Thursday, November 1, 2012

Master a new language and grow hippocampus and cerebral cortex


The learn­ing of lan­guages allows the brain to stay “in shape”, by caus­ing cer­tain parts of the brain to grow, includ­ing the hip­pocam­pus and three areas of the cere­bral cortex…This find­ing came from sci­en­tists at Lund Uni­ver­sity, after exam­in­ing young recruits with a tal­ent for acquir­ing lan­guages who were able to speak in Ara­bic, Russ­ian, or Dari flu­ently after just 13 months of learn­ing, before which they had no knowl­edge of the lan­guages…Johan Mårtens­son explained: “We were sur­prised that dif­fer­ent parts of the brain devel­oped to dif­fer­ent degrees depend­ing on how well the stu­dents per­formed and how much effort they had had to put in to keep up with the course.”
  • Abstract: The influ­ence of adult foreign-language acqui­si­tion on human brain orga­ni­za­tion is poorly under­stood. We stud­ied cor­ti­cal thick­ness and hip­pocam­pal vol­umes of con­script inter­preters before and after three months of intense lan­guage stud­ies. Results revealed increases in hip­pocam­pus vol­ume and in cor­ti­cal thick­ness of the left mid­dle frontal gyrus, infe­rior frontal gyrus, and supe­rior tem­po­ral gyrus for inter­preters rel­a­tive to con­trols. The right hip­pocam­pus and the left supe­rior tem­po­ral gyrus were struc­turally more mal­leable in inter­preters acquir­ing higher pro­fi­ciency in the for­eign lan­guage. Inter­preters strug­gling rel­a­tively more to mas­ter the lan­guage dis­played larger gray mat­ter increases in the mid­dle frontal gyrus. These find­ings con­firm struc­tural changes in brain regions known to serve lan­guage func­tions dur­ing foreign-language acquisition.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Steve Carell on How to Act Brilliant

By Nancy Miller Email 04.21.08
Steve Carell is no dummy. In fact, the man who plays hapless half-wit Michael Scott on NBC's The Office and equally hapless gumshoe Maxwell Smart in this summer's big-screen redo of Get Smart is nothing short of a genius — a genius wrapped in a doofus, hidden by an idiot. Here's his advice on how to attain Carell-level smarts.
Engage in Reading-Type Behavior 
If we were meant to read for enjoyment, would God have created television? Read as it was intended — for exercise. The more you read, the more you expand your — what's the word I'm looking for? — your stockpile of words. You must have a stockpile of words that you can pass along to your children for their stockpile.
Appear to Listen 
I've learned to appear scintillatingly intellectual by asking people questions ("Do you like pizza?"). Then I just look at them, nodding and saying "Hmmm" and "Um hmmm" every few seconds. Try and keep one or two things in your head to regurgitate later. After all, what is knowledge, really, but high-resolution regurgitation?
Just Say Yes 
I've been injecting human growth hormone into my brain for several years now, with no ill effects. I feel smarter, and I often feel compelled to show people — really show them — just how smart I am. HGH has also colored the way I perceive the world, which is now a sort of bloodred.
Get the Abs of Einstein 
A healthy body means a healthy mind. You get your heart rate up, and you get the blood flowing through your body to your brain. Look at Albert Einstein. He rode a bicycle. He was also an early student of Jazzercise. You never saw Einstein lift his shirt, but he had a six-pack under there.
Don't Chew Your Food 
I recommend tuna melts. Fish is very healthy, as is cheese, and toast. I also recommend eating peeled baby carrots. Carrots are very good for the eyes, but they absolutely must be baby carrots so you don't chew too much. I don't think I have to explain crunchwaves to people who read wired. They already know that when you chew something too hard, the vibrations fire up those crunchwaves, which shake the neurons in your brain. Do that too much and those brain cells shake loose and die. I usually gulp my food, and you should, too.
Practice Thinking by Yourself 
Your brain, like your tongue, is a muscle. Practicing thinking by yourself really helps develop your brain, which you need throughout your day. I like to practice my thinking in a darkened room, alone. I focus on one thing, such as Tree. I think about Tree. Then, after that, I think about Cloud. Then later, as I walk outside, I see Tree and since I have practiced thinking, I avoid hitting it. I try and have six or seven thoughts a day.
Match Your Shoes to Your Belt 
If you don't look good, you don't think good.
Know Things 
It's important to be well-rounded — not purely scientific and analytical. Explore the arts: poetry, music, decoupage (a visual art form I've been developing since the first grade). And remember, it's always better to have a cursory knowledge of a lot of things than to actually know a lot about any one thing. This is called a liberal arts education.
Act "Human" 
When I go to parties, people often look stunned at how smart I am. But nobody wants to talk about astrophysics at a dinner party. Hey, when I want to talk like that, I head to the lab! Instead, I talk about "human" things they enjoy and understand: midrange wines, movie trivia, and mundane subjects like family and emotional fulfillment. I like to end my conversations with a quote, usually something in French, like "c'est la vie," which means "down the hatch!" But don't overdo it: Nobody likes a show-off.
Retain Your Childlike Sense of Wonder 
Children are very smart, in their own stupid way. A child's brain is like a sponge, and you know how smart sponges are. My children are like little processors. They pick up all kinds of things, then process that into information. And what is knowledge, really, but processed information? We must always strive to be overly processed, like our children.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Selenium increase Diabetic risk?

