Saturday, September 25, 2010

7. Your Brain: A user's Guide --- TIME Books

Your Brain: A user's Guide --- TIME Books (2009)
Time Inc., 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
(Gives you a whole new view of how your brain works and how you can be wiser, happier and healthier.)

There are 14 chapters in this book, each chapter written by investigators in their particular fields. First we will have an abstract of the material in the book and summary of each chapter.

Abstract: It might have taken 700 million years to be operational, to be the greatest computer ever built. It is less than 7 in. long and weighs less than 3 lb, it has no moving parts and does not make a sound.  That computer is the human brain. It is the home of dreams, songs,  wisdom, philosophy,  love, and awareness itself. Just like everything else it requires a break, which it gets in the form of sleep, perhaps to reevaluate things it learned. It allows you  to learn things, stores information, generates new ideas and execute behavior. It generates all your feelings of love, affection and hatred. It allows you to fast for a healthy life. It romances you to procreate human race.  Your Brain: A user’s Guide contains an investigation of all that is occurring in our brains.

1. Introduction -- The Landscape of the Mind: By Jeffrey Kluger

There's a universe inside your head -- a place of pictures and passions, of songs and sorrows. It's everything you are -- and it is an utter mystery.

The brain has regions where it performs specific functions by processing sensory signals. The regions are somewhat  confined, but when there is a need, they can take over the functionality of other regions. For example if a stroke destroys the region that controls the right hand, another region could take over the job. This is evidenced by physical therapy and the positive effect it has on stroke patients. We are now trying to understand the mysteries of consciousness, and the mysteries of stored experiences.

2. Five Paths To the Mind: By Jackson Dykman, David Bjerklie and Alice Park

From 5000 B.C. to the present, mankind has been trying to discover what is really going on inside our heads. The following are the paths they took to understand the brain.

The ancient philosophers believed the brain is the seat of intelligence and emotion, which is true.
The anatomists concluded separate parts of the brain are responsible for thought and movement, which is true.
The Psychologists studied it and concluded that the brain is responsible for human nature and behavior.
The physicians studied it to fix the disorders of the brain.
The neuro scientists worked on its electrical nature and generation of nerve impulses.

The studies on the brain culminated in the detailed description of the nervous system, the interpretation of dreams, the discovery of pre-senile degeneration otherwise known as Alzheimer's disease, the structure of sensory nerve cells that feed into brain, identified acetylcholine as a neurotransmitter, the ability to look into the brain through PET(Positron Emission Tomography) scanner, the ability of adult brain neurons to regenerate,  and beginning of gene therapy trials to treat brain diseases.

3. Consciousness: by Steven Pinker. 

Consciousness is the realization of where we are and what is surrounding us.  We do know it is the activity of the brain but we do not know how the conclusive results of our whereabouts are derived and our awareness of it.
Consciousness consists of many events distributed across the brain. These events compete for attention, and as one process outshouts the others, the brain rationalizes the outcome and concocts the impression that a single self is in charge all along. Major religions think that this is what the soul of a human being is doing and gets rewards or punishments after the death. This is the foundation of morality or the social rules developed to control human society.

The brain is a product of evolution. The brain like it or not is a machine. Consciousness is the activity of the brain, our thoughts, sensations, joys and aches consist entirely of physiological activity in the tissues of the brain.

3.1  Consciousness --  Why We Sleep: by Christine Gorman.

Why do we have to sleep? What benefits do we get out of sleep. Suppose we say what we feel that 'Sleep is necessary to refresh the mind' which then begs the question what is meant by 'refresh the mind' ?. Do we have to sleep (be unconscious)  to refresh the mind ? These are the questions sleep researchers want answers.

How much sleep do we need? How much is enough ?. The answer is " If you feel sleepy the following day, it means you are not getting enough sleep". You do not have to know what sleep is for to know that it is good for you because you are ready to take new tasks after it. Sleep is essential for the mind, if one is tired because of physical activity, we can reduce our activity and try to do it comfortably same goes for cerebral cortex, if it is tired, it must have sleep to refresh itself.

Sleep is not a linear process. Most mammals cycle between two phases of sleep. One is called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and the other is called simply non-REM sleep. Lots of brain activity takes place, probably reviewing its recently stored data, in REM sleep. If we wake up REM sleepers during their sleep,  they will say that they were  dreaming. The skilled handling of tasks that require procedural memory, repetition and practice such as recognizing patterns, are somewhat directly related to the amount of REM sleep the individual has. The individuals who learned procedural memory skills in the evening were able to fare better than the one who learned in the morning when tested 12 hours later.  The difference between these two groups is the night sleep of evening learners.

The stages of the sleep are 1. Drowsiness 2. Light Sleep 3. Deep Sleep 4. Deepest Sleep 5. REM Sleep.
Body cycles through the various stages of sleep multiple times throughout the night; perhaps to learn new tricks without forgetting the old ones. Is it necessary for us to be unconscious to review and store what we learned ?.Maybe  or maybe not but we do know that our brains need break like the rest of the body.  After about 18 hours without sleep, peopl’s reaction time starts slowing and eventually be about the same as someone who is legally drunk.  The brain's ability to use glucose (source of energy in the body) drops off dramatically after sleepless 24 hours.

4. Learning --- Language and the Baby Brain by  Jeffrey Kluger.

When babies were born, they come into this world without any skills except with the billions of neurons ready to learn and store(keep) what they learned. It is just like a computer(with an operating system); basically empty hard disk.

The ability to learn a language is greater when we are babies when the body can allocate more energy for neural network in the brain.  That is the reason kids can pickup multiple languages when they are young.   Neurons in babies can make 15,000 connections compared to adults 10,000 connections. As we grow older, most of us try to develop on the things what we already learned and the body's allocation of energy to the brain decreases.

Babies start language wise with nothing and recognize 50 words in about 18 months. This knowledge base grows to 1000 words by the age of three and 6000 words by the age of 6. English requires about 50,000 words for a meaningful conversation skill. Babies learn much faster if a live voice engages them in reading or teaching, than a radio tape or a video. This is understandable because language is a social skill and requires social interaction in learning.

4.1 Learning ---  The Gift of Mimicry by Madeleine Nash.

Mimicry is the art of watching others how they are doing and, storing and repeating exactly. This is happening because of mirror neurons in the brain. A baby smiles and her mother smiles back and the mirror neuron circuit is set up.

Mirror neurons look like neurons with special connections to limbic centers that process visceral and emotional reactions from motor and sensory systems. When a mother opens her mouth and baby imitates her, mirror neurons at work. Any time we learn a language, signals each other, mirror neurons at work.

