Category Archives: brain

Mercury in Fish, Seafood May Be Linked to Higher Risk of ALS

We cut down on red meat to reduce the amount of bad fats in our system. Instead, we dive into eating fish to stay healthy longer. Well, it turns out that’s not a totally safe harbor, either.

Eating fish and seafood with higher levels of mercury may be linked to a higher risk of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), according to a preliminary study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 69th Annual Meeting in Boston, April 22 to 28, 2017. However, fish and seafood consumption as a regular part of the diet was not associated with ALS.

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“For most people, eating fish is part of a healthy diet,” said study author Elijah Stommel, MD, PhD, of Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. “But questions remain about the possible impact of mercury in fish.” ‘ Continue reading

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Is Physical Exercise Better Than Brain Exercise for Seniors?

The split between mind and body seems clearest in the realm of exercise. Each is good for us, but is one better?

Professor Sam Wang, Ph.D. Molecular Molecular Biology and Neuroscience, Princeton University covers the subject extensively in Lecture 23 of his course The Neuroscience of Everyday Life which I took from The Great Courses.

Opinion has been split on the subject.

“It is exercise alone that supports the spirits and keeps the mind in vigor.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero – 65 BC.

“Exercise invigorates and enlivens all the faculties of body and mind…. It spreads a gladness and a satisfaction over our minds and qualifies us for every sort of business, and every sort of pleasure.” – John Adams, Second President of the U.S.

On the other hand, that curmudgeon, Mark Twain said, “I take my only exercise acting as pallbearer at the funeral of my friends who exercise regularly.”

Brain

The business of brain-training is a multi-million dollar operation. It includes software and games we can play on our computers, Nintendo, smart phones as well as specialized machines. Also, there are the puzzles, like Sudoku, crosswords and other pattern recognition games.

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Another Favorite – Visual Mind Games

At the risk or appearing like I am selling out on my idea of protecting my brain by exercising regularly, I would like to suggest this fun pastime as an additional line of defense against cognitive impairment.

I wrote this for another blog I write occasionally and thought it would be of interest to you. I know a lot of folks are doing adult coloring books these days for relaxation. I thought these puzzles would be a nice step up that could be more challenging to the imagination.

Tony

Willing Wheeling

I ran across these at an art fair years ago. They are wonderful brightly colored shapes that you get to remake into various geometric visions. You can see more at the website of Kadon Enterprises, Inc. Kadon says that the creation of tiling patterns is an ancient and still very popular art form and recreation. “In quilting designs, floor tiles and wallpaper patterns, we find geometric shapes that fit together in attractive, usually symmetrical arrangements.”

There is a wonderful brochure that comes with each puzzle that explains some of the relationships between the angles and gets into the math of it.

Although I have only pictured two, I hope you can see how multi-faceted this is. I spend many happy hours exploring this and many of their other puzzles.

I used these two shots so you could see the simplest variation. The tiles are acrylic and fit into place perfectly.

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Seniors, It’s not your ears, it’s your brain … Study

I turned 77 in January and while I generally enjoy what I consider to be robust good health, I nonetheless occupy an old and aging body. Sometimes I miss stuff people say, particularly when there is background noise.

“Could you repeat that?” The reason you may have to say something twice when talking to older family members may not be because of their hearing. Researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD) have determined that something is going on in the brains of typical older adults that causes them to struggle to follow speech amidst background noise, even when their hearing would be considered normal on a clinical assessment.

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In an interdisciplinary study published by the Journal of Neurophysiology, researchers Samira Anderson, Jonathan Z. Simon, and Alessandro Presacco found that adults aged 61–73 with normal hearing scored significantly worse on speech understanding in noisy environments than adults aged 18–30 with normal hearing. The researchers are all associated with the UMD’s Brain and Behavior Initiative. Continue reading

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Study links intelligence and chess skill

For the record I got very involved in playing chess in my younger years. I loved the game’s many facets and spent hours poring over the board. Ultimately, I gave it up to play backgammon. I found the element of chance in backgammon to be more appealing. That random aspect coupled with the fact that a lot of people played backgammon for money won me over. That was never the case in chess.

Intelligence – and not just relentless practice – plays a significant role in determining chess skill, indicates a comprehensive new study led by Michigan State University researchers.

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The research provides some of the most conclusive evidence to date that cognitive ability is linked to skilled performance – a hotly debated issue in psychology for decades – and refutes theories that expertise is based solely on intensive training.

“Chess is probably the single most studied domain in research on expertise, yet the evidence for the relationship between chess skill and cognitive ability is mixed,” said MSU’s Alexander Burgoyne, lead author on the study. “We analyzed a half-century worth of research on intelligence and chess skill and found that cognitive ability contributes meaningfully to individual differences in chess skill.” Continue reading

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Heading a football causes instant changes to the brain

I am not a big fan of the game of soccer, or, as it is known everywhere but in the U.S., football, but there are lots of kids playing it  here and their parents should know about this.