From WebMD Health News

Selenium Supplements May Increase Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

Brenda Goodman, MA
February 28, 2012 — Taking selenium? You may not need to. There's new evidence to suggest that selenium supplements aren't necessary for most Americans. They may even cause harm.
And if you pop a daily multivitamin, as more than one-third of Americans do, check the label. Many multivitamin and mineral formulas contain selenium.
"It isn't always that more is better. More often, 'more' isn’t better. Really, in terms of selenium, that was one of the points I wanted to bring out," says researcher Margaret P. Rayman, DPhil, a biochemist at the University of Surrey in the U.K.
In a research review published in The Lancet, Rayman concludes that most Americans get enough selenium in their diets.
And a few studies included in the review suggest that taking more selenium in supplements may increase the risk for type 2 diabetes, though evidence is conflicting on that point.
Experts who were not involved in the study agree that most Americans shouldn’t be taking extra selenium.
"There is no evidence that selenium supplementation of the U.S. population would be helpful," says Raymond F. Burk, MD, a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.  
"In fact, there have been suggestions from recent work that it might be harmful, although this has not been conclusively proven. Thus, based on present knowledge I would not recommend selenium supplementation," says Burk, who studies the health effects of selenium.
How Much Selenium Do You Need?
Selenium is a naturally occurring trace mineral that is vital to good health. Low selenium has been linked to an increased risk of death and poor brain and immune function.
The government's recommended daily allowance for selenium is 55 micrograms for adults aged 19 and over. It is 60 micrograms daily for women who are pregnant and 70 micrograms for women who are breastfeeding.
Those levels aren't hard to reach. Thanks to selenium-rich soil throughout much of the country, most Americans get plenty of this essential mineral through meats and grains like corn and wheat.
"Your wheat that’s used to make bread has quite a lot more selenium in it than ours would in Europe," Rayman says.
In fact, studies show the average selenium intake for men in the U.S. is about 134 micrograms per day. And that’s a level that seems to be right on target for good overall health.
The U.S. Institute of Medicine has set a tolerable upper limit for selenium at 400 micrograms a day. Too much selenium can cause a condition called selenosis, which includes symptoms such as gastrointestinal upset, hair loss, white blotchy nails, garlic breath odor, fatigue, irritability, and mild nerve damage.
Selenium Supplements: Too Much of a Good Thing?
Hoping that more selenium might add up to even better health, researchers have tested supplements to see if they might boost immune function, brain health, and fertility, and ward off cancer and heart disease and stroke risk.
The review found that for people who have low selenium levels, taking supplements sometimes helps.
One study of adults in the U.K. who had low selenium levels, which are more common in Europe, found that people who took supplements were able to fight off a virus more quickly than those who took a placebo.
And supplements boosted sperm quality in men with fertility problems who also had low selenium intakes, allowing 11% to father a child. The men who took a placebo fathered no children. Selenium supplements have also shown promise for thyroid problems, though researchers say those results are early and need to be confirmed.
Studies in the U.S. that have tested supplements for cancer and heart disease protection have found no evidence of benefit, and indeed, in people who had the highest selenium levels going into the studies, taking supplements was tied to increased risks of harm.
Selenium and Diabetes
One study of more than 1,200 Americans, for example, found that those who took 200 micrograms of selenium daily for an average of nearly eight years had a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those taking a placebo.
And those who started the study with the highest selenium levels — 122 micrograms or higher — saw a nearly three-fold jump in diabetes risk compared to those taking a placebo.
One limitation of that study, however, was that doctors didn't set out to study type 2 diabetes as an outcome. People were recruited to see if selenium could cut their risk for non-melanoma skin cancer.
Researchers concede that looking at outcomes that weren't part of the design of the study can muddy the results.
Still, other studies have also suggested an association between selenium and diabetes.
Having a higher selenium level was linked to an increased prevalence of diabetes in adults tracked by the CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.
In the same vein, a French study found that higher selenium levels were associated with having higher blood sugar levels.
Researchers note that selenium might have an effect on type 2 diabetes because at high levels, it can interfere with the body’s ability to effectively use insulin.
When it comes to taking selenium, "It's horses for courses," says Rayman, using a British expression that means what's suitable for one person or situation might not be suitable for another.
"There wouldn't be a risk for us, in our population, if we took an extra 200 micrograms of selenium, but if you did that in North America, or in the U.S., then yes, you might well be putting yourself at risk," she says.
"I think it's a balancing act. I think if people have a very strong, varied diet that's within the 2,000 calorie limit, there may be a case where you don't need the extra nutrients," says Duffy MacKay, ND, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based Council for Responsible Nutrition.
"But in my clinical practice, you see a lot of people with a not-so-varied diet, or for one reason or another they're very limited in what they eat, and then the multivitamin does a nice job of filling those nutrient gaps," he says.

