Tag Archives: brain

How did I get here?

The other day I was watching one my favorite movies, Memento, and realized I could write a good blog about it. In the movie, director Christopher Nolan’s debut, director of the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, the main character suffers a brain injury that makes it impossible for him to create any new memories since the accident so he has to constantly write notes to himself and tattoo the important things on his body to ensure he remembers them. This condition is known as anterograde amnesia. If you have ever seen the movie 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore’s character suffers from a type of anterograde amnesia after being involved in a car accident resulting in brain damage. In both movies, and an accurate depiction of anterograde amnesia, both characters can remember everything up accident, but nothing after it.

 

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While the cause of this memory loss is usually a result of brain trauma, the process of storing memories is still a somewhat unknown science. While we know that the temporal cortex is involved in the process, the exact science is still a mystery and that is what makes this such an interesting situation.

 

In this article, it mentions that alcohol can also cause a type of anterograde amnesia, something commonly known as “blacking out”. While just about college student has most likely blacked out at some point in their life, when it happens most of time the only real damage is a terrible headache the next day and having no idea what happened the night before. But imagine waking up the next day and not being able to remember what happened the day before, every day for the rest of your life? You can’t, because a condition like that is life altering. Also in the article, it does say that not all types of anterograde amnesia is as extreme as the two examples used in Hollywood and that there are examples of people recovering and regaining some of their memory. However, even then, any type of amnesia will certainly make someone’s life more challenging.

 

What really got me about the previously mentioned article were the comments left at the bottom of the story, all from people suffering with some type of memory loss. One comment, from a woman named Margaret Millett, tells how she regained some of her memory, but not enough so that she could keep her job, and now she relies on social security. Another, from Shemicka, says:

I just don’t want it to last forever. Yes, I’ve learned how to cope, but at times, I just wish I could wake up and things would be back to normal. Like the time when I woke up in the hospital after my coma, things had suddenly changed for me. Please, just let me go back to the day before my accident. I’d make so many different decisions. I can’t turn back now, though, I can only look forward.”

I can only imagine that waking up everyday, knowing that you won’t be able to remember what is happening for the rest of your life and having to deal with that is the one of the hardest parts of such a condition. What would it be like to basically “black out” everyday of your life no matter what you do? Put yourself in that situation, how would you deal with it? Until you’re in that situation, there’s no way you can truly know.

http://www.simplypsychology.org/anterograde-amnesia.html

http://diseaseoftheweek.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/understanding-anterograde-amnesia/

 

Pick a Side

Ever wonder why people’s talents are so one sided?  For example, I’m majoring in two English-based majors, but for some people, books and papers are absolutely horrifying.   Why is that? 

Scientists now know that the brain has two separate sides, or hemispheres.  Each side has its specialties.  The right side is better with spatial abilities, facial recognition, visual imagery, and music- the artsier side.   The left side is more likely to be better at language, calculations, and math- the more logical side.  In most people, the hemispheres work together and are connected.  However, the different sides cause different learning styles due to which is more dominant.  Scientists also say which side becomes dominant in the brain is somewhat of a choice.  When the going gets tough in school, we always prefer a certain way to learn.  For example, “right-brained” people probably learn better when they can see what they are learning using visual aids, diagrams, pictures, or graphs.  A “left-brained” person would probably learn better when they are told the information or when they read the information. 

These hemispheres don’t just influence your talents and learning preferences.  They can also affect actions such as sitting up straight or lying down when studying.  Which do you prefer?  Sitting down straight is more correlated with the left side, and lying down is more correlated with the right.  Also, the left-sided people are more likely to be able to speak their minds using words, whereas right-sided people have trouble.  A classic example is giving directions.  A left-brained person will use street names and building numbers; a right-brained person will try to show you the directions by describing the building you pass and what street corner you turn at. 

So the next time you’re sitting in Math class saying, “Why don’t I understand this,” blame your left hemisphere for being the weak one.

And in case you’re bored, here’s a quiz to find out which side you are!

Sources: 

http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/split.html

http://frank.mtsu.edu/~studskl/hd/hemis.html

http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/1733

Your Brain is a drug addict, and that drug is food!

Most humans know eating is a vital part of daily life. In order to grow the body properly, it needs to go through chemical and biological processes involving the digestion and discharge of food. But, how can those particular foods overall affect the brain?

 

            By medical definition, a drug is something your brain requires in order to function and food is something your body needs in order to function. But, is there really a difference?

