

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Beneficial for traveling, learning and communicating

Learning a foreign language means you can explore a whole new culture, country, or continent through the native tongue. Learning a foreign language also allows us to communicate with individuals who do not speak our mother tongue.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Stay young and stave off disease

Research has found that bilingualism can help counteract cognitive decline. In fact, it was noted that bilingual older adults had better memory than monolingual older adults. Furthermore, there has been links between bilingualism and Alzheimer’s, showing the correlation to speaking more than one language and preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, Evy Woumans and colleagues have found that in older adults diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the rate of progression is slower in bilingual patients compared to monolingual patients.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Be more creative

A review into the cognitive correlates of bilingualism, by Olusola Adesope and colleagues found that bilingualism has been associated with enhanced creativity and abstract thinking. Essentially, being proficient in a foreign language can make you more creative and can help you think outside the box.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Improved problem-solving skills

Bilinguals tend to have better problem-solving skills than monolinguals. In addition, bilinguals tend to perform better on tasks like the Stroop test, which requires an element of conflict management. Being fluent in a foreign language has been linked to enhanced inhibitory control ability. This means that bilinguals are better at ignoring information that interferes with their ability to complete a task. The message here seems to be that learning a foreign language can help us to solve problems faster and help us to ignore irrelevant information.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Better cognitive control

Researchers Viorica Marion and Anthony Shook tested bilinguals in experiments of task switching. Participants were required to switch between sorting objects based on colour and by shape. Compared to monolinguals, bilinguals displayed high levels of cognitive control. They find it easier to switch between tasks compared to monolinguals. Essentially, learning a foreign language may improve our task switching ability. Researchers propose enhanced cognitive control is due to the ability to balance two languages. Bilingual language processing networks for both languages are active at the same time. As both languages are activated, the individual responds in the correct language by learning to inhibit one language over the other. By doing this, bilinguals improve their inhibitory control mechanism, to the point where when processing language, the process of inhibiting the language that isn’t needed at a particular time becomes second nature. Wondering how you can train your brain and cognitive skills? Try some fun brain games!

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Changes brain structure

Bilingualism has been found to increase neuroplasticity. Researcher Rosanna Olsen and colleagues investigated structural brain differences in monolinguals and bilinguals using fMRI. Scans revealed that bilinguals display increased activation in the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC plays an important role in tasks which require control). This part of the brain is associated with attention and inhibition. The researchers found that the hippocampus and the left superior temporal gyrus are more malleable in bilinguals (The hippocampus is associated with memory and the superior temporal gyrus is associated with sound processing). Furthermore, these structures as well as the frontal lobe are thicker in bilingual individuals (The frontal lobes are associated with executive functions such as problem solving and executive control-need some exercises to improve executive functions?). Increased volumes of white matter have been noted in frontal and temporal lobes. According to researcher Christos Pilatsikas and colleagues, when learning a second language age doesn’t matter, as adults who have learnt a foreign language have shown increase white matter. Being proficient in a foreign language can improve connections of brain regions that control our memory, executive functioning, attention and inhibition processes.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Improves attention and attention control

Studies have shown that on tasks of attention control, bilinguals tend to perform better than monolinguals. Also bilinguals tend to have a higher attention capacity. Bilinguals are better at filtering out unwanted information and find it easier to focus on more relevant information.

Improves ability to process information– Benefits of learning foreign languages

Being bilingual can benefit sensory and information processing. Jennifer Krizman and colleagues present participants with target sounds embedded in background noise. Compared to monolinguals, bilinguals found it easier to filter out background noise. The researchers found bilingualism enhances sound processing and sustained attention. The study found that bilinguals process sound similarly to musicians. This means that one of the benefits of learning a foreign language is being able to improve the efficiency of the brain’s auditory system, and enhance our ability to distinguish between similar sounds.

Benefits of learning foreign languages

Enhances working memory– Benefits of learning foreign languages

Managing two languages puts increased pressure our working memory. To ease the pressure, bilinguals become more efficient at information processing. Combining this with their enhanced inhibitory control ability, a bilingual’s working memory capacity and efficiency us greater than monolinguals.

Learning multiple foreign languages

We have already established that being fluent in a foreign language can improve our information processing abilities and enhance our sustained attention. As a result of these enhanced processes, bilinguals find it easier to learn a third or even fourth foreign language.

Learning a foreign language can have numerous benefits on our cognitive functions. It improves executive functions, cognitive control, attention, and memory. In addition, neuroimaging studies have revealed that learning a foreign language in later life can actually grow the brain and improve the connections between different brain regions. What is even more interesting is that learning a foreign language can counteract cognitive decline and slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Regardless of the age at which we learn a foreign language, it is still beneficial for our brains to do so. So, although it may be a little more difficult, it is clearly never too late to reap the benefits of learning foreign languages! Encouraging young children to learn a foreign language may benefit them in later life, so schools should look at making learning a foreign language a compulsory part of the curriculum. Aside from the benefits to cognition and the brain, for all of us who have the travelling bug and want to explore new cultures, learning the lingo is obviously the best place to start!

Do you have any questions or comments? Leave me a note below! 🙂

References

Adesope, O. O., Lavin, T., Thompson, T., & Ungerleider, C. (2010). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the cognitive correlates of bilingualism. Review of Educational Research80(2), 207-245.

Krizman, J., Marian, V., Shook, A., Skoe, E., & Kraus, N. (2012). Subcortical encoding of sound is enhanced in bilinguals and relates to executive function advantages. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences109(20), 7877-7881.

Mårtensson, J., Eriksson, J., Bodammer, N. C., Lindgren, M., Johansson, M., Nyberg, L., & Lövdén, M. (2012). Growth of language-related brain areas after foreign language learning. NeuroImage63(1), 240-244.

Marian, V., & Shook, A. (2012, September). The cognitive benefits of being bilingual. In Cerebrum: the Dana forum on brain science (Vol. 2012). Dana Foundation.

Pliatsikas, C., Moschopoulou, E., & Saddy, J. D. (2015). The effects of bilingualism on the white matter structure of the brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences112(5), 1334-1337.

Woumans, E., Santens, P., Sieben, A., Versijpt, J., Stevens, M., & Duyck, W. (2015). Bilingualism delays clinical manifestation of Alzheimer's disease.Bilingualism: Language and Cognition18(03), 568-574.