4.2  Learning ---  The most Important Sex Organ by Lori Oliwenstein.

The biological systems of men and women differ both physically and mentally as we grow older. The woman's body carries two X chromosomes and man' body carries an X and a Y. Same chromosome structure is in men and woman's brain too. And it is not strange that mental systems differ in them. Guys have guy's brain and gals have gal's brain. Brain has a gender and sex influences brain and nervous-system function.

Men's brains are 8 to 10% larger than woman's brains. Nerve cells are more packed in men's brain than woman's brain. Girl's brain reaches maximum volume at the age of 10 1/2  while boy's brain reaches the top volume at the age of 14 1/2 , almost four year difference. The volume of grey matter (tissue in which real thinking gets done) reaches its peak one or two years earlier than boys. Two of the key language centers in women are larger than men indicating linguistic capability, while the region linked to mental-arithmetic abilities is larger in men indicating math capability. Women are better in arithmetic (adding, subtracting etc.) than men who are better in mathematical reasoning.

While the above differences can be observed generally, they will not fall neatly into sex categories. Lot of time the characteristics may overlap.

4.3 Learning ---  The Science of Romance by Jeffrey Kluger.

The brains of boys and girls mature and develop differently and yet fall  in love and spend time together for years. How it all happens in people with significant different brain structures. This is the beauty of Nature and caused by similar affection, love, and romance structures in the brain.

The sensation of romance is processed in three regions in the brain. First is the ventral tegmental area which produces dopamine which makes an anticipation of reward a pleasure. It creates craving, motivation, goal-oriented behavior and ecstasy. This one initiates love.

The brain's nucleus accumbens turns the love generated into obsession by combining the effects of chemicals dopamine with serotonin and oxytocin. Oxytocin is one of the chemicals that floods new mothers and creates such a fierce sense of connection to their babies. The same chemical creates strong feelings between lovers.

The third and last stop for love signals in the brain are curate nuclei which are on either side of the head. This is the place where motor skills are stored because of which we do not have to relearn skills of driving, typing, love making etc. This is the region which causes love passion to commitment.

5. Postcards from the brain by Alice Park.

The brain, a 3 lb universe, largely inaccessible without extremely risky surgery until 1970's. Today researches can peer into that universe with a multitude of technologies that capture the brain in action. This chapter describes their progression from 1970's to present.

1970s ---- Computer Tomography  (CT).

CT scanners produce a series of successive images which are merged together to form a picture showing depth. Brain abnormalities are identified in persons with brain diseases.

1980s ---- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

Effect of various radio frequencies on the changes of body's natural magnetic fields were measured in this technique. The system produces a true 3D image which helps in detecting changes in tissue densities. Brain diseases and tumors can be identified using this technique.

1980s ---- Positron-Emission Tomography (PET).

PET scans capture the images of the brain by tracking a radioactive tracer injected to the patient before the scans. Essentially PET brain scans determine how much blood is flowing in what regions and how much glucose is broken down in this process thereby identifying the activity in the brain regions. Very useful in determining what happens in the brain in a disease process.

1990s ---- Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

The technique is based on how much oxygen is consumed in brain cells which indicate the blood flow in the brain region. No radioactive tracers are used here. The patient is asked to perform a task and the results are compared with the healthy individual images.

2000s --- Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI).

The water flow in the brain regions of white matter is tracked down. The resulting images sharply identify the wiring under the white matter regions in the brain contrast to the diffused images of MRI. DTI is used in identifying Alzheimer's disease, types of dementia and, damages of skeletal and cardiac muscle.

2000s ---- Magneto Encephalography (MEG).

This technique uses the changes produced in tiny magnetic signals produced by active neurons. These scans are used to identify the order and pattern of nerve firings produced when the person is performing a  learning task. For example neurons are fired from the back of the brain (location of visual region) to the frontal lobes when new words are presented to learn.

6. Disorders -- Minds on The Edge by John Cloud.

No machine as complex as the brain can operate without malfunctions. Illnesses of the mind have very real causes and increasingly very real treatments.

Borderline Personality disorder (BPD). Sufferers unable to regulate their emotions. Symptoms: Anger, Fear of Abandonment, Unstable sense of self, Feeling of emptiness, Transient Paranoia. The technique used to treat BPD is Dialectical behavior therapy. One of the elements in it is called "Wise mind" or achieving Zen state of mind. Patients follow their breath and let their focus settle into their physical center at the bottom of their inhalation. This is similar to Hindu Meditation.

The following are the age related brain disorders that may occur.

Prenatal months:
The brain and nervous system develop and form an intricate network. But genetic errors and environmental factors like fetal exposure to alcohol can make this process go awry. Disorders:
Cerebral Palsy, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Neural Tube Defects, and Down Syndrome.

Infancy 0 to 5 years old):
Excess neurons and synapses are pruned in the first 18 months, but the brain keeps growing, reaching 90% of adult size. Brain cells become more adept at communicating.; babies learn to talk. Disorders: Autism, Epilepsy, Attention -Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, and Anxiety Disorders.

Late Childhood (5 to 10 years old):
Dramatic growth spurts in the temporal and parietal lobes, brain regions crucial to language and understanding of spacial relations, make this a prime time for learning new languages and music. Disorders: Depression, Antisocial Behavior, Dyslexia, and Anxiety Disorders.

Puberty (10 to 13 year old):
Just before puberty, the brain's gray matter thickens, especially in the frontal lobe, the seat of planning, impulse control and reasoning. This growth may be triggered by surges of sex hormones. Disorders: Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Eating Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, and Conduct Disorder.

Adolescence (13 to 20 years old):
The brain begins to shrink, loosing about 2% of its weight and volume in each successive decade. Abnormally high loss of gray matter during this period may be a cause of teenage schizophrenia. Disorders: Social Phobia, Peak Suicide Years.

Early Adulthood (20 to 30 years old):
By the late 20s, information processing begins to slow down. Memory centers in hippocampus and frontal lobes seem to be affected. This change is not noticeable until at least age 60. Disorders: Panic Disorders, Agoraphobia, Social Phobias, Postpartum Depression, Schizophrenia, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Bipolar Disorder.

Middle Age (30 to 60 years old):
Learning, memory, planning and other complex mental processes become more difficult, and reacting to stimuli takes longer. Plaques and tangles may form in certain brain regions. Disorders: Menopause, Parkinson's Disease, Early-Onset Alzheimer's, Huntington's Disease.

