Sunday, June 27, 2010

Extraversion and the Brain

Colin DeYoung and colleagues at the University of Minnesota completed brain-imaging studies on 116 volunteers. They found that the medial orbitofrontal cortex – a part of the brain involved with considering rewards that is just above and behind the eyes – was significantly larger in study subjects who exhibited a lot of extraversion. The study also was able to correlate larger brain regions for a number of other traits: conscientiousness, which is associated with planning; neuroticism, a tendency to experience negative emotions that is associated with sensitivity to threat and punishment; and agreeableness, which relates to parts of the brain that allow us to understand each other's emotions, intentions, and mental states. Only openness/intellect didn't associate clearly with any of the predicted brain structures.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Heart Neurons

Most people are quite familiar with the concept of neurons in the brain. Fewer seem aware of the fact that there are neurons in the heart. Heart Neurons? Absolutely. For those of you who are interested in this relatively new area of ongoing research, The Institute of Heart Math has published photographs of neurons in the heart--some taken with a confocal microscope. Researchers call it "the little brain in the heart." Amazing!

Friday, June 18, 2010

According to a Harvard University study of 2,357 males in their 70's for 25 years, just doing five things gave participants a 53% chance of living into their 90's. Those five things were:

1. not smoking
2. maintaining a normal weight
3. exercising regularly
4. having a low blood sugar
5. having a low blood pressure

The good news is that #'s 1-3 are doable for most people. And doing #'s 1-3 really impacts #'s 4 and 5.

(Dr. Laurel Yates and colleagues, Harvard University. Published in Archives of INternal Medicine, 2008.)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pulsed Ultrasound and the Brain

William “Jamie” Tyler, a neuroscientist at Arizona State University, and his colleagues have announced the results of a study that used pulsed ultrasound to impact the brain (without surgery or other invasive procedures). For example, pulsed ultrasound:

1. Activated brain waves in the hippocampus known as sharp-wave ripples
2. Stimulated the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)
in the hippocampus

According to Tyler, the fact that ultrasound can be used to stimulate action potentials, meaningful brain wave activity patterns, and BDNF leads him to believe that, in the future, ultrasound will be useful for enhancing cognitive performance; perhaps even in the treatment of cognitive disabilities such as mental retardation or Alzheimer's disease.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Video Games and Dopamine

Dr. Daniel Amen has recommended to parents that children spend no more than 30 minutes a day playing video games. This is because (according to brain imaging studeis), video games impact the same area of the brain as cocaine and methamphetamine. When you play video games your brain really likes it because the process increases the amount of dopamine being released in the brain. "When you try to take those games away from them )the kids), they get really upset. In fact, some even go through withdrawal symptoms when they aren’t allowed to play.) According to Dr. Amen, this is because playing video games release much dopamine that there isn’t enough of the chemical available for the little things in life. Other activities and relationships that would normally make your children happy leave them feeling nothing at all. (Amen, Daniel, MD)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Anti-Aging Strategy

Interest in calorie restriction began in 1935, when scientists made the surprising discovery that rats on a reduced-calorie diet lived longer, provided they were supplemented with sufficient vitamins and minerals. A new "dietary restriction" (not just calorie restriction) theory about how diet affects aging suggests that the drop in calories is not solely responsible for lifespan extension -- in some species at least, perhaps it is also the accompanying drop in dietary protein.

Protein restriction is much less difficult to maintain than calorie restriction and may be more powerful in reducing insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in humans (a promoter of aging), says Luigi Fontana, a professor of medicine at Washington University and head of the Division of Nutrition and Aging at the Italian National Institute of Health. Read the entire article by Laura Cassiday: Eat less, live longer?