Costa, A., & Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2014). How does the bilingual experience sculpt the brain?. Nature Reviews Neuroscience15(5), 336-345.

Olsen, R. K., Pangelinan, M. M., Bogulski, C., Chakravarty, M. M., Luk, G., Grady, C. L., & Bialystok, E. (2015). The effect of lifelong bilingualism on regional grey and white matter volume. Brain research1612, 128-139.

Saidi, L. G., & Ansaldo, A. I. (2015). Can a Second Language Help You in More Ways Than One?. AIMS neurosci1, 52-57.

Limbic System Functions: Limbo With Your Limbic System

Your limbic system functions range from regulating your emotions to storing your memories to even helping you to learn new information. Your limbic system is one of the most essential parts of the brain that help you live your daily life. The primary structures that work together in your limbic system are the amygdala, the hippocampus, the thalamus and hypothalamus, the cingulate gyrus, and the basal ganglia. All these parts help you to be active in society, engage in social relationships, and be a well-rounded person. To learn more about the interesting ways your limbic system impacts your life, sit back and get in-tuned with all of its hard-working employees!

Limbic System Functions

1. What is another name for your amygdala?
  • Your amygdala is essential for controlling the emotions that you express. That is why it is called ''the emotional center of the brain.''

2. What is your basal ganglia involved with?
  • Your basal ganglia is the main structure that controls all of the voluntary movements your body performs

3. Where do hormones originate in the brain?
  • Your hypothalamus is controlled by the pituitary gland which regulates how many and what hormones are released throughout your body (this is all under the endocrine system)

Limbic System Functions

Limbic System Functions

Interconnected nuclei and cortical structures located in the telencephalon and diencephalon have different functions that are related to the limbic system. These nuclei main functions are of self-preservation. They regulate our autonomic and endocrine function especially as a response to emotional stimuli.

Many of the areas are related to memory and with arousal levels involved in motivation and reinforcing behaviors. Since it’s related to self-preservation, many of the areas are related to the sense of smell, since it is critical for survival.

The areas critical for functions in the limbic system are two:

  • Subcortical structures include the olfactory bulb, hypothalamus, amygdala, septal nuclei and thalamic nuclei.
  • Cerebral Cortex also is known as the limbic lobe it includes the hippocampus, insular cortex, subcallosal gyrus, cingulate gyrus and parahippocampal gyrus.

Here are some of the different parts of the limbic system and how they affect you:

Limbic System Functions: The Amygdala

Shaped like a small almond, the amygdala is located in each of the left and right temporal lobes. It’s known as  “the emotional center of the brain,” because it is involved in evaluating the emotional intake of different situations or emotional intelligence (for example, when you feel happy because you received an awesome grade on your math exam or when you might be frustrated because the heavy traffic is making you late for work). The amygdala is what makes the brain recognize potential threats (like if you are hiking in the lone woods and suddenly you hear the loud footsteps of a bear coming toward you). It helps your body prepare for fight-or-flight reactions by increasing your heart and breathing rate. The amygdala is also responsible for understanding rewards or punishments, a psychological concept known as reinforcement coined by the classical and operant conditioning experiments of Ivan Pavlov.

The amygdala works by being stimulated through the electrical forces of neurotransmitters (understand the different types of neurotransmitters). Many times, when this stimulation is very high, we show physical acts of aggression, like throwing tantrums, screaming, or hitting objects. If the amygdala was removed from the human brain, then we would all become extremely tame and no longer respond to things that previously caused us frustration or annoyance. Also, we would become indifferent to all forms of external stimuli, especially those related to fear and sexual responses.

Limbic System Functions: The Hippocampus

This part of the brain is found deep within the temporal lobe and is shaped like a seahorse. The exact role of the hippocampus is disputed between psychologists and neuroscientists, but we generally know that it is essential in forming new memories about past experiences. The three major stages of memory forming in the brain are:

1. Sensory input from your peripheral nervous system sending neurotransmitters to your brain

2. Your brain storing those stimuli in its “short-term memory,” which holds the information for about 3-5 minutes

3. If 5 minutes has elapsed and you are still thinking about that memory, then it will enter into your long-term memory, where it will stay for virtually an endless period of time.

Your hippocampus is the main brain portion responsible for going from stage 2 to stage 3, or converting short-term memories to long-term memories.

Researchers suggest that the hippocampus is responsible for “declarative memory,” which is the ability for one to explicitly verbalize their memories (i.e. episodic memories and semantic memories).

Limbic System Functions

If the hippocampus is damaged, then a person will not be able to build new memories (known in neuropsychology terms as anterograde amnesia) although he or she might be able to hold onto older memories. This individual would instead live in a very strange world where everything they experience and everyone knew whom they meet just fades away. A classic example of this is seen in the movie 50 First Dates, where Drew Barrymore plays the lead role of a girl with short-term memory who loses memory every night being with her beloved during the day.

Limbic System Functions: The Thalamus

These structures are both associated with changes in emotional reactions. The thalamus is known as the “way-station” of the limbic system because it aids in communicating what is going on in the system with the rest of the brain. It connects areas of the cerebral cortex that are involved in sensory perception and movement with other parts of the body associated with sensation and movement. It has control over your peripheral nervous system, which moves sensations from the body through the spinal cord into the brain. Specifically, it works alongside these major lobes in the brain:

  1. The parietal lobes – it sends sensory touch information to the somatosensory cortex located here
  2. The occipital lobes – it sends visual information to the visual cortex here
  3. The temporal lobes – auditory signals are sent to the auditory cortex here

The thalamus has other functions for your body as well, like controlling your sleep and awake states of consciousness. It sends signals from the brain to the rest of the body to reduce your perception of sensory information while sleeping, which is why you wouldn’t necessarily feel if an ant was crawling on you or someone put their hand on your arm gently while you were sleeping. The thalamus also is involved in motor controls, relaying sensory signals to the cerebral cortex, forming memories and expressing emotions, and perceiving pain.

Limbic System Functions: The Hypothalamus

The hypothalamus is a small piece located just below the thalamus and has lesions on it that are the driving forces behind our major unconscious activities, like respiration and metabolism. One of its central functions is homeostasis for the body, which is returning it from either too much excitement or too little pleasure to a calm “set-point” from which we behave “normally.” It is one of the busiest parts of the brain because it also helps drive other motivated behaviors like hunger, sexuality, and aggression. The lower side of the hypothalamus seems to be involved with pleasure and rage, while the middle section is associated with displeasure, aversion, and uncontrollable and loud laughter. Because the hypothalamus also regulates the functions of your autonomic nervous system, it controls things like your pulse, blood pressure, breathing, and arousal response to emotional circumstances.