 

            The author of this article explains the composition of food and juxtaposes that idea in relation to the human brain’s neurotransmission behavior, “The foods we eat, and many of our most popular psychoactive drugs, come from plants or animals. The ingredients in these plant and animal products are very similar if not identical to the neurotransmitters our brains and bodies use to function normally.” Here, the author is explaining how the majority of regular food humans eat can all technically be considered a “drug” because of the biological and chemical structure of those foods.  So, in essence, whatever food someone chooses to eat, whether it is a piece of broccoli or sushi, the chemicals within the food will determine how they affect the neurons in the brain and how the individual feels or thinks; food is a mood stimulant.

 

            So, what foods are good for the brains? Various vegetables such as tomatoes and eggplants contain beneficial chemicals that help increase memory and function.  Also, beans contain a chemical which helps to stimulate brain performance as well. But, in general terms, the effects on the neurons rely solely on the amount of the particular food the consumer chooses and also the person’s physique. A skinny person would probably require less amounts of a particular food to feel a greater effect on the person’s mood while an obese person would need more amounts of that particular item.

 

            On this same token, certain household spices contain special psychoactive properties such as nutmeg. When nutmeg is freshly grounded, it contains psychoactive effects for the users who consume large doses at one time. Furthermore, myristicin, an active chemical within nutmeg, creates the properties to affect the brain.  The nutmeg has been used by users to experience a different type of “high”.

 

            All of these foods have been studied and shown to stimulate the feelings of humans and moods. For further studies, scientists could possibly institute clinical trials for adults and teenagers to specific diets and see their brain functions after the trials. The two group’s comparison could provide further detail on the neurological effects of food on the brain.  


Website URL: http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/this_is_your_brain_on_food/ 

Image URL: http://blog.acorn-is.com/wp-content/uploads/apple-full2.jpg 

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Does Marijuana Cause Memory Loss?

With the recent legalizing of marijuana in Colorado, and having medical marijuana legal in 17 other states, the subject of marijuana is starting to become more appropriate (possibly appropriate enough for a blog in SC200). We all know that it is illegal, and we all know that many people have experimented with it. I myself have experimented with it many of times, and I never really felt any side effects. Maybe there is a side effect that you can’t really feel or sense, memory loss. I’ve always heard the rumor that it did, but I never really did any scientific research on the subject. Here goes nothing.

When THC is inhaled, it passes rapidly from the lungs through the bloodstream, which gets carried to the brain. (THC is the chemical that gives you the high feeling, tetrahydrocannabinol) The THC hits parts of your brain where cannabinoid receptors are. Cannabinoid receptors can influence memory, pleasure, thinking, concentrating, sensory, time perception, and coordinated movement. THC can cause problems with learning and memory for the short time when you are “high”. It may also affect you for a few days or even up to a week after. Studies have not yet been able to detect whether it has a long term effect on your memory, but it definitely decreases your ability to learn, comprehend, and memorize during your high and within an average of a few days of the high.
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In one study involving lab rats, the rate were given THC and the effects on there brain were studied. The studies found that the THC weakens the connections between neurons in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a structure that is crucial for memory formation. The hippocampus serves a major role in new memories and experienced events. This would mean that short term and long term memory loss, but it is still not proven that long term memory loss is prevalent .
From personal experience, I have never felt any memory loss. I have friends who have never smoked marijuana at all, and I still performed better academically in the classroom. As for studying, I never experienced any problems memorizing. So, for habitual users, short term memory loss is definitely something to be concerned about. Although long term memory loss is not proven, I would still think twice about using marijuana because it could possibly affect it, not to mention there are other side effects besides memory loss in marijuana. 
Don’t be afraid to respond with personal experiences, you won’t get in trouble. This is what blogging is all about. I am very curious to hear what everyone has experienced. Thanks.

Controlling Our Memories

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We all have things we’d like to forget. Whether it was that party last weekend, or the time you made your mom cry, there are some things we’d rather just block out. A new study shows that the brain has two different ways of helping us forget these memories. One is to completely block out the memory, and the other is to push out the bad memory with a better one.

When blocking out memories, the brain works in a specific way to ensure we don’t remember what we don’t want to. The hippocampus is the part of our brain that is connected to remembering. When we have a memory blocked out or suppressed, the prefrontal cortex of the brain actually suppresses the hippocampus from working, ensuring we can’t remember the bad memory. Our brain is actually stopping itself from remembering something that will upset us, without us even realizing it.
On the other hand, when we use memory substitution, the prefrontal cortex works in conjunction with the hippocampus. It is this interaction that allows our brain to selectively retrieve substitute memories in place of the bad one. Our brain is actively working to remember happy memories, most of the time completely unconsciously.
Studies like this show the intense power of the human mind to ensure that we are constantly trying to remain in balance, avoiding any emotional turmoil. It is truly astonishing what our brains do through neuron impulses that we don’t even realize are taking place.