Stress accelerates Aging

From Medscape Medical News > Psychiatry

Stress, Depression Linked to Accelerated Aging

Fran Lowr
March 1, 2012 — Shortened telomere length, which is known to be associated with aging, is also associated with depression and hypocortisolism, new research shows.
These findings confirm earlier research showing shorter telomere length in depressed patients in comparison with nondepressed individuals from the general population, according to lead author Mikael Wikgren, PhD, from Umeå University in Sweden.
Dr. Mikael Wikgren
"It also goes on to suggest that this difference is related to a dysregulated stress response, which is a stress response pattern which has been tied to chronic stress," he told Medscape Medical News. "This, in turn, underlines the important role stress regulation plays in depressive illness, and, in view of telomere length being considered a marker of biological aging, suggests that stress accelerates aging."
The study is published in the February 15 issue of Biological Psychiatry.
Established Link
Dr. Wikgren's earlier work established that telomere length was associated with depression. In the current study, he and his group sought to investigate how telomere length related to biological and psychological measures of stress and whether these were related to the shorter telomere length seen in depressed patients.
The researchers measured telomere length in the leukocytes of 91 study participants who had recurrent major depressive disorder and 451 control participants. The mean age of the study participants was 59 years. Most of the depressed patients had suffered from depression for an average of 28 years.
The participants also underwent a dexamethasone suppression test to assess the reactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is a very important regulator of the stress response, most known for regulating cortisol.
Participants also filled out psychometric self-report questionnaires.
High Stress, Low Cortisol
As expected, telomere length was significantly shorter among depressed patients compared with control participants (P = .001).
Telomere length was also shorter in both depressed and control participants who showed low cortisol levels on the dexamethasone suppression test. However, it was shortest in the depressed patients.
This hypocortisolemic state was associated with a family history of affective disorders among the depressed patients and with high C-reactive protein levels among the control participants.
The researchers also found that telomere length was inversely associated with higher levels of stress as measured with the perceived stress questionnaire.
"Hypocortisolism has been found in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, burnout, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, disorders which share symptoms of fatigue, pain, and increased stress sensitivity," Dr. Wikgren said.
Traditionally, too much cortisol has been thought to be harmful, but more and more research is showing that the opposite is true, he added. "When you experience chronic stress, cortisol levels go down. A hyporesponsive HPA axis evolves over time when under stress, so an initially hyperreactive HPA axis gradually evolves into a hyporesponsive HPA axis."
Beyond Emotional Distress
Commenting on this research for Medscape Medical News, John H. Krystal, MD, the Robert L. McNeil Jr Professor of Translational Research and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, said the current findings provide further evidence that stress and psychiatric disorders may have profound effects on health that go beyond emotional distress and functional impairment.
Dr. John Krystal
"We are learning a great deal about the functions of telomeres in processes like cellular aging and cancer," Dr. Krystal, who is also the editor of Biological Psychiatry, said.
"From this perspective, the importance of helping people to identify these life problems and to get effective treatment for them may be an important part of preserving their overall medical health. In other words, the average doctor routinely measures blood pressure, EKG, and glucose levels, but if we want to protect against some health problems, we may also need to measure depression and to assure that depressed people obtain the treatment they need."
This research was funded by the Swedish Research Council, Umeå University, and the County Councils of Västerbotten and Norrbotten, Sweden. Dr. Wikgren and Dr. Krystal have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
Biol Psychiatry. 2012;71:294-300. Abstract

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Brain Exercise n Brain Health

Brain Exercise and Brain Health FAQs

Below you have a quick “email inter­view” we had yes­ter­day with a jour­nal­ist, it may help you nav­i­gate through this emerg­ing field. (if you want some brain exer­cise right now, you can check our Top 50 Brain Teasers).

1. Why is it so impor­tant to exer­cise our brains?

Our brains are com­posed of dif­fer­ent areas and func­tions, and we can strengthen them through men­tal exer­cise– or they get atro­phied for lack of prac­tice. The ben­e­fits are both short-term (improved con­cen­tra­tion and mem­ory, sus­tained men­tal clar­ity under stress­ful sit­u­a­tions…), and long-term (cre­ation of a “brain reserve” that help pro­tect us against poten­tial prob­lems such as Alzheimer’s).