Recent biological studies have shown that when we overeat, a protein called leptin is released by fat cells in our bodies. The hypothalamus is the first part of the brain to sense these high levels of leptin in the bloodstream so it will respond by decreasing our appetites. Some research suggests that some people have a mutation in the gene which produces leptin, so their hypothalamus is unable to recognize that they are overeating. However, there are many overweight individuals studied who do not have this mutation, so work is still being done in this research idea.

The hypothalamus also works in coordination with the pituitary gland, known as the “master gland.” It is chemically and neurally related to the pituitary gland, which as a result of its control, pumps hormones called releasing factors into the bloodstream. The pituitary gland has the central control over your endocrine system, so it releases hormones that are essentially important to regulating growth and metabolism for you.

 Limbic System Functions: The Cingulate Gyrus

This part is located in the middle of your brain next to the corpus callosum. Not much is known about the cingulate gyrus, but researchers suggest that this is the area that links smell and sight with pleasurable memories of previous experiences and emotions because it provides a pathway from the thalamus to the hippocampus. This area is involved with your emotional reaction to pain and how well you regulate aggressive behavior.

The anterior cingulate gyrus deals with the vocalization of emotions. It has connections with speech and vocalization areas of the frontal lobe, which includes Broca’s area, a brain piece that controls motor functions involved with speech production. People with Broca’s aphasia, or an impairment in their Broca’s area, are unable to fluently produce speech to convey what exactly is in their mind but they are able to fully comprehend the speech and writing of others.

The cingulate gyrus also is involved in the emotional bonding and attachment between a mother and her child because of the frequent vocalization that takes place between mothers and their infants, so children feel deeply attached to the voices of their mothers. Because the cingulate gyrus is connected with the amygdala, it processes emotions and is responsible for fear conditioning and relating memories to sensory information received from the thalamus.

Limbic System Functions: The Basal Ganglia

This area is an entire system within itself located deep in the frontal lobes. It organizes motor behavior by controlling your physical movements and inhibiting your potential movements until it gets the instructions to carry them out, based on the circumstances that you are in. The basal ganglia also participate in rule-based habit learning; choosing from a list of potential actions; stopping yourself from undesired movements and permitting acceptable ones; sequencing; motor planning; prediction of future movements; working memory; and attention.

In general terms the limbic system functions are as follows:

  • The sense of smell: the amygdala directly intervenes in the process of olfactory sensation.
  • Appetite and eating behaviors: The amygdala and the hypothalamus both act in this behavior. The amygdala helps in food choice and emotional modulation of food intake. Meanwhile, the hypothalamus controls the intake of these foods.
  • Sleep and dreams: While dreaming, the limbic system is one of the most active brain areas according to different neuroimaging techniques. The hypothalamus also intervenes in this case particularly the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus that controls the sleep-wake cycle through circadian rhythms.
  • Emotional Responses: Limbic system functions include modulating emotional responses of fear, rage and endocrine responses of fight or flight responses. In these responses, the amygdala, the hypothalamus, the cingulate gyrus and even the basal ganglia’s motor tasks work together.
  • Sexual Behavior: The limbic system also takes part in the sexual behavior through the hypothalamus and different neurotransmitters, specifically dopamine.
  • Addiction and motivation: Addiction is highly related to your reward system which in part is controlled by the amygdala. Therefore it’s important to know this when treating addicts. Relapse is usually related to the release of excitatory neurotransmitters in brain areas such as the hippocampus and the amygdala.
  • Memory: As we mentioned before emotional responses are related to the limbic system. Emotions are is also involved in the retrieval and consolidation of memory, therefore one of the limbic system functions is the emotional memory. Other memories that have influence from the limbic system are medial temporal lobe memory system in charge of making and storing new memories. As well as, Diencephalic memory system related to the storage of a recent memory, a dysfunction of this circuit results in Korsakoff’s Syndrome.
  • Social Cognition: This refers to thought processes involved in understanding and dealing with other people. Social cognition involves regions that mediate face perception, communication skills, emotional processing, and working memory. They help the complex behaviors necessary for social interactions. Limbic structures involved are the cingulate gyrus and amygdala.

To end this fantastic article we leave a video with a song to learn the limbic system functions. Hope you enjoyed the article and feel free to leave a comment below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-RLFEWTqsY

Human Brain Project: What is it and how it’s a research innovation

Assembly of The Human Brain Project has a goal to unravel what lies within the intricately woven network that still remains a secret. Humans are always interested in discovering the unknown, solving puzzles and riddles and unraveling century-old questions. We have gone deep underwater in search for ancient civilizations and explored time-worn ruins from top to bottom in order to find the answers we so desperately seek. To this day, however, the biggest mystery that we have found is ourselves and what makes us human. The central core of the enigma that we are facing is the brain. The brain is the most puzzling, peculiar and unexplained creation that we have come so far managed to come across. Continue reading to find out more about the human brain project. 

Human Brain Project

What Is The Human Brain Project?

The Human Brain Project is a research initiative that started in 2013 and will continue for ten years. It hopes to uncover the challenge that is understanding the brain and all its functions, pathways and networks. The Human Brain Project will do so by combining and compiling the efforts from the leading scientists from the three major disciplines. By using the three disciplines it will attempt to encompass all that is the brain. It aims for a collaboration and integration between the fields of medicine related to the brain, neuroscience, and computing. This collaboration within the variety of different specialties is set to develop new insights into various neurological disorders and diseases. The initiative plans to come up with new solutions for treatment and to manufacture novel ingenious technologies. The researchers will use these new developments to study the brain.

The Human Brain Project: Neuroscience, Medicine, and Computing

Medicine and biomedical research initiative will look into neurological diseases and research into earlier diagnosis and prevention of the diseases. They will try to create individualized treatment and therapeutic techniques. All of this will allow for a faster and more efficient manufacturing of drugs. This will potentially lead to making drug discovery more cost-efficient.

Various neuroimaging techniques that scientists use in neuroscience are able to come with a vast pool of experimental data. Further research will use this data for future progress with the knowledge of the network. Both, invasive and non-invasive tools that differ in spatial and temporal resolutions attempt to provide a fuller picture of the brain both, anatomically and functionally. These tools include electroencephalography (EEG), intracranial EEG, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) etc.