Musical Benefits

As many people already know when little children are exposed to classical music it tends to enhance their brain function, but what about music in later life? According to a Northwestern research group who studied a compilation of other research, people who can play musical instruments tend to have better speech and language memory, attention, and the ability to convey emotions verbally. The Northwestern team believes that the musical training actually creates new neurological connections in the brain.

To me this makes perfect sense because of the need for the musician to play quickly, faster and easier routes for information to travel along must be created. I have also noticed that the smarter kids in high school usually played an instrument. It always amazed me how it seemed impossible to be in band or orchestra without being in higher level classes. The ability for these students to pay better attention and have a better memory are crucial roles in education.

To me this study is very important because it gives parents extra motivation to get their child interested in music at an early age so they can have the benefits later on with their schooling. I also believe this to be a very valid study because of the use of various studies that help randomize the outliers. Also the fact that the study was published in the highly regarded Nature journal. Hopefully more research will be done to understand the effects further on the brain and music

Musical Benefits

As many people already know when little children are exposed to classical music it tends to enhance their brain function, but what about music in later life? According to a Northwestern research group who studied a compilation of other research, people who can play musical instruments tend to have better speech and language memory, attention, and the ability to convey emotions verbally. The Northwestern team believes that the musical training actually creates new neurological connections in the brain.

To me this makes perfect sense because of the need for the musician to play quickly, faster and easier routes for information to travel along must be created. I have also noticed that the smarter kids in high school usually played an instrument. It always amazed me how it seemed impossible to be in band or orchestra without being in higher level classes. The ability for these students to pay better attention and have a better memory are crucial roles in education.

To me this study is very important because it gives parents extra motivation to get their child interested in music at an early age so they can have the benefits later on with their schooling. I also believe this to be a very valid study because of the use of various studies that help randomize the outliers. Also the fact that the study was published in the highly regarded Nature journal. Hopefully more research will be done to understand the effects further on the brain and music

Can Fish Oil Really Cure Brain Injuries?

Traumatic brain injuries are nothing to joke about.  Usually very damaging and if one is lucky enough not to pass away from one, they are usually in a coma fighting for their life.  Now, if I told you that something as simple as fish oil could be used to save these injured people’s lives would you believe me?  Probably not.  A recent study tells the story of two young lives that were dramatically saved by fish oil after suffering a brain injury and going into a coma.  

The horrifying stories basically go the same way.  The boys (two separate occasions) were both on deaths front-door step.  They were being kept alive by the help of a ventilator while in a coma.  No doctor gave either a chance.  For the first patient, the doctors felt there was nothing else they could do except give the fish oil a try, in hope to “re-build” his brain.  After giving large doses of fish oil through feeding tubes, improvement was occurring.  Day by day, week by week.  The fish oil seemed to be working and indeed, after months of the specialized treatment the patient was back on his feet, learning how to live again.  Almost the same exact circumstances happened for the second patient and both families claim that fish oil saved their son’s lives.

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Now before jumping to conclusions about how absurd this topic is and how it must be cause by chance, hear me out.  Fish oil contains something called omega-3 fatty acids, which is basically what your brain is made of.  The thinking was not out of the realm of possibilities that this would work, it had just never been done before the first test that happened about six years ago.  
After these miraculous recoveries, doctors and scientists started to think that maybe these omega-3 fatty acids could help people’s brains in other ways as well.  Maybe this could lead to a cure of Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly and just improve the health of one’s brain.  Again, after seeing the results of the brain injury instances, this is not a terrible hypothesis.  
Recently a Time Magazine article displays the results of a many studies that have been done.  The article talks about many studies that were done that agree with the statement that more omega-3 lowers certain blood levels that helps Alzheimer’s patients and increases brain volume which resulted in better test scores by the patients.  However, much of those above explanations were reached by using observational data.  The one experimental study shows a random double-blind placebo trial done by studying the effects of either a omega-3 pill or its placebo.  The study was done on 3,563 patients all over the age of 60 who were in good health. After months of studying, it was revealed that the omega-3 group did no better on “standard tests of mental abilities, memory or verbal fluency.”

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Definitely an unfortunate set of results, but it was stated that by no means does increasing one’s intake of omega-3 harm a person’s health.  It was recommended to make sure to have a regular intake of the omega-3, but just do not expect to become 
miraculously smarter by having that in your system.  

