Saturday, February 27, 2010

Simple Tips to Boost Your Brainpower

(CBS)  There are simple things you can do now to help you stay sharp later in life -- several small changes you can make to your daily routine that could have result in a big way in getting and keeping your brain in tip-top shape.

On "The Early Show Saturday Edition," Dr. Cynthia Green, Ph.D., spelled them out.

Green and the editors of Prevention magazine wrote, "Brainpower Game Plan: Sharpen Your Memory, Improve Your Concentration, and Age-Proof Your Mind in Just 4 Weeks."

Move It: Get off the Couch and Get in Gear! Get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise four-to-five times a week. Go for a walk or run, swim - anything to get yourself moving. Try some complex activities that really make you think, such as ballroom dancing or juggling, for some added benefit.

Seek New Challenges (Make Sure You're Always Thinking)
Look for some simple ways to push you out of your intellectual routine every day. Try brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, taking a new route to work, or even doing a crossword puzzle. Add new, more complex activities on a regular basis to constantly get your brain to "think" differently. Challenge your comfort zone by learning to play a new instrument, taking up knitting, taking a class or studying a new language.

Beat the Clock (Get Your Head in the Game) Spend 10 to 20 minutes every day giving your everyday intellectual skills a good workout. How? Any game that requires you to play against the clock will do it. Play board games like Boggle or Set. Check out handheld electronic Games like Simon or games for the Nintendo DS. Look at computer-based games, such as those on free game sites or brain fitness software products.

Get a Social Life (Be Social) Connect with others in a meaningful way each and every day. Volunteer, go out for dinner with friends or join a reading group.

Move It: Get off the Couch and Get in Gear!  Get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 4-5 times a week.
Studies show that one of the best things we can do for our brains is to get regular aerobic exercise. Exercise improves our everyday intellectual performance, reduces our long-term risk for dementia, supports neuroplasticity (our brain's ability to grow new neurons and new connections between brain cells) and lowers our risk for other diseases that can lead to memory loss, such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, depression, etc.
How much exercise do we need? Studies suggest that getting just 30 minutes of exercise 4-5 days a week is enough. There is actually no evidence that getting more boosts your brain power over and above the benefits we see at that level. Researchers in Seattle found that folks who reported getting exercise at least three times a week (walking, jogging, swimming) were 38% less likely to develop a memory impairment than others in their study who did not get the same amount of activity.
What kind of exercise are we talking about? The great news is that the studies found that even just walking briskly (fast enough that it is hard to carry on a conversation) does the trick. Clearly, getting more aerobic activity is great for other aspects of health, like our heart health, but when it comes to brain health, even something as "easy" as walking can really make a difference!
An additional tip: Recent studies have shown that exercises that involve coordination, such as video dance games (Dance Dance Revolution) or juggling improve everyday memory and even impact the volume of our brain's white matter. Try these kinds of fun exercises into your routine.

Get Intellectually Engaged  Challenge your comfort zone by learning to play a new instrument, taking up knitting, take a class or studying a new language
Staying mentally active is a key to boosting our brain health. "Stretching" our brain, if you will, gives us the opportunity to build new connections between brain cells, and may even promote the growth of new neurons. Research suggests that folks who report high levels of intellectual engagement are two and a half times less likely to develop a memory impairment than those of us who are "mental couch potatoes."
What kind of activities are we talking about? The great news is there is a whole range of ways we can "stretch" our brains. Some are really easy, and we can slip them in throughout our day - those include things like: Brushing our teeth with our non-dominant hand, reading a newspaper article backwards, rearrange your desk, take a different route to work (there are exercises like this for every day of the Brainpower Game Plan). Then there are ways we can keep our brains engaged through new, novel activities that require more time, such as learning a new language, taking up knitting, or joining an art class.
Staying intellectually engaged is especially important for those of us who may no longer be in an environment, such as the workplace, where we once got that kind of "workout" on a regular basis. Retirement or down time between jobs is no time to put your brain in idle - take a class, try something creative you've never had time for before - use the time to keep your brain at work!