Researchers will then process and analyze all of the neuroimaging obtained data. They will then be able to draw clear and concise conclusions that are statistically significant and relevant for further research. That’s where computing can come in with the variety of different programming languages. Programming languages will help guide the analysis of the data in a step-by-step way in an approachable fashion.

Computing also works in order to develop new ways of brain imaging and stimulation. It optimizes the ones that are already available on the market. It will also create computational and theoretical models that explain various time and spatial events in the brain. Computer specialists are also looking into possibilities of creating artificial intelligence programs. Intelligent programs could be able to mimic the functions of the brain.

The Human Brain Project – Goals and Objectives

Implementing clear and concise goals will help guarantee success. Collaboration between medicine, neuroscience, and computing will help to accomplish that. The Human Brain Project aims to create advanced information communication technologies that are able to lift the curtain to not only comprehend the human brain but to be able to stimulate it. This stimulation needs to be as painless, easy and side effect free, as possible.

Main Objectives

  1. Create and design a way to arrange, synthesize and analyze experimental brain data and learn to develop models based on this data. Comprehend both human and nonhuman brains at every level. Start from the genetic components and move on to cognitive makeup and resulting in conscious and unconscious behavior.
  2. Analyze the experimental data via the use of created technologies. Understand the mathematical and psychophysical assumptions and criteria that govern the connections amid various levels of brain organization. Try to understand the functions that these connections play in the brain’s ability to gather, express and collect information. Develop a technology that is able to visualize this data. Allow for creation of online models and reciprocate simulation.
  3. Develop information communication technologies that are useful for researchers in the field of biomedicine, computing, and neuroscience. Provide a platform for creating new technologies associated with artificial intelligence that is useful for understanding and stimulating the brain.
  4. Create new example bioinformatics tools. Immediately use them for pharmacological research and diagnostic criteria for various neurological diseases, online simulations of the disease action. Progress with understanding the newly created tools. Learn about protein on protein docking and interactions and subsequent drug effects to different brain disorders.

Models for brain research

Mice models

These objectives also contain mini-objectives for specific goals and guidelines for research projects and future collaborations. Neuroscience will look at projects in regarding with building a multi-layered model of the mouse brain structure. Various up-to-date scientific studies showed that mice models are some of the most useful models to apply to the rest of the mammal population, including humans.

Due to this, it is important to look at the structure and functional capabilities of mice in order to see how certain neurological diseases are able to develop and progress in their brain. This can help with knowing how certain drugs and protein interactions will work in combination with the disease. Drug interactions will then help to speculate and make an accurate prediction of how the disease will work in the human brain.

Creating a mice model will allow a prototype for the future study of the human brain and a guideline for further research. Using various tools can help with progress, including non-invasive and invasive neuroimaging techniques and in vitro and in vivo studies with neuronal mice cells.

Human models

Scientists also have to create a similar multi-layered model of the human brain. They will have to pool the information from the experimental data that they had gathered. Apart from that scientists will need to use the data they are working with at the moment. In the end, the researchers will be able to create a holistic model of the whole human brain. Again, they can do so by using various methods for this particular goal.

Apart from creating the model of the human brain, researchers have to look into understanding the link between the anatomical structures and the various functions that the brain displays. They need to start measuring spiking activities (action potentials) and relationships between different neurons. This will help with searching for some specific neurons with very specific functions (e.g. the grandmother cells) or networks of neurons responsible for similar functions.

Theoretical and computational tools

Researchers can then use various theoretical and computational models in order to hypothesize and speculate about the actions of these neurons. We need to be able to know exactly what happens on the neuronal level. That will allow us to understand the internal cognition and the external behavior that can happen as a result of this spiking activity.

In order to gain this insight into the brain scientists will implement these objectives. They will include the collaborative and ongoing use of all of the techniques available on-hand and feedback and forward communication between the various disciplines. Surprisingly enough, this mirrors the feedback and the feedforward way the brain sends and receives inputs and signals.

Human Brain Project Obstacles

Various different organizations have voiced questions regarding the ambitious initiative that is the Human Brain Project. These questions are valid on a scientific level, as well as a more cultural and an ethical level. Considering them is important before continuing along with the project.

Questions that were raised include ethical considerations.

  • Why do we need to know more about the brain?
  • If we do find out, what will we do with the knowledge that we have will gain?
  • Would there be any repercussions for the knowledge in regards to how we live on a daily basis?
  • Is intervening and stimulating such an important organ ethically reasonable and how would that affect our consciousness and cognition?

Obstacles like this need to be considered in every experiment and study that becomes a part of the whole Human Brain Project.

Human Brain Project Criticisms

There have been many concerns regarding the Human Brain Project. The attempt to model and build a simulation of the entire brain is quite ambitious. Sometimes, however, it is not as doable as one might hope. The amount of money spent on the project is very large and there is still no real advancement with building that holistic brain picture. A thorough experiment needs to be well thought out and planned out and the Human Brain Project seems to pursue a grand idea but with no clear steps to success.

In order for it to work, the brain simulation needs to working as soon as possible so that scientists can test it and make sure that it works, however, there is no such thing on the horizon just yet. If the researchers spend all the money now and then find out the errors, it can become quite catastrophic. Apart from that, how do you describe a brain? There are many different parts of the brain. It seems a bit too ambitious to encompass all that is the brain in one single model including the neurons and protein, DNA makes up etc. It’s impossible to know where the researchers should start.

We have a huge pool of data but it’s all so vast and different from one another, it can be virtually impossible to put it all together into one single brain simulation. Before we do that we need to formulate a theory and a hypothesis about how we think it works and builds from there, and not just throw all the data available to us in a computer and hope for the best. The thought of that, however, is mind-boggling and exciting.

The Impact of The Human Brain Project

Breakthroughs in neuroscience and medicine come as a result of the ongoing research. Different research groups look into different problems regarding the brain. Even with all of the ongoing research, there is still so much to learn and so little that we do know.

The questions are grand and they branch out in many different ways. Some scientists look at how babies are able to learn and speak their native language. Others connect language learning to bilingualism and its possible role in neurological diseases like dementia. Researchers look into reward systems and decision making. They try fully understanding object recognition, feature integration and biased competition of the visual neurons. The scope of the information that they need to study is endless and all of that encompasses The Human Brain Project.