Old Age (60 to 100 years old):
Aging, depression, anxiety disorders and Alzheimer's may affect sleep patterns. The decline in cognitive abilities becomes more pronounced. Coordination and dexterity are also affected. Disorders: Stroke, Alzheimer's Disease, peak Suicide Years.

6.1  Disorders -- Pain, Rage and Blame by Jeffrey Kluger:

Personality disorders are amongst the toughest cases a psychologist can face. This occurs because of suspicion and mistrust of others. They insist that they do not have a problem but the rest of the world has a problem. As much as 9% of the population is thought to suffer from some kind of personality disorder, and as many as 20% of all mental health hospitalizations may be a result of such conditions.

There are many personality disorders such as Paranoid, Schizoid, Schizotypal, Antisocial, Borderline, Histrionic, Narcissistic, Avoidant, Dependent, Obsessive Compulsive.

Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS): Doctors were able to insert wires into brain and stimulate the areas which are deteriorating. DBS is like a pacemaker for the brain. Although we can rejuvenate the brain for sometime (may be 10 years) we can not stop the deterioration of the brain forever. But in essence a broken brain can be temporarily fixed.

6.2 Disorders -- Medicine Chest for the Mind by Jeffrey Kluger.
We were able to excite our brains for centuries by drinking, smoking or chewing natural plant products like coffee beans, grapes, tobacco etc. Not satisfied, we want to invent a pill, knowing fully well that brain disorders are not related to any bacterium or virus. We succeeded in inventing pills such as , antidepressants, sedatives, stimulants, anti psychotics and mood stabilizers with side effects of their own because of their chemical origin.

7. Maturing -- Grey Hair and Wise Brains by Jeffrey Kluger.

The maturing adult may be more forgetful than he used to be, but the mind may be subtler, nimbler and flat-out smarter than what it was before. This is all because of the strengthening white matter in the brain as we grow older. Although the short term memory may not be what it was before, the reasoning power increases, temperament changes and less susceptible to frustration and irritation. The brain begins bringing new cognitive systems online and cross-indexing existing ones in ways it never did before. Some abilities decline with age but others keep improving with use.

7.1 The Wild World of a Teen Brain -- by Claudia Wallis.

The brain undergoes two major developmental phases, one in the womb and a second takes place from childhood through the teen years. The maturation occurs in a predictable fashion (pattern), spreading from the back of the brain that mediate direct contact with the environment by controlling such sensory functions as vision, hearing, touch and spacial processing. Next are areas that coordinate those functions. The very last part of the brain to be shaped to its adult dimensions is the prefrontal cortex, home of the so called executive functions - planning, prioritizing, organizing thoughts, suppressing impulses, weighing consequences.

Nerve Proliferation and pruning: By age 11 for girls and 12 1/2 for boys, the neurons in the front of the brain have formed thousands of new connections. Over the next few years many of those links will be pruned. Those that are used and reinforced - the pathways involved in language, for example- will be strengthened, while the ones that are not used will die out.

8. The Faces of Genius.

How can we define genius? What makes one a genius? Is there any way we can recognize one as a would be genius? We never know. But we can say that one is a genius from the work what he did. ex: Pablo Picasso, Einstein, Mozart,  Crick and Watson, Bill Gates etc.

9. Memory -- Forgetting is the New Normal by Sue Halpern.

Hippocampus is the place where all sensory signals go to and the information passed to the prefrontal cortex working(short-term) memory. Most of the short-term work we do (dialing a telephone number, watching lights while driving etc) are done are done by the decisions made by the prefrontal cortex with the sensory information supplied by the hippocampus. If the information sent by hippocampus is important (being used multiple times), long term potentiatian (LTP)  takes place in hippocampus which strengthens the synapses forming long term memories.
How and when we loose memory is an interesting subject.  In normal memory loss, as we age, anode in hippocampus called dentante gyrus breaks down and results in memory loss. In Alzheimer's a different node in hippocampus - the etorhinal cortex - starts to breakup. Hippocampus begins to malfunction (shrinks)  in the onset of Alzheimer's disease. As it shrinks the pathway between hippocampus and prefrontal cortex degrade and memory loss occurs. This may happen after age 60.

As people get older, the prefrontal cortex also diminishes in size well before middle age and starts using glucose less efficiently and loses half of neurotransmitter dopamine concentration which result in problems controlled by the prefrontal cortex (concentration).

As we get older our brains make fewer neurons. The brain continues to produce neurons throughout our life cycle at two places: the olfactory bulb and the hippocampus in the dentate gyrus.  As we get older the neuron factory turns out fewer neurons resulting in memory loss.

Scientists find out physical activity increases Cerebral Blood Volume (CBV) increases neuron growth and improves memory. Aerobic exercises does this better. If we combine these with our diet of blueberries, which nullify free radical activity, we can reverse aging related memory loss. It is found out large belly size also is the cause of memory loss as as it increase blood glucose levels which in turn disrupt the function of the dentate gyrus resulting in memory loss.

9.1 Memory -- Fretting About Forgetfulness by Frederic Golden.

We sometimes forget things because our brains have evolved with a built-in-forgetfulness so as to remove information clutter from our brains. In older people these memory problems somewhat enhanced because of age. Sometimes poor diet, vitamin deficiencies or glandular imbalances may also cause memory problems.

One should be concerned if memory loss becomes a consistent pattern -- forgetting what you have said or done, repeatedly missing appointments, telling old jokes again and again or unwittingly making  phone calls to the same people about the same subjects. It is real trouble if this pattern is followed by changes in behavior, such as irritability, depression or irrational suspicions.

Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed by eliminating other possibilities rather than a direct test because none is available other than a brain biopsy to identify nerve-cell-killing plaques in the brain. Even the disease is not curable, it may soon be more treatable than ever.

9.2 Memory -- The Many Flavors of Memories by Michael D. Lemonick.

Scientists already know memories are actually groups of brain cells linked by strong chemical connections. The brain has the capability of knowing similar memories and also slightly dissimilar memories. This ability is known as pattern separation.

If we question ourselves as to why we need memory or why memory was created in the evolution, the simple answer is for survival. We remember things temporarily (like signal lights) or semi permanent for future use (people we met etc). These memories if we do not use them they fade away, we loose them in the pruning mechanism of the brain.  But the emotionally charged events (positive or negative) we come across are etched in the memory forever because they give us pleasure or fear. In the case of pleasure we want more and in the case of fear we want to avoid.