Play against the Clock Spend 10 to 20 minutes every day giving your everyday intellectual skills a good workout. Play any game that requires you to play against the clock such as Boggle, Chess or Set.
As we grow older, or if we have a length of time when we are not working or meaningfully engaged, we lose ground in specific intellectual skills that help us maintain our "edge" day-to-day. Those skills - attention, intellectual speed, flexibility (our ability to multitask) and short term memory - can get a real boost from exercises that address them directly. A recent federally funded, multicenter study, called the ACTIVE trial, found that folks who participated in training across some of these skills significantly improved in their performance on intellectual tests that measured their ability in the areas in which they were trained, such as attention and memory.
One of the best ways we can give these everyday intellectual skills a great workout is to play games against the clock. Timed games force us to pay attention, think fast, and be nimble - what a great brain workout! At least 10-20 minutes a day is great, but even a few days a week is probably more than you do now.
Some of my top picks for games we play against the clock are Boggle, Set, Simon, Nintendo Gameboy, computer games (free ones, on sites such as, dedicated brain fitness software, which acts like a "personal trainer" for your skills workout

Stay Social  Volunteer, go out for dinner with friends, join a reading group. Social connections really matter to our brain health. When we are in a social setting, we are practicing all those everyday intellectual skills (attention, speed, flexibility and short term memory are all key to holding up your end of a conversation). We also may be reducing our risk for a serious memory impairment. Several studies, including one last year from the Harvard School of Public Health, have shown that folks who report more social activity have an associated reduced risk for dementia.
How much should you socialize? There is no clear guidance from the research, but you should look to interact with others in a meaningful way every day.
What kind of socializing matters? All kinds of socializing are great for your brain health, be it a phone call with a friend, to volunteering in your local community or school, to just going out for dinner with the gang.

Increasing Neurogenesis Might Prevent Drug Addiction And Relapse

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center hope they have begun paving a new pathway in the fight against drug dependence. Their hypothesis – that increasing the normally occurring process of making nerve cells might prevent addiction – is based on a rodent study demonstrating that blocking new growth of specific brain nerve cells increases vulnerability for cocaine addiction and relapse.
The study's findings, available in the Journal of Neuroscience, are the first to directly link addiction with the process, called neurogenesis, in the region of the brain called the hippocampus.
While the research specifically focused on what happens when neurogenesis is blocked, the scientists said the results suggest that increasing adult neurogenesis might be a potential way to combat drug addiction and relapse.
"More research will be needed to test this hypothesis, but treatments that increase adult neurogenesis may prevent addiction before it starts, which would be especially important for patients treated with potentially addictive medications," said Dr. Amelia Eisch, associate professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study. "Additionally, treatments that increase adult neurogenesis during abstinence might prevent relapse."
Increasingly, addiction researchers have recognized that some aspects of the condition – such as forming drug-context associations – might involve the hippocampus, which is a region of the brain associated with learning and memory. Only with recent technological advances have scientists been able to test their theories in animals by manipulating the birth of new nerve cells in the hippocampus of the adult brain.
Physical activity and novel and enriched environments have been shown in animal studies to be good for the brain in general, but more research is needed to see if they can increase human adult neurogenesis.
Dr. Eisch and her colleagues used advanced radiation delivery techniques to prevent hippocampal neurogenesis. In one experiment, rats were allowed to self-administer cocaine by pressing a lever. Rats with radiated brains took more cocaine and seemed to find it more rewarding than rats that did not receive radiation.
In a second experiment, rats first self-administered cocaine and then received radiation to decrease neurogenesis during a period of time that they were without drugs. Rats with reduced neurogenesis took more time to realize that a drug lever was no longer connected to the drug dispenser.
"The nonirradiated rats didn't like the cocaine as much and learned faster to not press the formerly drug-associated lever," Dr. Eisch said. "In the context of this experiment, decreased neurogenesis fueled the process of addiction, instead of the cocaine changing the brain."
Dr. Eisch said she plans to do similar studies with other drugs of abuse, using imaging technology to study addiction and hippocampal neurogenesis in humans.
"If we can create and implement therapies that prevent addiction from happening in the first place, we can improve the length and quality of life for millions of drug abusers, and all those affected by an abuser's behavior," she said.
Another study author from UT Southwestern was Sarah Bulin, a graduate student research assistant. Other researchers involved in the work include Dr. Michele Noonan, former graduate research assistant in psychiatry, and Dwain Fuller from the VA North Texas Health Care System.