The Human Brain Project Collaborative Initiative

With the advancements in all three of the fields, including research and advanced technology development, it will become possible to understand cognitive processes, advanced behavior, critical thinking, and reasoning. It will be easier to understand the genetic and environmental factors playing into the development and progression of various neurological diseases. Knowing about the diseases will help learn more about the cognitive consequences that show up as symptoms. After that, it will become possible to develop new treatment strategies in the form of drugs and therapy.

The Human Brain Project is, therefore, very ambitious. If it manages to succeed, it can become one of the greatest collaborative initiative in the world that can help us fully understand our species.

References

Markram, H. (2011). Introducing the Human Brain Project. SciVerse ScienceDirect (pp. 39-42). Lausanne: Procedia Computer Science.

Markram, H. (2012). The Human Brain Project – Preparatory Study. Lausanne: The HpB-PS Consortium.

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

Fight or Flight: All You Need to Know About This Response

Fight or Flight. The sympathetic nervous system is one of two subdivisions of the autonomic nervous system, which is part of the peripheral nervous system. All of these subdivisions may seem confusing, but all you need to know about the sympathetic nervous system starts with the peripheral nervous system.

Fight or Flight

CNS vs. PNS

For starters, the nervous system has two main divisions consisting of the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The central nervous system is arguably easy to wrap your head around because it consists of just the brain and the spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system is comprised of everything other than the brain and spinal cord.

Due to how vague the definition of the PNS is, it has to be broken down into multiple different subsets. The two main divisions of the PNS are the somatic and autonomic nervous systems.

The somatic nervous system is also considered the voluntary nervous system because it allows us to interact with our external environment. This is done through voluntary movement of skeletal muscles and our senses.

The autonomic nervous system regulates our internal environment or controls the body functions that we do not have conscious control over. This is a rather complex task as well, so the autonomic nervous system has two subdivisions known as the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system controls our “fight or flight” response to a dangerous event, but it is also active at a baseline level in order to maintain our body’s homeostasis. The parasympathetic nervous system is the complimentary partner to the sympathetic nervous system. After experiencing a “fight or flight” response, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over in a “rest and digest” response. This allows the body to return to rest.

Fight or Flight: Functions

Fight or Flight

Now that we have a handle on where the sympathetic nervous system lies within the complex wiring of the complete nervous system, we can look at its specific functions.

Traditionally, we experience fight of flight when presented with harmful or life-threatening situations. Our body reacts in ways that can either help up flee the situation, or power through and fight the situation.

The fight or flight response is the primary process of the sympathetic nervous system. It allows us to handle stressful situations by suppressing non-vital bodily functions and enhancing survival functions. During a fight or flight response digestion is slowed or halted. This allows for the energy and resources normally used in digestion to be repurposed to increasing heart rate, getting more oxygen-rich blood to muscles, or dilating pupils.

Our bodies are able to make this response through two pathways. One pathway uses neurotransmitters, and other pathway uses hormones. The difference between a neurotransmitter and a hormone is a bit tricky to understand, especially when talking about the sympathetic nervous system. This is because the same chemical can be a neurotransmitter and a hormone.

What are the types of neurotransmitters

How is this possible? Well, a neurotransmitter is any chemical that is released from a neuron and travels across a synapse. A hormone is a chemical that is secreted from a gland.

Physiology of Fight or Flight

How does the sympathetic nervous system really impact your body? How do these messages get sent to the various parts of your body?

The First Basic Response Pathway

A two-neuron chain of signaling is required for almost every message that the autonomic nervous system relays. The first pathway is made up of the following: a preganglionic cell, a ganglion, a postganglionic axon, and an effector organ.

A preganglionic cell is a neuron that is rooted in the spinal cord. Its axon synapses onto a ganglion, which just a term for a cluster of neurons located in the PNS. From there the axon of the ganglion, referred to as the postganglionic axon, synapses onto the effector organ. An effector organ is any organ that can respond to stimulus from a nerve.

More on synapses 

What neurotransmitters are used in this pathway? The preganglionic axon releases acetylcholine, which binds to acetylcholine receptors on the ganglion. The postganglionic axon then releases norepinephrine onto the effector organ. The effector organ is then either stimulated or inhibited based on the receptors present. The receptors are what determine the action of the neurotransmitter.

The Second Basic Response Pathway

This pathway is referred to as the sympathoadrenal response. This pathway is made up of a preganglionic cell, the adrenal gland, blood vessels, and effector organs.

The preganglionic cell functions the same way as a preganglionic cell in the first response pathway functions. It is rooted in the spinal cord and has an axon that synapses, and releases acetylcholine, onto the next part of the pathway. However, in the sympathoadrenal response, the next part of the pathway is the adrenal gland.

The adrenal gland is made up of the adrenal medulla and the adrenal cortex. When acetylcholine is bound to receptors in the adrenal medulla, it signals hormones to be released into the bloodstream. These hormones are norepinephrine and epinephrine. These two hormones are also found in other parts of the body as neurotransmitters. Norepinephrine is even used as a neurotransmitter in the first pathway. However, as stated previously, the same chemical can be both a neurotransmitter and a hormone. It just depends on where it was released from!

When epinephrine and norepinephrine are released into the bloodstream, they have a wide spreading and fast impact on the effector organs. Just like the first pathway, the effector organ can either be stimulated or inhibited based on the receptors present.

Fight or Flight and Anxiety

Sympathetic Nervous System

In many cases, our bodies have not quite caught up with modern day events. The stress our ancestors experienced running away from predators is much different from the stress you feel before an exam. However, our bodies have a hard time differentiating types of stress.

These stresses that we face today are predominately psychological and unfortunately longer lasting than running from a predator. The danger with perceiving a modern situation as threatening and then subsequently activating your fight or flight response is that the response will be active as long as you feel threatened.

Anxiety has been linked to both the inappropriate triggering of the fight or flight response, as well as the length of time spent in the response state. Panic attack symptoms are very similar to the physiological changes that occur during fight or flight, and while the panic attack will eventually subside, this does not completely stop the fight or flight response.

You can still feel the emotional impact that an unwarranted fight or flight response has on you after the response has subsided. This can include worry and a heightened sense of danger. Unfortunately, this can have not only a psychological toll but a physiological toll as well.