Researchers from the University of Stirling have explored the true impact of heading a football, identifying small but significant changes in brain function immediately after routine heading practice.

The study from Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence published in EBioMedicine is the first to detect direct changes in the brain after players are exposed to everyday head impacts, as opposed to clinical brain injuries like a concussion.

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Football players headed a ball 20 times, fired from a machine designed to simulate the pace and power of a corner kick. Before and after the heading sessions, scientists tested players’ brain function and memory.

Increased inhibition in the brain was detected after just a single session of heading. Memory test performance was also reduced by between 41 and 67 percent, with effects normalizing within 24 hours.

Played by more than 250 million people worldwide, the ‘beautiful game’ often involves intentional and repeated bursts of heading a ball. In recent years the possible link between brain injury in sport and increased risk of dementia has focused attention on whether football heading might lead to long term consequences for brain health. Continue reading

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Three brain chemicals affect how we handle uncertainty

New research has revealed how three important brain signaling chemicals affect the way that we handle uncertainty. It turns out that noradrenaline regulates our estimates of how unstable the environment is, acetylcholine helps us adapt to changing environments, and dopamine pushes us to act on our beliefs about uncertainty. The research, publishing 15 November in the open-access journal PLOS Biology, was led by Louise Marshall and Dr Sven Bestmann at the UCL (University College London) Institute of Neurology.

The study involved 128 healthy participants who took part in a reaction-time task designed to test how they handled uncertainty. Participants were all given either a placebo or a drug to block noradrenaline, acetylcholine or dopamine before starting the task. Participants responded to symbols that were presented one after the other by pressing a corresponding button. Continue reading

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Your brain learns during sleep – Study

I think sleep may be the most under-appreciated aspect of living a healthy life. Diet and exercise and well-known if not often followed, but sleep is often thought of as an intrusion in our busy lives. I know that back when I was in the working world, I certainly thought of it that way.

Scientific data suggests that all animals probably do sleep—including the most unexpected creatures, such as fish, birds, worms, and flies. Sara Aton, University of Michigan ssistant professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, can attest to dozing cats, mice, and even cuttlefish, all of which she’s studied as they snoozed. She marvels that biologists once thought bugs and birds and worms never slept.

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“I think there’s this pervasive misconception that your brain is just turning off when you go to sleep, because there’s no obvious output. Outside of a coma, you can’t think of a less interesting behavior to study than sleep, right?” Aton says. “Sleep is something that, as humans, we spend a third of our life doing. And yet biologists and the neuroscience community didn’t have a lot of interest in it.” (my emphasis)

But now that we know better, new questions arise: Do animals all rest for the same reasons?
After studying sleep for the past decade, Aton is convinced that it matters—a lot. “I’m much more protective of, for example, my son’s sleep than I would have been had I not been in this field,” she says.
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Hot cocoa and caffeine work positively for your brain- Study

As a big fan of coffee in general and the mocha drink in particular, this study struck a positive chord with me.

Deep down, we always knew it, but science is proving that cocoa and caffeine are indeed the best marriage ever. Clarkson University researcher Ali Boolani recently completed a study that explores the powers of these two dark delights.

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The assistant professor of physical therapy and physician assistant studies teamed up with colleagues at the University of Georgia to examine the “acute effects of brewed cocoa consumption on attention, motivation to perform cognitive work and feelings of anxiety, energy and fatigue.” Continue reading

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Brain 10 times more active than previously thought – UCLA study

A new UCLA study could change scientists’ understanding of how the brain works — and could lead to new approaches for treating neurological disorders and for developing computers that “think” more like humans.

The research focused on the structure and function of dendrites, which are components of neurons, the nerve cells in the brain. Neurons are large, tree-like structures made up of a body, the soma, with numerous branches called dendrites extending outward. Somas generate brief electrical pulses called “spikes” in order to connect and communicate with each other. Scientists had generally believed that the somatic spikes activate the dendrites, which passively send currents to other neurons’ somas, but this had never been directly tested before. This process is the basis for how memories are formed and stored.

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Scientists have believed that this was dendrites’ primary role.

But the UCLA team discovered that dendrites are not just passive conduits. Their research showed that dendrites are electrically active in animals that are moving around freely, generating nearly 10 times more spikes than somas. The finding challenges the long-held belief that spikes in the soma are the primary way in which perception, learning and memory formation occur.

“Dendrites make up more than 90 percent of neural tissue,” said UCLA neurophysicist Mayank Mehta, the study’s senior author. “Knowing they are much more active than the soma fundamentally changes the nature of our understanding of how the brain computes information. It may pave the way for understanding and treating neurological disorders, and for developing brain-like computers.”

The research is reported in the March 9 issue of the journal Science.

Scientists have generally believed that dendrites meekly sent currents they received from the cell’s synapse (the junction between two neurons) to the soma, which in turn generated an electrical impulse. Those short electrical bursts, known as somatic spikes, were thought to be at the heart of neural computation and learning. But the new study demonstrated that dendrites generate their own spikes 10 times more often than the somas.