Early Humans Used Brain Power, Innovation and Teamwork to Dominate the Planet

Scholars gathered to discuss how a unique combination of human traits helped our species survive to colonize the globe

CULTURE, COGNITION, COOPERATION Researchers at a workshop to determine the markers of human uniqueness focused on the 'three Cs'

TEMPE, Arizona—As a species of seeming feeble, naked apes, we humans are unlikely candidates for power in a natural world where dominant adaptations can boil down to speed, agility, jaws and claws. Why we rose to rule, while our hominin relatives died out, has long been a curiosity for scientists.
The study of our human nature encompasses a variety of fields ranging from anthropology, primatology, cognitive science and psychology to paleontology, archaeology, evolutionary biology and genetics
Representatives of each of these disciplines gathered February 19-22 at a workshop, "Origins of Human Uniqueness and Behavioral Modernity," staged by Arizona State University's Origins Project to discuss recent advances in their respective fields.
Led by ASU professors anthropologist Kim Hill and paleoanthropologist Curtis Marean, co-organizers of the event, the panel of scientists agreed to adopt a working definition that human uniqueness is the "underlying capacity to produce complexity," and to think of behavioral modernity as "the expression" of those capacities.
The expression of capacities, Hill and Marean said, can be summed up, namely, as exceptional cognition, culture and cooperation. Each of the three C's was a topic of focus for the scientists. One of their goals at the conference was to pinpoint specific markers of these expressions, and then use them to identify the emergence of humans within the paleoanthropological record.
The beginning of human cognition, for example, is the result of the development of a larger brain, which can be represented by artifacts—stone tools, weapons—or productions that signify greater abilities for thinking and innovation, said archaeologist and paleoanthropologist John Shea of Stony Brook University.
In addition, although the adaptation of a larger brain may separate humans from their primate relatives, it also came at a cost of increased fuel requirements. A human brain uses at least 20 percent of an individual's resting metabolism, said Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.
Evidence of early humans' use of fire could be used to mark how they overcame their energy needs, said primatologist and biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham of Harvard University. Heat helps free up energy by softening foods, denaturing their proteins and breaking down toxins, Wrangham proposed, which is why cooking may explain human brain size as well as small canine teeth and small guts in comparison to other primates.
By the same token, evidence of coastal adaptation can also mark human activity and a strategy for meeting the brain's growing energy needs. Archaeological excavations along the coastline of South Africa, Marean suggested, show that early humans obtained energy-dense foods by adopting a diet of shellfish, which afforded strong nutritional benefits for the brain.
Accordingly, the researchers discussed how an oversized brain led to culture, a product of thinking and social learning facilitated by language, creativity and innovation. The passing on of knowledge from generation to generation is metaphorically referred to as a cultural "ratchet effect," which creates greater complexity of culture over time.
In the wild, a lone human would not be able to survive without culture, explained evolutionary theorist Rob Boyd of University of California, Los Angeles. "Think about what is necessary to live in Alaska," he said. "You’d need a kayak, a harpoon, a float to not sink. Nobody invents a kayak. People learn the proper way to make a kayak from others."