The sympathetic nervous system is so good at redistributing energy to vital survival functions, but if this response stays on for too long, or is continually being stimulated, some health problems may arise.

Digestive problems can occur because the gastrointestinal tract is not getting enough oxygen-rich blood to do its job. Similar types of problems can arise with other parts of the body that are not getting enough blood flow.

It is important to engage in stress relieving activities, as well as relaxing in order to help your parasympathetic nervous system “rest and digest” to counteract “fight or flight”.

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.

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?

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.

Birth Control Pill May Shrink your Brain

Birth Control Pill May Shrink your Brain

Birth Control Pill May Shrink your Brain

The oral contraceptive pill, commonly referred to as
“the pill,” has some troubling possible side effects, including mood
swings, weight gain and nausea. A new study adds another potential concern to
the list: the pill may shrink your brain.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles published
their findings in the journal Human
Brain Mapping
, on April 2nd, 2015. The study shows that the pill
may be linked to thinning a woman’s brain structure, specifically the lateral
orbitofrontal cortex and the posterior cingulate cortex.

For the study, Nicole Petersen, study author from the
department of psychiatry and bio behavioral sciences at UCLA and her colleagues
recruited 90 women, with 44 women on combined birth control and 46 women who
did not use any type of hormonal birth control.

When comparing participants’ brain scans, the team of neuroscientists
found that two key brain regions, the lateral orbitofrontal cortex and the
posterior cigulate cortex, were thinner in women who were on the pill compared
with women in the other group. The lateral orbitofrontal cortex plays an
important role in emotion regulation and responding to rewards, while the
posterior cigulate cortex is involved with inward-directed thought, and shows
increased activity when we recall personal memories and plan for the future. Changes
in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex could be responsible for the increased
anxiety and depressive symptoms that some women experience when they start
taking the Pill.

“Some women experience negative emotional side effects
from taking oral contraceptive pills, although the scientific findings
investigating that have been mixed,” Dr. Petersen said. “So it’s
possible that this change in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex may be related to
the emotional changes that some women experience when using birth control
pills.”

However, this does not suggest changes in cortex thickness
are reflected in any actual changes in the behavior of women who take the pill.
Moreover, the study does not prove taking birth control causes the thinning of
the cortex.

The researchers affirm it is unknown whether the cortex
would become thicker again if the women on birth control stopped taking the
pill or whether it would remain the same. “Maybe you go off the pill and
it persists for a week, and, by week two it is back to normal.”

The team does stress the role of estrogen in the brain.
“There is a ton of evidence showing that estrogen is a really important
molecule for brain growth,” Dr. Petersen said. The researchers hope to
conduct a clinical trial to see if there is a casual relationship between the
pill and brain structure, and whether any behavior changes related to the two
cortex regions can be seen.

Furthermore, all risks associated with the pill increase if
a woman smokes, has thrombosis, is overweight, diabetic, has high blood
pressure, or high cholesterol levels.

5 Must-Have Features for Your Brain Training Program

5 Must-Have Features for Your Brain Training Program

New Year’s Day is a sacred self-proclaimed starting date for healthier habits. And this year, you have decided your brain health matters. Brain health drives our ability to concentrate, problem-solve, and be creative. It is an important, but often overlooked, component of success. The brain fitness industry is a fast growing business, and new brain training programs appear every day, either online or on smartphones. They claim to improve your brain health, but how many of them really work?

Here are 5 features you should consider before purchasing your next brain training program:

1. Scientifically validated – Although there are many brain training programs available, very few actually have research to back up their claims. Most brain games companies claim that their games are “based on science”, which is a very elusive and misleading marketing term. You should always check that the app has a solid scientific validation and has been validated in peer-reviewed scientific research.

2. Capture your unique cognitive profile – Research shows that to provide you with an effective brain fitness program, the brain training regimen needs to be personalized to match your unique cognitive needs. Unlike physical activity, you cannot discern on your own what you want to improve. Consequently, your brain fitness program must start with a baseline assessment of your unique cognitive profile before your training even begins. Training without a prior assessment is ineffective.

3. Personalize your training regimen – Using your assessment and your ongoing performance, the program should be designed to build the optimal brain training regimen that matches your unique cognitive needs. Some programs lacking assessments claim they are “personalized”, but this generally refers to the fact that your training sessions will include your most highly rated games. Such “personalization” is not effective because people tend to highly rate games that are easy for them, so they naturally avoid the most challenging brain games.

4. Adapt the regimen to your goals – Some programs will allow you to choose your level of difficulty level as you go. However, you will have much better results if you use a brain-training program that comes with an independent and objective assessment of your performance level which indicates that you are ready for more challenging tasks.

5. Provide a comprehensive workout – Since you need your brain training program to tell you what skills need to be improved, make sure the brain fitness program includes a wide range of cognitive skills that you use daily such as memory, attention, perception, and coordination.

5 Things that can Benefit the Brain

5 Things That Can Benefit the Brain

5 Things that can Benefit the Brain

Are you looking for ways to increase brain activity? Perhaps your brain does not perform as well as it used to, and you are looking to improve your brain. In my previous post, we discussed things that can be potentially harmful for the brain. Now, we are going to delve into things that can be beneficial for our brain health. Some of these things are fairly obvious, and some of these things you would not expect. Here are five things that can benefit the brain.

1. Sleep: Despite the fact that many people know that having a good night’s rest is beneficial to their health, they still do not get the proper rest they need. Many experts say that we all should get at least eight hours of sleep every night. Of course there are many external factors beyond our control that prevent us from getting a good night’s sleep, but it is essential for your brain and your overall well-being that you get some sleep. Some of the many benefits of sleep include: improved memory, sharpened attention, less stress and it has shown improved grades for students.

2. Have a Positive Attitude: Being optimistic gives you the ability to enjoy life and what it has to offer for you. It makes you more likeable and approachable towards others, and it does wonders for the brain. When tackling something new, showing a positive and ambitious attitude has been shown to make learning easier. The more we learn, the more our brains are strengthened.

3. Listen to Music: Research has been shown that listening to music can be very helpful for our brains. Music is a universal language that touches all cultures and ages. Some benefits of listening to music include: reduced depression and anxiety, less stress, makes us happier and it improves our verbal and visual skills. It has also been known to help spawn creativity, and can even make your immune system stronger! Lastly, it can make an aging brain healthier.