The biochemical process goes like this: the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are released which in turn signal amygdala which is in the brain's temporal lobes to release hormone norepinephrine. Two things happen at this juncture, autonomic nervous system gets activated (heartbeat respiration increases) and second signals were sent to neural system that the events happening should be robustly recorded in the memory. Is there any hope to erase all bad memories and keep only good pleasurable memories, lot of work is going on now.

10. Morality -- what makes us moral? by Jeffrey Kluger.

How and why human beings are kind, gentle and warm at one end and destroy and kill each other another end? Are there two parts in our brain to choose as the need arises? What is moral?  What is wrong and what is right? Are those a set of rules we defined for our survival?

The deepest foundation on which morality is built is the phenomenon of empathy, the understanding that what hurts me would feel the same way to you. Second comes the group-ism. Membership in a community ensures you food and shelter and saves you from predators, we follow the group rules. Whatever moral to the group is our moral value.

The basic hardware structure for determining morals was built in our brain, only thing we have to load is the software. The rules are acquired from the people around us with whom we socialize. These social rules we etch in our brains and when the time comes to act our anterior cingulate cortex, medial prefrontal cortex dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and our emotion bundle amygdala come into play and decide our moral actions.

10.1 Morality -- Race and the Raging Brain by Jeffrey Kluger.

Our brain was built to like people who are like us. But it will not tell us to hate everybody else. That is the acquired knowledge based on our religion, language, history and geography. We come to declare ours as the best. Our language is best, our food habits are best, our clothes are best, our men are muscular our women are lovelier. We like our own group of people.

But why we try to dominate others and destroy them? Psychologists believe there are three things in place in their minds. One is the negation of intimacy -- they do not deserve our empathy, second is passion -- hatred for them, third is the commitment -- they historically did something wrong.

11.  The World Within.

We are trying to picture and understand the brain, ever since we realized that we have it in our body.

12. Addiction -- When Your Brain Can't Say No by Michael D. Lemonick.

The world is full of pleasures, and the human brain is wired to experience them all and enjoy. We try to do the things which make us feel good although they make us feel bad after words (hangovers). Unfortunately if pleasurable experience takes over and force you for more, then it becomes an addiction. Addictions are repetitive behaviors in the face of negative consequences, the desire to continue something you know is bad for you. They are not consequences of poor will power. The internal thinking mechanisms somehow screwed up. Addiction can hijack the brain and controls the emotion pathways.

Our brain has a built in mechanism to foresee threats, salient forces, and plan to thwart them before they happen for our survival. Thanks to our emotional mechanisms triggered by amygdala.  But the pleasurable things are not threats as perceived by the brain as such survival mechanisms are not triggered. There are some other analytical mechanisms in the brain that will override the pleasure seeking pathways and stop us becoming an addict before it is too late. This is revealed in imaging studies where it is shown that activity in prefrontal cortex is more where rational thoughts can override impulsive behavior.  So everyone cannot be an addict.

Research work on addiction is concentrated on 3 areas, prefrontal cortex, brain's reward system involving dopamine and the brain's natural damping circuit, faulty gamma-aminobutiric acid (GABA). Hormonal activity also play a role in addiction.

We feel good when neurons in the rewards pathway release a neurotransmitter called dopamine into the nucleus accumbens and other brain areas. The neurons that lie along that reward route communicate by sending electrical signals down their axons. The signal is passed to the next neuron through a gap called synapse. Dopamine job is to ferry the electrical signal to the next neuron. If the signal intensity is too much, GABA is released to suppress the excitement. Addictive drugs prevent the absorption of excess dopamine and block the production of GABA. Thus natural safety mechanisms are altered and the addiction sets in.

Even in the age of brain scans and neurotransmitter research, the best way not to drink-or smoke or do drugs - is well, just not to do it. That is not the high-tech answer, but it is-for now at least-the best answer.

12.1 Addiction -- Science And Your Appetite by Jeffery Kluger.

The following is the Appetite cycle, how and why we eat.

1. PANGS: When the stomach is empty, it contracts, sending signals along the vagas nerve to the brain. We can ignore them but not forever as other systems in the body take over and tell you to do something about it.

2. SENSES: Smell and sight of food stimulates appetite. Body wants a variety of sensations. We cannot just eat one thing and satisfy appetite. Closing eyes or walking away may help but temporarily.

3. GHRELIN: As the meal time approaches, a hormone called Ghrelin is produced in the stomach and sends strong feelings of hunger to the brain. Gastric-bypass surgery reduces the production of this hormone because of which hunger signals hitting the brain are delayed.

4. STRETCHING: Eating stretches stomach and intestines and generates signals to suppress appetite and tell stomach to stop moving food to the intestines. This is a delayed process, stomach says stop eating but it takes several minutes for the signals to reach the brain, and over eating takes place. Excess food gets converted to fat and stored as fat cells. Fat cells are converted back to food(energy) in the case of starvation.

5. CHOLECYSTOKININ (CCK): This peptide is produced in the upper intestine and tells the brain that the meal is over but unfortunately we look for desert although we know that the meal is over.

6. PYY and GLP-1: These hormones are produced in the intestines reinforcing the "meal is over" signal by telling the stomach to stop pushing food into intestines until the food already there in the intestines is digested. The result is we feel full.

7. PPARs: These receptors regulate the energy consumption in the cells. The left over nutrients are converted and stored as fat.

8. LEPTIN: This hormone is a long term appetite regulator produced in fat cells to signal about fat reserves in the body. These signals control the activity of appetite signals. Most obese people have lot of Leptin but their response to these signals is not efficient.

With all these metabolic regulations in place, why we still over eat, compulsively over eat? Because eating becomes somewhat becomes of an addiction. The hormone Ghrelin not only sends hunger signals, it stimulates the mesolimbic reward region in the brain perhaps to encourage people to eat, making food addictive.

13. Healing -- The Power Of Mood by David Bjerklie and Michael D. Lemonick.

Generally we see that happy people are healthier compared to unhappy people. The reason being, the mind which make us feel happy and the body are intimately connected. In the same token an unhealthy mind leads to an unhealthy body. The two main causes of unhappiness in people are stress and depression, caused by mind-body link going bad. This may sometimes lead to the death of an individual.

Stress: The stress response starts in the brain and a number of structures in the brain go on alert to attack the problem right away. Hypothalamus, amygdala and pituitary gland in the brain exchange information and communicate to the rest of the body through nerve impulses. Adrenal glands release adrenaline which makes the heart pump faster and the lungs work harder to flood the body with oxygen. The adrenal glands also release cortisol and other glucocorticoids, which help the body convert sugar into energy. Nerve cells release norepinephrine, which tenses the muscles and sharpen the senses to prepare for action. When the threat passes, the levels go down but chronic low level stress keeps the glucocorticoids in circulation leading to a weakened immune system, loss of bone mass, suppression of the reproductive system and memory loss. The only way out of this is to eliminate stress by staying calm.