After learning all of this information about omega-3, it is leading me to make my own conclusion.  Obviously the experimental data speaks for itself, that healthy people over the age of 60 with a fully developed brain received no benefit by taking the omega-3.  But what I do think is a valid aspect of these studies is that, there is obviously a chance for a huge gain for someone that had been involved in a tragic accident who has severe brain damage.  Also what do you all think about maybe giving babies or young children, whose brains are still developing, a larger intake of omega-3.  Maybe this could improve a still-developing brain?  

Also on a more sensitive note, one of our own Penn State cheerleaders has unfortunately endured a tragic brain injury, do you guys think that possibly giving her a high dose of omega-3 could improve her health? (I have no idea if they have tried that already or not)  Just a thought, I would love to hear what all of you have to think about this topic.


Food is Affecting the Brain and Causing Addiction

Whether it is eating a greasy cheeseburger, a frosted donut or an extra slice a pizza; food has an affect on everyone’s brain.  I am not talking about how this type of food impacts one’s blood flow or growth of bones, but I am talking about these greasy foods altering the way people think and react in a very negative way.  

A study done by CNN shows results of a test that explicitly show a direct correlation between eating unhealthy and the amount of activity it takes one’s brain to come to an answer compared to a person eating a little healthier.  The study goes on to show that in 29 participants the over weight adults had a much tougher time identifying words when written in different colors.  The study used the example, that the word red would be printed in red, or it would be printed in blue making it more challenging to quickly state the word.  The overwhelming results were stated that the healthier and less obese a person was, the easier time they had deciphering the words.  The only problem I have with the study, is that it is not explained how randomly allocated the participants were or anything else about them.  

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Another study I found relates the negative impact of food on the brain, to the addiction problem of food in the obese people around the world.   A study was done with three groups of rats and they were given three different eating patterns.  The first control group was given regular rat food, the second was allowed to eat fatty and sugary foods for one hour a day, and the third group was allowed to eat as much fatty foods as they wanted for however long they wanted.  The results were that both the 2nd and 3rd group became fat.  The reason behind the 2nd group of rats becoming obese were linked to the idea that they had to make up for the less amount of time to eat by binge-eating.  A more scientifically explained reasoning is int he article, but that was basically the generic synopsis.  

Now another variable that was given to the rats was that before the study, all the rats were trained to escape a little electrical shock while eating, which would mean they would stop eating and run away.  After the rats became obese from the food, the took no interest in running away from the shock because they had to keep eating.  They were as the article states “ignoring the threat of punishment,” which is the same trait that was demonstrated in a similar study done with rats when given cocaine.

Now I am quite aware that people are not rats.  However these two studies are very compelling in that fact that they are not far fetched.  All of this seems plausible to me.  And it makes me wonder, as I open up a question to think about, is it possible to be addicted to food?  And by that I mean, going through depression if one has not had it’s normal intake of food, or go through other withdrawal symptoms.  To me it seems extremely likely that it is true, what do you all think?

Having Trouble Thinking?… Take a Nap!

Ever sit at your computer, staring aimlessly at your screen attempting to figure out a certain answer and simply just can not think of where to even begin?  Apparently, “power naps” are being connected to stirring up ideas in the brain, by this CNN study.  A topic that to me does not make much sense, as I think of waking up from a power nap just as groggy and dazed as before.  

However, what this study is stating is that during these short, mid-afternoon naps, the right hemisphere of the brain, which is stated in the study as the side of the brain that is for “creative tasks,” and “big picture thinking,”  is working more than usual during these naps which is generating more ideas and gaining knowledge from the brain’s memory.  While the other side of the brain is for analytic thinking, dealing with “numbers and languages.”  Now, all of this information is still currently being studied, but the thought that this relaxing task could actually improve someone’s intelligence is very interesting.  

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This article by Health, further explains the same concept of an afternoon power nap making people “smarter.”  A study done that is described in the article by Health, contributed to these findings by having college students learn people’s names and faces whom they had never met before.  The students were asked to match the names with the faces multiple times at various points in the day.  One group was allocated to have a 90 min nap, and after the nap, the results of matching the faces with names turned out to be significantly more accurate than the group without the nap.  (Statistics were not provided)
The CNN article at the top, discussed an experiment done on the brain that resulted in more intense blood flow during naps which has been linked to more activity going on during both regions of the brain, which could potentially result as strong evidence supporting the alternative hypothesis.
Now if you are thinking about implementing a power nap into your daily schedule, here are some tips I have researched that supposedly can result in the perfect power nap.  Is this a sensible thing to try?  Personally, I do not see any harm in it, unless you are using a power nap to just be lazy and put work off until the last minute.  I would be interested to hear what everyone else’s opinion is on this topic.  Do you believe that a power nap can revamp your memory and increase your ability to remember and answer questions?