4. Meditation: Meditation is another thing has been shown to benefit the brain. For example, meditation can help the mind get faster and stronger. How? By establishing connections between neurons, brain cells. Long-term meditation also leads to increased gray matter. Gray matter includes the part of the brain that controls muscles and sensory perception. Much of the oxygen the brain takes in, a majority of it goes into the gray matter.

5. Brain Games: Brain games are games that can help assess and train your brain and cognition. While there are countless brain companies on the market, a majority of them are not scientifically validated. Leveraging the latest research in neuroplasticity, CogniFit develops specific brain training programs and mind exercises. You can access a large number of brain games and select different training exercises that fit your unique cognitive needs. Help your brain and start the CogniFit personalized brain fitness program today!

How can we keep our brain healthy?

How can we keep our brain healthy?

Dr. Jonny Bowden talks about some ways we can keep our brain in shape with just a few simple tools. As we age, we lose synapses in our brain, or little pathways that carry information from neuron to neuron. If we lose a lot of these synapses, we tend to lose or forget things. But don’t worry! There are some simple remedies to help keep your brain in top shape.

1.  Exercise! We already know that exercise is good for our bodies, but it is also good for our brains! Doing some kind of exercise daily helps to maintain blood flow and keeps the whole body working well.

2. CogniFit brain training program. This program has fun games and activities that uses brain plasticity to train and create new synapses. Games that are good for us? Sign me up!

3. Certain oils for cooking, like palm oil contains a ton of nutrients and antioxidents, which our brain and our tastebuds love.

4. Omega-3, found in fish, as well as supplement pills. These Omega-3 supplements help to keep our brain functioning well and ready for the day!

5. Shaklee, which also helps improve brain circulation, is another must. And, it’s made with chardnay grapes so it’s healthy and delicious!

Dr. Jonny Bowden, PhD, Certified Nutrition Specialist @ShakleeHQ talks #BrainHealth on @WBAL TV News11. Keep your brain healthy and fit! Check the video here.

Eating baked or broiled fish once a week boosts brain health

Eating baked or broiled fish once a week boost brain health

By now, most of us are aware that omega-3 fatty acid in fish offers numerous health benefits. But now, a new study suggest that eating baked or broiled fish once a week can make the brain healthier, regardless of how much omega-3 fatty acid it contains.

The research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania, published online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on, July 29, 2014, adds to increasing evidence that lifestyle factors could add to brain health later in life, perhaps even reducing risk of dementia.

Senior investigator James T. Becker noted that by 2040, it is estimated that 80 million people will be diagnosed with dementia – which would not only be a burden on families, but will also increase health care costs.

The research conducted earlier linked changes in lifestyle to drop in Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions of cognitive impairment in the elderly. Changes in lifestyle include lower rate of physical inactivity, smoking and obesity. The anti-oxidant effect of omega-3 fatty acids – present in high amounts in fish, nuts, seeds certain oils and brain food – is linked to improved health, especially brain health.

To further investigate the link between dietary intake and brain health, lead investigator Cyrus Raji, who now is in radiology residency training at University of California, Los Angeles, and the research team analysed data from 260 people who provided information on their dietary intake.

They had high-resolution brain MRI scans, and were cognitively normal at two time points during their participation in the Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS), a 10-year multicenter effort that began in 1989 to identify risk factors for heart disease in people over 65.

“The subset of CHS participants answered questionnaires about their eating habits, such as how much fish did they eat and how was it prepared,” Raji said.

“Baked or broiled fish contains higher levels of omega-3s than fried fish because the fatty acids are destroyed in the high heat of frying, so we took that into consideration when we examined their brain scans,” said Raji.

The team found that participants who ate baked or broiled fish at least once each week had larger grey matter brain volumes in regions of the brain responsible for memory (4.3 per cent) and cognition (14 per cent). Interestingly, they were also more likely to have a college education than those who did not regularly eat fish.

But no association was found between the brain differences and blood levels of omega-3s.

“This suggests that lifestyle factors, in this case eating fish, rather than biological factors contribute to structural changes in the brain,” Dr. Becker noted. “A confluence of lifestyle factors likely is responsible for better brain health, and this reserve might prevent or delay cognitive problems that can develop later in life.”

Joyful laughter boosts brain health and reduces stress hormone

Joyful laughter boosts brain health and reduces stress hormone

Joyful laughter boosts brain health and reduces stress hormone

We are all familiar with the saying, “laughter is the best medicine.” And this motto may not only be a good medicine for the health of your body but also a good medicine for your brain. Joyful or mirthful laughter produces brain wave frequencies similar to those seen among people who reach what is considered the desired “true state of meditation,” according to a new study.

The new research out of the Loma Linda University in Southern California, presented at the Experimental Biology 2014 conference meetings in San Diego on April 27th, 2014, suggests that Humor Associated with Mirthful Laughter (HAML) is gaining increasing attention as a non-pharmacological lifestyle intervention that integrates mind and body to promote greater wholeness, health, and wellness, and offers therapeutic value for alleviating symptoms from a variety of chronic medical conditions.

“Humor Associated with Mirthful Laughter sustains high-amplitude gamma-band oscillations. Gamma is the only frequency found in every part of the brain,” study researcher Lee Berk, DrPH, MPH, of Loma Linda University, said in a statement. “What this means is that humor actually engages the entire brain – it is a whole brain experience with the gamma wave band frequency and humor, similar to meditation, holds it there; we call this being, ‘in the zone.’”

For their research, scientists measured brain activity from nine cerebral cortex scalp areas in 31 participants. Subjects were connected to an EEG monitor as they watched 10-minute video clips that were humorous, distressful, or spiritual in nature. The EEG monitor measured and recorded the power spectral density of all brain wave frequencies from 1 to 40 Hz.

When the participants watched the humorous videos – which provoked Humor Associated with Mirthful Laughter – their brains produced significant gamma wave levels, similar to what you would see when a person meditates. Meanwhile, when they watched the spiritual videos, their brains produced significant alpha brain wave bands, similar to what you’d see when a person is at rest. And when they watched the distressing videos, their brains produced flat brain wave bands, similar to what you would see when a person is detached and does not want to be in a situation, researchers noted.

The findings showed that humor engaged the whole brain, including the entire gamma wave range frequency. Researchers were even able to pinpoint a figure for the optimal laugh: a 30-40 hertz frequency, the same brain wave frequencies seen among people who reach what’s considered the “true state of meditation.”