Depression: Depression may be caused by constant unhappy life. We cannot point out one reason which causes depression except to point out the symptoms of depression and try to correct them. 1) Heartbeat of a person with depression is unusually steady - this means heart is not responding to different tasks(situations) the person is facing. 2) Depressed individuals have elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) reading. CRP is produced by liver in case of an injury or infection in the body. CRP level tells about the resulting inflammation.
3) Diabetes worsens with depression. Depression  appears to decrease the response to Insulin, possibly acting with cortisol, a stress related hormone that can interfere with insulin sensitivity. Cortisol may also make depressed patients more prone to osteoporosis as it interferes with the ability of bone to absorb calcium. 3) Depressed individuals are more prone for complications of Diabetes, heart disease, nerve damage and blindness.
Studies have established links between depression and diseases like, cancer, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, stroke and Alzheimer's. The treatment now for depression concentrated on the cause of those diseases, neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, glutamate and norepinephrine. Scientists believe neurotransmitters are involved in depression and their effect can be seen throughout the body.

13.1 Healing -- Mind Food And Other Brain Boosters.

Foods: Vegetables and Fruits(Specially Berries).

1) Antioxidants: Suppress the free radical activity by donating electrons. In metabolic processes, oxygen atoms loose an electron and become unstable which can damage other parts of the metabolic system by attaching itself to it. Anti-oxidants supply the lost electron to the free radical(oxygen) and makes it stable. ex: vegetables and fruits, chocolate, nuts, Vitamin C and E.

2) Omega-3:  Go fishing.

3) Caffeine and Sugar: Go Easy. Take as little as possible.

4) Electrical and Magnetic Therapies: Very Effective. The treatment now uses a small current to trigger a mild seizure-a rhythmic firing of neurons-that can push a depressed brain out of its rut. A new therapy is in works which uses magnetic pulses to the head instead of current.

5) Talking Cures: Cognitive therapy help the patient to recognize destructive patterns and train them to change those. Meditation and Biofeedback, lowering the levels of stress hormone cortisol also helps.

6) Alternative Remedies: Probiotics. Bacteria similar to bacteria in Yogurt.

7) Drugs: Most anti depressants work by tweaking levels of neurotransmitters, the chemicals that carry neurotransmitters between neurons. Researchers are exploring two molecules, GABA and glutamate, that are responsible for 90% of signaling in the brain.

13.2 Healing -- The Biology of Belief by Jeffrey Kluger.

Atheists and believers may argue about religion, but one thing seems clear; having faith can improve your health. This is because our brains and bodies contain an awful lot of spiritual wiring. Dr. Andrew Newberg, a professor of radiology, psychology and religious studies at the university of Pennsylvania studying this interconnection from the last 15 years and started Penn's Center for Spirituality and Mind. He wrote a book entitled "How God Changes Your Brain" and recorded all his research findings.

When people engage in prayer, frontal lobes in the brain take the lead, since they govern focus and concentration. During very deep prayer, the parietal lobe powers down which makes us feel that transcendent sense of having lost all the earthly connections. Pray and meditate enough, and some changes in the brain become permanent. Long term meditaters, 15 years or more practice, have thicker frontal lobes than non meditaters. Highly spiritual people tend to exhibit an asymmetry in the thalamus, this feature can be developed just after eight weeks of training in meditation skills. One thing is sure that better functioning frontal lobes help boost memory.

When spiritual people engage in fasting, it has a cleansing effect, it purges toxins in the body as well as sins in the body leading to the state of clarity. The liver supplies the nutrients to the brain during fast up to 24 hours. After that the body's fat was broken down and the whole composition of the blood changes with  metabolic by-products, neurotransmitters and hormones. The brain is in a different state even during a short term fast and blesses with you a lightheaded sense of piece.

Even the sense that people are in a prayer group or somebody praying for them changes body's chemistry temporarily, this is called the placebo effect.

If you have lost the sense of outer world in your intense prayer, that is the parietal lobe of the brain in action. If you feel you dissolved your boundaries with the world, that is your parietal lobe too, the sensory input processor in the brain.

People who attend religious services do have a lower risk of dying in any given year than people who don't attend. People who believe in a loving God fare better after a diagnosis of illness than people who believe in a punitive God.

13.3 Healing -- The Puzzle Of Love by Jeffrey Kluger and Michael Lemonick.

Romance and sex are all about chemistry, which starts in the brain's sexual center and cascades through the body making us participate in a multitude of things -- art, song, romance, obsession, rapture, sorrow, companionship, love, even violence and criminality -- all playing in our daily life.

The old notion that sex is 90% in the mind is literally true. No matter how lust is triggered, sex, like eating or sleeping, is ultimately biochemical, governed by hormones, neurotransmitters and other substances that interact in complicated ways to create the familiar sensations of desire, arousal and orgasm.

We know that the parts of the brain involved in sexual response include, the sensory vagus nerves, the mid brain reticular formation, the basal ganglia, the anterior insula cortex, the amygdala, the cerebellum and hypothalamus. We do not know how these interact together in creating sexual desire and satisfaction.

We know that for both men and women the hormones important are testosterone, estrogen and oxytocin. The brain chemicals involved are dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Scientists are still trying to find differences between sexes in the actions of these chemicals. But we know dopamine involves in desire, serotonin creates feelings of satisfaction, norepinephrine creates romantic stimulation during sex and the low testosterone and estrogen create low sexual desire. Both testosterone and estrogen trigger desire by stimulating the release of neurotransmitters in the brain.

Testosterone is produced in the testes and ovaries. It is quickly converted to estrogen in women. When testosterone is low, both sexes experience diminished libido. Estrogen is produced in the ovaries and brain. It stimulates desire in women-and may be in men - possibly by boosting dopamine.

Women experience sexual desire as a result of context-how they feel about themselves and their partner, how safe they feel, their closeness and their attachment.Men are more visually directed and stimulated than women.

The hormone oxytocin is often called the cuddle chemical. It plays a vital role in nursing and soars when either parent holds a new baby. It may even rise when couples hold hands, hug or watch a romantic movie.

A new hormone is discovered which gives men erection and heightens their interest in sex. That is alpha melanocyte polypeptide also known as melanocyte-stimulating hormone.