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Researchers Uncover New Agents That Eliminate Cells Tied to Age-Related Diseases – Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic researchers have uncovered three new agents to add to the emerging repertoire of drugs that aim to delay the onset of aging by targeting senescent cells – cells that contribute to frailty and other age-related conditions. A recent study of human cell cultures shows that the drugs, fisetin and two BCL-XL inhibitors – A1331852 and A1155463 – cleared senescent cells in vitro. Findings appear online in Aging.

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“Senescent cells accumulate with age and at sites of multiple chronic conditions, such as in fat tissue in diabetes, the lungs in chronic pulmonary diseases, the aorta in vascular disease, or the joints in osteoarthritis,” says James Kirkland, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging. “At Mayo Clinic, we discovered the first senolytic drugs – agents that selectively eliminate senescent cells while leaving normal cells unaffected. These senolytic agents alleviated a range of age- and disease-related problems in mice. We used the hypothesis-driven approach that we used to discover the first senolytic drugs, two published in early 2015 and another later in 2015, to discover these three new senolytic drugs.” Continue reading

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Teenage Binge Drinking Can Affect Brain Functions in Future Offspring

I seriously doubt that I have many teenagers checking out my posts. However, I am sure that there are moms, dads and other loved ones who do. As if there weren’t enough reasons for kids to lighten up on booze, this study adds a biggie.

Repeated binge drinking during adolescence can affect brain functions in future generations, potentially putting offspring at risk for such conditions as depression, anxiety, and metabolic disorders, a Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine study has found.

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“Adolescent binge drinking not only is dangerous to the brain development of teenagers, but also may impact the brains of their children,” said senior author Toni R. Pak, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Cell and Molecular Physiology of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

The study by Dr. Pak, first author AnnaDorothea Asimes, a PhD student in Dr. Pak’s lab, and colleagues was presented at Neuroscience 2016, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. Continue reading

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Exercise can boost your memory and thinking skills

Eat less; move more; live longer. That is the mantra of this blog. moving more keeps the organic machines we know as our bodies in tip top shape. As it turns out exercise is also good for the old cabeza.

Moderate-intensity exercise can help improve your thinking and memory in just six months.

You probably already know that exercising is necessary to preserve muscle strength, keep your heart strong, maintain a healthy body weight, and stave off chronic diseases such as diabetes. But exercise can also help boost your thinking skills. “There’s a lot of science behind this,” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School.

Exercise boosts your memory and thinking skills both directly and indirectly. It acts directly on the body by stimulating physiological changes such as reductions in insulin resistance and inflammation, along with encouraging production of growth factors — chemicals that affect the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance, survival, and overall health of new brain cells.

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It also acts directly on the brain itself. Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory are larger in volume in people who exercise than in people who don’t. “Even more exciting is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions,” says Dr. McGinnis. Continue reading

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7 Sleep mistakes you don’t know you’re making – Infographic

Sleep is one of the truly under-appreciated aspects of living a long and healthy life. I know for sure that when I was in the working world, I pretty much considered sleep to be an imposition on my busy life.

Times, and my mind, have changed. Please check out my Page – How important is a good night’s sleep for more on this crucial aspect of our daily lives.

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Tony

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Food and health cliches revisited – Wake Forest

An apple a day keeps the doctor away – I always liked that one. While apples boast many health benefits, they do not, sadly, bulletproof us against all diseases.

“Everything our parents said was good is bad,” complains Alvy Singer, the character played by Woody Allen in “Annie Hall,” his 1977 Oscar-winning romantic comedy.

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That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but when it comes to what certain foods can do to or for you, it’s probably best to take motherly advice, familiar sayings and other bits of conventional wisdom with a grain of salt.

“There’s some validity to some of them, but many of them are just old wives’ tales or myths that have trickled down over the years,” said Annette Frain, a registered dietitian at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Continue reading

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Tricking Your Brain Into Helping You Lose Weight

If, like many folks, you overindulged during the recent holidays, perhaps this item I wrote back when the blog was still in diapers might be of help.

Besides, I think the brain is amazing and we can’t know too much about it.

Tony

One Regular Guy Writing about Food, Exercise and Living Past 100

Regular readers know that I am retired and have been taking courses from The Great Courses for some time. Lately, I have become fascinated with the brain and how it functions.

The latest class I am studying is “The Neuroscience of Everyday Life” taught by Sam Wang, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Neuroscience at Princeton University. Additionally, Professor Wang is the co-author of the best-selling book Welcome to Your Brain which has been translated into 20 languages.

Here is the best-selling book Professor Wang co-wrote

I have only just begun reading the book, but I ran across a passage on page 36 that I thought would interest and benefit readers of the blog. The following is from a two-page write-up titled Tricking Your Brain Into Helping You Lose Weight.

This is the conclusion of those two pages:
“Early food exposure influences dietary preferences in adulthood, and eating habits…

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