“When there is mirthful laughter, it’s as if the brain gets a workout because the gamma wave band is in synch with multiple other areas that are in the same 30-40 hertz frequency,” explained Berk. “This allows for the subjective feeling states of being able to think more clearly and have more integrative thoughts. This is of great value to individuals who need or want to revisit, reorganize, or rearrange various aspects of their lives or experiences, to make them feel whole or more focused.”

Since it is well known that laughter can be a stress reliever, the research team wanted to determine whether humor may reduce brain damage caused by cortisol.

Researchers analyzed one group of elderly individuals who had diabetes and another group of elderly people who were healthy. Both groups were required to view a 20-minute humorous video, before completing a memory test that measured their visual recognition, learning ability and memory recall. A third group of elderly individuals were asked to complete the memory test without watching the funny video. The team then compared the results of all three groups. Cortisol levels for all participants were recorded before and after the experiments.

Scientists found that both groups who watched the humorous video showed a significant reduction in cortisol levels, compared with the group that did not watch the video. The groups that watched the funny video also showed greater improvement in memory recall, learning ability and sight recognition, compared with those who did not watch the video. The diabetic group demonstrated the greatest improvement in both cortisol levels and memory test scores.

“It’s simple, the less stress you have the better your memory,” Berk said. “Humor reduces detrimental stress hormones like cortisol that decrease memory hippocampal neurons, lowers your blood pressure, and increases blood flow and your mood state.”

“The act of laughter – or simply enjoying some humor – increases the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain, which provides a sense of pleasure and reward.” He said that these neurochemical changes in the brain also increase “gamma wave band frequency,” which can improve memory.

“So, indeed,” he added, “laughter is turning out to be not only a good medicine, but also a memory enhancer adding to our quality of life.”

A good night’s sleep is essential for brain health

A good night’s sleep is essential for brain health

It is common knowledge, that sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Sleep helps your brain work properly. While you’re sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day. It’s forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information.

What does happen if you do not sleep? According to researchers from Uppsala University’s Department of Neuroscience, Sweden, lack of sleep may promote neurodegenerative processes.

The study, published in the specialist journal Sleep, follows an investigation published in the US journal Science in October that found sleep accelerated the cleansing of cellular waste from the brain. The Swedish study was primarily funded by the Swedish Brain Foundation (Hjärnfonden) and Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Researchers looked at levels of two types of brain molecules: the neuronal enzyme NSE and the calcium-binding protein S-100B. These molecules typically rise in the blood under conditions resulting in brain damage or distress. An increase in levels of the molecules can be measured after everything from sports injuries to the head and carbon monoxide poisoning, to sleep apnea and fetal distress after childbirth.

15 normal-weight young men participated in the study. In one condition they were sleep-deprived for one night, while in the other condition they slept for approximately 8 hours. Researchers measured the levels of NSE and S-100B and found morning serum levels of the molecules increased by about 20 per cent compared with values obtained after a night of sleep.

Researchers think that the rise of these molecules in blood after sleep loss may indicate that a lack of sleep might mean loss of brain tissue.

“These brain molecules typically rise in blood under conditions of brain damage,” said sleep researcher Christian Benedict at the Department of Neuroscience, Uppsala University, who led the study. “Thus, our results indicate that a lack of sleep may promote neurodegenerative processes….In conclusion, the findings of our trial indicate that a good night’s sleep may be critical for maintaining brain health.”

Christian Benedict said it’s important to note, however, that levels of NSE and S-100B previously found after acute brain damage (including as a result of a concussion), have been distinctly higher than those found in the Swedish study, and there is no suggestion that a single night of sleep loss is equally harmful to your brain as a head injury.

Still, the researchers said their findings suggest “a good night’s sleep may possess neuroprotective function in humans, as has also been suggested by others.”

Good night and sleep tight!

How sleep can help you clean your brain

How sleep can help you clean your brain.

A new study from the University of Rochester and published in Science found that brain cells of mice actually shrink while they are sleeping. This reduction in the size of the brain cells creates up to 60% percent more space between them, allowing the cerebral spinal fluid to flow up to 10 times faster in the brain than when compared to active daytime.

The cerebral spinal fluid is a clear and colorless fluid found in the spine and the brain. The fluid serves as a vital function in cerebral blood flow and cerebral autoregulation.

The researchers found out that due to this increase in cerebral spinal fluid flow, the brain actually flushes out toxins and other molecular detritus. They define and compare this process of the brain as a “biological dishwasher”.

If you want to keep your brain healthy in the long run, make sure to sleep sufficiently and to continue your brain training exercises on a weekly basis. Remember also that sleep helps you consolidate your precious memory!

Too much sleep might lead to faster decline in brain function

Too much sleep might lead to faster decline in brain function.

A new study conducted by researchers from Columbia and the University Hospital of Madrid has found that people in their 60s and 70s who slept in average more than 9 hours a day showed a faster cognitive decline than people who slept less (6 to 8 hours a day).

Faster cognitive decline can lead to weaker cognitive abilities such as memory, concentration or attention and over time be an important risk factor to dementia.

Obviously, it is possible that people who were sleeping more during the study had already some cognitive issues which would explain those pre-existing sleeping patterns. In any case, sleeping too much or sleeping too little is not good for your brain health and cognitive development as an adult.

To keep your brain sharp, make sure to have a normal amount of sleep of 6 to 8 hours per night and start brain training regularly!

Nature nurtures creativity after four days of hiking

Nature nurtures creativity after four days of hiking.

Backpackers scored 50 percent better on a creativity test after spending four days in nature disconnected from electronic devices, according to a study by psychologists from the University of Utah and University of Kansas.

“This is a way of showing that interacting with nature has real, measurable benefits to creative problem-solving that really hadn’t been formally demonstrated before,” says David Strayer, a co-author of the study and professor of psychology at the University of Utah. Disconnect and take care of your brain health.

Your brain, your productivity

Your brain, your productivity

Your brain, your productivity.

The complexity of your brain to be strengthened and rewired is a generous gift of nature that keeps on giving. Recent advances in brain imaging technology reveal that the brain is uniquely designed to be one of the most adaptable, modifiable, and regenerative organs in the entire body. Your brain changes both positively and negatively by how you use it each day. Your brain never stays the same. This means your cognitive brain health may decline over time because you let it.