14. Evolution -- From Cells To Beasts To All of Us by Carl Zimmer.

It took nearly 700 million years to develop, but the human mind is more complex than any animal brain. . The brain is always a work in progress, during the lifetime of  any species in nature.

The story of brain starts 700 million years ago before brains even existed. It starts with a single cell animal called choanoflagellate. Scientists sequenced the entire genome this creature and found out it has some genes that existed only in the neurons of far more sophisticated animals. It is amazing to find gene reelin which triggers the production of a protein to guide neurons to their final destination in the brain. It has the specialized channels for charged calcium ions to pass through for generating electrical pulses. In other words some of the building blocks of our brain, neuron operation, are there in this brainless uni cellular creature 700 million years ago.

The earliest animal to evolve from single cell organisms are sponges, which are brainless too, which anchor the sea floor and filter sea water to trap bits of food for living. They have cells that sense the motion of water. The proteins and genes that guide the cells are similar to those related to neurons.

All animal species have at least rudimentary nervous systems. And those nervous systems operate in remarkably similar ways. They all generate signals with pulse of electric charge that move from one end of a neuron to the other. They all transmit the signal from neuron to neuron through synapses, using the same neurotransmitters to ferry the information along. All animal systems including us, use related genes to build neurons.

Jellyfish evolved a ring of neurons that encircles their bell-shaped main body. Instead of a single brain, they have clumps of neurons spaced regularly around the ring.

Lancelets look like tiny headless sardines. Like us, they have a spinal cord running down their back. The front end of their spinal cord is a barely swollen tip, it is the brain.

Fish like Haikouichthys, the 535 million year old fish like creature was the first true vertebrate with a nervous system. It had what appears to be primitive eyes, ears and nose, as well as a tiny brain.

Then came the evolution of Myelin, a fatty sheath around nerves, acts like insulation around a wire. its appearance allowed brains and nervous systems to grow more complex, without getting signals crossed.

Fish have a three part brain comprising of cerebellum(which controls balance), the optic tectum (for sight) and the cerebrum (for awareness).

Creatures that move about on land, Tetropods, needed a different brain which resulted in the development of  larger cerebrums.

Primates eyes shifted to the front of the head, improving depth perception and  color. This led to the shrinkage  of smell perception region of the brain and growth of  the inferior temporal cortex which processes vision, enabling us to recognize faces and facial expressions.

As the primates formed groups, the social brain started evolving. The bigger the social group the bigger the brain. The social progression started with Rhesus Macaque, Chimps and ended with humans. There may be other brain systems developing right now in nature which we do not know.

That is how humans developed bigger brains to form social behaviors, language and speech. It is not only the processing region but also the intricate connections in the human brain that enables us the recognition of language and speech. This This intricate bundle of nerve fibers called the actuate fasciculus, which relays signals among language processing regions. When this is damaged people have a hard time reading words aloud and jumble the syllables in words as they speak.

14. Evolution -- Building a Brand New Brain by J. Madeleine Nash.

It takes nine months to assemble the computer inside your head, and it takes a lot longer to program it properly. Genes play a big part, but so do experience.

The brain begins to take shape about the third week of gestation, when a thin layer of cells in the embryo folds inward to give rise to a fluid-filled cylinder known as the neural tube. As the cells in the neural tube proliferate at the astonishing rate of 250,000 a minute, the brain and spinal cord assemble in a series of tightly choreographed steps. Changes in the environment of the womb-whether caused by maternal malnutrition, drug abuse or a viral infection-can wreck the precision of the neural assembly line, sometimes leading to epilepsy, mental retardation, autism or schizophrenia.

In 1990's scientists discovered a gene that helps steer the development of neurons in the spinal cord and brain. The protein created at the cell under the guidance of the genes, diffuses out of the cell that produced it. The higher concentrations of the protein produces a motor neuron and lower concentrations to make an inter neuron, a cell that relays signals to other neurons. Scientists also identified genes that guide neurons to their destinations pushing through all the neurons already established at their sites in the brain. A newborns brain contains 100 billion neurons, roughly as many nerve cells as there are stars in the Milky Way. Each neuron has dendrites to receive input and an axon to send out a signal generated in the neuron with input from the dendrites.

After birth, each of the brain's billions of neurons will forge links to thousands of others. In other words these neurons have to be wired to form a communication network. The axon when it gets created is equipped with a "growth cone", equipped with molecular equivalents of sonar and radar. The molecules on the surface of growth cones search their surroundings for the presence of certain proteins. The axon reaches its destination nearing another neuron and stops. It never has a physical contact. The communication is done through a gap between an axon and the dendrites of another neuron through what are called neuro transmitters emitted by axon tip and received by the dendrites of the other neuron. It is called synapse. Up to this point genes controlled the work sending details for the manufacture of proteins.

Once the network is made, the nerves begin to fire and the checking and stabilization of network begins. Now comes the coordinated work of genes and the experiences of a new born after birth.

The newborn's brain stem, a primitive region that controls vital functions like heartbeat and breathing, is complete and the baby can hear, smell, and respond to touch minimally. But over the first few months of life, the brain's higher centers explode with new synapses (connections). By the age of 2, a child's brain contains twice as many synapses and consumes twice as much energy as an adult's.  Each time a baby tries to touch a tantalizing object or gazes intently at a face or listen to a lullaby, tiny bursts of electricity shoot through the brain, knitting neurons into circuits. The results are milestones that delight parents.

At the age of 2 months, the motor control centers of the brain develop to the point that infants can suddenly reach out and grab a nearby object. Around the age of 4 months, the cortex begins to refine the connections needed for depth perception and binocular vision. And around the age of 12 months, the speech centers of the brain are poised to produce language. Critical players in this process are parents and other adults looking after the baby. The power of attention lovingly paid and the lessons carefully taught in these brain formative months and years reflect their attitude and behavior in their lifetime.   

Saturday, March 13, 2010

6. The Brain Trust Program ---- by Larry McCleary M.D.

A leading neurosurgeon reveals secrets for increasing brain function at any age.
The Brain Trust Program ---- By Larry McCleary M.D. (2007)
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014, USA

ABSTRACT: Brain, like the muscles, heart, and other organs, is made up of flesh and blood and requires proper care to maintain its optimum state of well-being. This is much more important because brain cells do not reproduce as opposed to other kind of cells. Because of which whatever we accumulated good or bad in our brain lasts longer. They stick with you a lifetime. This book reveals the secrets and gives a plan to enhance the brain power.