2. What are 1 or 2 things that are guar­an­teed “brain drains”?

- high-levels of anx­i­ety and stress, that are guar­an­teed to dis­tract us from our main goals and waste our lim­ited men­tal energies.
- a very repet­i­tive and routine-driven life, lack­ing in nov­elty and stim­u­la­tion. We have brains to be able to learn and to adapt to new environments
The trick there­fore, is to take on new chal­lenges that are not way too difficult/ impos­si­ble, and learn how to man­age stress to pre­vent anx­i­ety from kicking-in.

3. What are three easy and quick men­tal exer­cises that every­one should be doing daily?

- For stress man­age­ment: a 5-minute visu­al­iza­tion, com­bin­ing deep and reg­u­lar breath­ings with see­ing in our mind’s eye beau­ti­ful land­scapes and/ or remem­ber­ing times in our past when we have been suc­cess­ful at a tough task
- For short-term mem­ory: try a series sub­tract­ing 7 from 200 (200 193 186 179…), or a series involv­ing mul­ti­pli­ca­tion (2,3 4,6 6,9 8,12…) or expo­nen­tial series (2 4 8 16 32 64…) the goal is not to be a math genius, sim­ply to train and improve our short-term mem­ory. Another way is to try and remem­ber our friends tele­phone numbers.
- In gen­eral: try some­thing dif­fer­ent every day, no mat­ter how lit­tle. Take a dif­fer­ent route to work. Talk to a dif­fer­ent col­league. Ask an unex­pected ques­tion. Approach every day as a liv­ing exper­i­ment, a learn­ing oppor­tu­nity.

4. Are cross­word puz­zles and sudoku really as great for exer­cis­ing our brain as they are reported to be? Why? And what about activ­i­ties like knitting?

Use it or lose it” may be mis­lead­ing if we think that “It” is just one thing. The brain is com­posed of many dif­fer­ent areas that focus on dif­fer­ent things. Doing a cross­word puz­zle only acti­vates a small part of the brain. The 3 key prin­ci­ples for good brain exer­cises are: nov­elty, vari­ety and con­stant chal­lenge. Not that dif­fer­ent from cross-training our bodies.
The first time we do a cross­word, or sudoku or knit­ting, that is great, because it forces us to learn. But when doing it is com­pletely rou­tine, the mar­ginal ben­e­fit is very lim­ited. Nowa­days neu­ropsy­chol­o­gists do not rec­om­mend paper-based activ­i­ties but computer-based brain exer­cise soft­ware pro­grams, since they can pro­vide a vari­ety of new activ­i­ties all the time, always tai­lored with a proper increas­ing level of challenge.

5. Any foods that increase our brain fitness?

The main prin­ci­ple is that foods that are good for our body are also good for our brain. omega-3 fatty acids, found in cold-water fish such as mack­erel, her­ring, salmon, and tuna, also have shown some ben­e­fits. There is con­tra­dic­tory data on Ginkgo biloba. The best “brain food” is, lit­er­ally, men­tal stimulation.

6. Does phys­i­cal exer­cise also exer­cise our brains?

In sum­mary, phys­i­cal exer­cise is impor­tant because it influ­ences the rate of cre­ation of new neu­rons in our brains. Men­tal exer­cise is impor­tant because it helps deter­mine how those new neu­rons are used-and how long they sur­vive. Stress can reduce both the cre­ation of new neu­rons and their life­time, so stress man­age­ment is impor­tant too.
7. Maria writes in her com­ment below “I read with great inter­est this post on brain-stimulating activ­i­ties. I was sur­prised that soft­ware with a chang­ing chal­lenge level was con­sid­ered the best stim­u­la­tion, since it’s a seden­tary activ­ity.Isn’t active learn­ing, that com­bines phys­i­cal and men­tal exer­cise, the best way to stim­u­late the brain? Thanks, and love your site!”
Answer: Great com­ment. We are talk­ing about 2 dif­fer­ent things here:
- Habits for long-term good brain health: we usu­ally men­tion the 4 pil­lars of nutri­tion, phys­i­cal exer­cise, stress man­age­ment and men­tal stim­u­la­tion. Yes, con­stant active learn­ing pro­vides great men­tal stim­u­la­tion.
– Short-term Train­ing and improve­ment of one spe­cific area (mem­ory,…): you need some­thing more direct and well-targeted train­ing expe­ri­ence such as that pro­vided by a computer-based pro­gram, that assesses where you are today and “stretches” that spe­cific capacity.
Both aspects are very impor­tant, in the same way that both walk­ing often and going to the gym to do tar­geted work­outs are com­ple­men­tary for phys­i­cal fitness.
Hope that helps-let us know any other question!