Speaking or signing, it's the same to your brain

Language is universal whether it comes from voice or hands, study findsLanguage is created in the same areas of the brain, regardless of whether a person speaks English or uses American Sign Language to communicate, new research found. The discovery suggests that something about language is universal and doesn't depend on whether people use their voices or their hands to talk.
Two centers in the brain — Broca's area, which is thought to be related to speech production, and Wernicke's area, which is associated with comprehending speech — have long been associated with verbal communication. But now scientists have found the brain areas might be tied to language, no matter whether it's spoken or signed.
Scientists suspected these areas might be particular to speaking, because they are located spatially near areas that are connected to moving the vocal chords, and to the auditory cortex, which is used to hear sounds. In that case, it stood to reason that deaf people who use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate should use other brain areas to create language, such as parts located near the visual cortex, used for seeing.
But when researchers tested 29 deaf native ASL signers and 64 hearing native English speakers, they found no difference in the brain. They showed both groups pictures of objects, such as a cup or a parrot, and asked the subjects to either sign or speak the word, while a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scanner measured changes in blood flow in the brain.In both groups, Broca's and Wernicke's areas were equally active.          
"It's the same whether the language is spoken or signed," said Karen Emmorey, a professor of speech language at San Diego State University. Emmorey described the work last week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego, Calif. The research was also detailed in a 2007 issue of the journal Neuroimage. 
In a more recent study, which has not yet been published in a scientific journal, the scientists tested whether sign language taps into the same parts of the brain as charades. They wanted to figure out whether the brain regards sign language as more similar to spoken language, or more similar to making pantomime gestures to mimic an action.
The scientists showed both deaf people and hearing people pictures of objects, such as a broom or a bottle of syrup, and asked the subjects to "show how you would use this object." The charade gestures for pouring syrup and for sweeping with a broom are different  from the signs for syrup and sweep, so the researchers could be sure the deaf participants were pantomiming and not signing.
Then they asked the deaf subjects to sign the verbs associated with particular objects, such as syrup or broom. The researchers found that the signers activated different parts of their brains when pantomiming versus when signing. Even when the sign is basically indistinguishable from the pantomime – when similar hand gestures are used – the brain treats it like language.
"The brain doesn't make a distinction," Emmorey said. "The fact that many signs are iconic doesn't change the neural underpinnings of language ."
And the scans showed that the brain areas signers used when pantomiming were similar to the brain areas hearing participants used when pantomiming – both groups activated the superior parietal cortex, which is associated with grasping, rather than brain areas connected to language.
"It suggests the brain is organized for language, not for speech," Emmorey said.

Brain has areas devoted to learning nouns, verbs

LONDON: Scientists have recently shown that the part of the brain that gets activated when a person learns a new noun is different from the part used when a verb is learned.

Antoni Rodriguez-Fornells, psychologist from the University of Barcelona, along with Anna Mestres-Misse, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, and Thomas Munte from the Otto-von-Guericke University in Germany, have just confirmed neural differences in the map of the brain when a person learns new nouns and verbs.

The team knew that many patients with brain damage exhibit dissociation in processing these words, and that children learn nouns before verbs.

Based on these ideas, researchers devised an experiment to confirm whether these differences could be seen in the brain. They set people a test to learn new nouns and verbs, and recorded their neural reactions using functional magnetic resonance imaging.
Participants had to learn 80 new nouns and 80 new verbs. By doing this, the brain imaging showed that new nouns and new verbs activated different parts of the brain.

Researchers: Childhood Abuse, Emotional Neglect May Cause Brain Structure Changes Read more:

Dublin, Ireland (AHN) - Researchers using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have found that childhood stress such as abuse or emotional neglect, specifically when combined with genetic factors, can result in structural brain changes. Researchers say these changes can make people more susceptible to developing depression.
Scientists from Trinity College Dublin who conducted the study say that early intervention in the case of major depression is necessary to increase the chance of a good disease outcome.
Medical professionals say depression can be treated very well by psychotherapy and antidepressant medication. Additionally, prevention strategies for childhood neglect and misuse are highly important to increase public health and to avoid in later life for these individuals, the burden of major depression.
The world health organization (WHO) found that major depression is one of the most important human diseases with a prevalence of about 10% worldwide. The organization also predicts that major depression will be the second most common cause of disability by 2020.
The study in its entirety can be read in the latest issue of the scientific journal, Neuropsychopharmacology.