Finally the book is very interesting to read with easy to follow guidelines for optimum brain health. There are exercises for the brain. There are recommended cocktail recipes to follow and eliminate the discomfort of Hot Flashes and Migraine Headaches. The cocktails are Ketogenic Cocktail, Anti-Excitatory Cocktail and Anti-migraine Cocktail.

The entire brain constitutes about 2% of the body weight and consumes 20% of the energy. As such it is ten times metabolically active than the rest of the body. So what we eat is very very important. We first look into the structure of the brain, what its needs are, what happens when the needs are not met and how to provide them for optimal function.

As far as we know, human brain is the last one in the evolution of neural mechanisms from single neural traits to billions of human neurons. The following are the anatomical layers of human brain.

At the base of the brain, just where spinal cord enters the skull, is the brain stem which controls all our automatic survival functions, breathing, heart beat, swallowing etc.

Sitting atop the brain stem, we have thalamus, hypothalamus and basal ganglia. These we can see in all rudimentary brains, reptiles, birds etc. Thalamus receives the sensory information, basal ganglia acts on that information and hypothalamus regulates the inside activity of the body, appetite, thirst, body temperature, hormonal activity etc.

Sitting at the lower back of the brain is the cerebellum, which controls the balance of our body by controlling the muscles, as in writing, painting, playing the piano etc.

For every creature survival is basic and new skills are needed for existence. New biological systems evolved for hunting for food, escaping from predators etc. Limbic system evolved, which controls emotional traits, such as fear, anxiety and anger as well as memory and spacial navigation. components in limbic system are hippocampus, which influences memory; Cingulate cortex which prioritize the events what we perceive; amygdala processes emotional traits such as aggression and fear.

The latest addition to brain in the evolution is the neocortex which appears only in mammals and humans. This is an intricately folded sheet of brain cell (neuron) circuitry. It has plasticity associated with it to rearrange itself as need demands.

The neocortex has four distinct regions, called lobes, that each performs a particular function.

Occipital lobe located in the back of the brain, interprets signals coming from eyes.

Frontal lobe located behind the forehead takes care of the planning and execution of our muscles. In the very front of the frontal lobe is the prefrontal cortex(PFC). PFC is the one which creates mental images from the information it gets, and designs an execution method to get the things done. The prefrontal area is the most highly wired part of the brain.

Temporal lobes are on either side of the brain, the right one controlling sound and the left one speech and language.

Parietal lobes which are located on either side of the brain just above the temporal areas, deal with complex sensory messages coming from touch, feeling nice and smooth, rough etc.

The main work horse in the brain is the neuron, they are billions in number, which receive, transmit , store and retrieve information. The other cellular structures in the brain are of supportive nature, the star shaped astrocytes provide physical and metabolic support to the neuron, Oligodendrocytes produce a type of fatty insulation called myelin which acts as an insulator in the nerve signal transmission. The last one microglia is a brain's trash collector, collects and disposes of harmful foreign substances. The neuron cell bodies and their surroundings make up what is called a gray matter and the connections coming out of neurons with its myelin insulation make up what is called white matter.

The neuron receives input from dendrites and sends output through axon. We can imagine dendrites as fingers of the neuron and axon as the tail of neuron. The neuron receives information through its dendrites from chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, converts into electrical impulses and transmits them out through its axon. At the end of the axon these electrical impulses are converted to chemical neurotransmitters and reach dendrites of another neuron. The gap between dendrites of one neuron and axon of another neuron is called synapse. Thousands of these synapses formed between neurons. Present estimate is 10.000 synapses for each neuron. There is no physical contact in the synaptic connections. These connections are not fixed either, they are changed and rearranged throughout our life time as we learn new things. This is what is called plasticity in the brain.

As we experience new things, the brain builds a complex network of synaptic interconnections among brain cells. Each new thing we learn, experience, see, hear, feel,say, or do hooks up a new circuit. Repetition solidifies the circuits we build, but they weaken or disconnect entirely with disuse or neglect. In short our mental abilities follow the saying "use it or lose it".

Groups are formed within these billions of neurons called clusters and the clusters form regions where each function of the brain is concentrated. For example vision is controlled by a cluster of brain cells at the back of the head.

The central player in this complex activity, neuron, is simply an information relay station which uses chemical ions to do the job. The main chemical ions are positive Ca, Na, K and negative Chlorine(cl) ions. These ions go back and forth through membranes in the cell and facilitate the initiation and transmission of neural signals. Let us say the ions are at a stable state and the dendrites receive a chemical transmitter; It triggers the movement of ions and the generation of neural signal, which is electrical in nature, handed to the axon for further transmission. After the signal generation, the ions have to come back to the stable state to process inputs from dendrites. If we consider each neuron might have 10,000 synapses and there are 100 billion neurons, moving ions around for each signal is a huge energy consuming operation. This is the reason why brain which is 2% of the body consumes 20% of the total energy.

The information pulse reaching the axon end emits what are called neurotransmitters, which are specific to the message it is carrying, and these neurotransmitters swim through the synaptic gap and reach the dendrites of another neuron. The neurotransmitter is a small chemical compound. The information carried by neurotransmitters is converted to electrical impulses by moving, charged ions (Ca,Na,K,Cl ) in and out of the cell membrane. The electrical impulse generated because of the movement of charged ions is fed through the axon and goes to the next neuron.

Following are some of the active neurotransmitters and their identified functions:

Glutamate excites neurons.

GABA calms neurons.

Acetylcholine(ACH), regulation of autonomic functions(heart rate,blood pressure etc.). Also involved in storage and retrieval of information. A shortage of ACH identified in Alzheimer's.

Dopamine(DA) involved in brain functions of smooth coordinated movements. Identified as major player in Parkinson's disease.

Norepinephrine (NE) keeps tabs on our internal environment; regulates our body temperature, metabolic rate and appetite.

Serotonin, is a feel-good transmitter, lack of it causes depression.

Taurine, also an amino acid, regulates volume of signals in the case of trauma, loss of blood, over stimulation etc.

When the baby was born it has very minimal skills for survival. The autonomous systems are going on but the skill level is nothing, 100 billion or so neurons are not wired yet. It starts building synaptic connections consuming about two thirds of the energy created (adult brain consumes only 20 percent of energy). Each new learning experience simulates a new hookup. Repetition solidifies the hookup with a myelin coating.

Now we can see memory as a process of retaining learned experiences. We can broadly divide memory into two areas, procedural memory and declarative memory.

Procedural memory consists of skills obtained by practicing a procedure repeatedly until it is etched in the brain and becomes automatic; riding a bike, typing etc. The synaptic connections are formed in basal ganglia, cerebellum and spinal cord. This is the reason why we retain the skill of typing or riding a bike at any time without going through the manual.

Declarative memory involves with the storage of facts. This can be further divided into two areas semantic memory, which includes storage of learned facts and concepts, and episodic memory formed because of an emotional event taking place. Episodic memory is also called flashbulb memory almost instantly generates lasting interconnections between brain cells. The synaptic connections are formed within the hippocampus and neocortex.

How this is all happening in brain ? when multiple messages are coming, neuron has to transmit message, refresh itself to receive next message and transmit, the procedure goes on and on. It is estimated that each neuron has synaptic connections to 10,000 other neurons. There about 100 billion neurons. one can see the enormous amount of energy required for the proper functioning of the brain.

Scientists were able to conclude that there are four critical areas which should be optimized in the brain for smooth operation.

First is the flow of calcium. Regulated calcium flow through cell membranes is needed for synaptic connections.

Second is the balance of insulin and glucose(blood sugar). Glucose is the main fuel source for the neuron and brain takes about 100 grams per day from the blood. Insulin also needed for glucose absorption. In the case of Insulin resistance(Diabetes), the glucose and insulin balance in the blood gets disturbed and glucose absorption decreases raising glucose levels in the blood.

Third is the availability of adequate growth factors for regeneration and repair. Our ability to learn and remember depends upon the ability of the brain to connect neurons through synapses. This development comes as gradual we grow and depends upon the availability of growth promoters, NGF, NT3, BDNF etc. Our Fluidity of thought depends upon uninterrupted, high speed communication among the interconnected brain cells.

Fourth is the control of inflammation. Inflammation is the body's immune response to invading bacteria and organisms. In the case of brain it is the microglia which is defending us against the cellular debris being accumulated in a life time ( neurons live with us until death).

The author created what is called a Brain Trust Program to achieve a healthy brain during our life time; Basics of that are nutrition, supplementation and exercise for the body and brain, good night sleep. I will just try to give a glimpse of that program. Remember, one should not eat too much of anything.

Brain friendly diet --- what to eat:
Fresh fruits, Fresh Vegetables and spices. Berries, spinach and dark green leafy vegetables, coffee, avocados, eggs, nuts, seeds and red wine.
Spices: turmeric, cinnamon, ginger.
Herbs: sage and rosemary.
Nuts and seeds: Flax seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds.

Brain-Friendly Diet: What not to eat:
Trans-fats, Concentrated sweets: large quantities of sugar, corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup. Flavour enhancers and artificial sweeteners. Pesticides, Hormones and antibiotics.

Supplemental Nutrition for the brain:
No matter how careful we are in selecting and eating nutritional foods, as we become old day by day and the bad affects of little things we did (eating poor quality diet, smoking, drinking in excess, being a couch potato, or engaging in high-risk-of-head -injury behaviors) accumulate in our lifetime and leads to neurodegeneration. This is because we are staying with the neurons we were born with throughout our life. There are basically two culprits in this area.

The first one is calcium ion transportation. Neuron moves calcium ions back and forth for creating electrical pulses and they should be at optimal levels either side of the cell membrane, for receiving messages from neural transmitters and generating and transmitting message pulses. Because of accumulated damage this ion transport will not happen at the optimal levels and neurons decay and die in due course. Brain health slowly deteriorates.

Second one is the creation of free radicals at the energy generation site, mitochondria, in the cell. Free radicals are charged chemical substances which attach themselves to other substances and change the nature and properties of the substance. That is when we need antioxidants to nullify and suppress the bad effect of free radicals.

Supplements --- better to take:

Krill oil : It is a fish oil. Provides EPA and DHA essential for building brain and brain extensions.
increases levels of anti oxidants in the body.

The B Vitamin Group: Best for preserving, restoring, improving brain function and memory.

Magnesium: Can be obtained from dark green leafy vegetables and nuts. Natural calcium blocker. Research has demonstrated that magnesium supplementation improved memory and other troublesome symptoms in patients with dementia.

Taurine: Taurine is a naturally occurring sulfur containing amino acid. Adding taurine increases brain levels of acetylcholine(ACH), the most critical neurotransmitter involved in memory. As ACH levels fall, memory fails. Taurine levels are low in Alzheimer's disease and in diabetes.

Acetyl-Carnitine(ALC): Drives fat molecules into energy furnaces in the cell to boost energy. The acetyl part helps making ACH, the neuro transmitter. Appears to retard age-related drop in nerve growth factors.

Alpha-Lipolic Acid: Is an antioxidant which dissolves both in water and fat. Because of this it can go straight to mitochondria in the cell, where free radicals breed and thrive. In diabetic complications, sugar in the blood attaches to and permanently alters proteins in the body. It is called glycation resulting spots on the skin, cataracts etc. Helpful in peripheral neuropathy.

Coenzyme Q10(CoQ10): It is a fat-or oil-soluble antioxidant found in cellular membranes. A powerful defender against oxidation and free radicals and is a key player in energy production. Production of CoQ10 falls off with age and when taking statin drugs for cholesterol lowering.

Vitamin D: Is a fat soluble antioxidant and an anti inflammatory agent. A rising tide of inflammatory compounds that increase with age will ultimately disrupt the cell-to-cell communication connections, short circuit the memory and if unchecked lead to brain cell death leading to Alzheimer's disease.

Huperzine A: By slowing the breakdown of ACH, it makes ACH more available for communication network in the brain. In one study patients with Alzheimer's improved in their cognitive function.

Vinpocetine: A potent antioxidant. Required nutrient for people with artery narrowing.

What Not to Take: IRON. Iron is a pro-oxidant-that is, a substance that reacts vigorously and easily with oxygen.

There are two prominent brain related crippling abnormalities.

For the women at the beginning of menopause, inadequate estrogen leads to fewer sugar shuttles for energy conversion in the brain cells. This leads to an energy crisis which leads to a surge of norepinephtine(NE) in the hypothalamus. This is the cause of hot flashes, which is a simple body reaction to raise the low sugar level and brain starvation. This results in an accumulation of the brain chemical glutamate. This brain chemical excites the cells, putting an added energy demand on an already strained system.

The way to avoid this problem is to get the estrogen to optimal level or bypass this system and provide energy alternate means with ketogenic diet providing ketone bodies (which do not require shuttles) as an alternate fuel source to blood sugar.

Ketone bodies, or simply ketones, are the natural by-products of fat burning; they are basically partially burned fats. They are produced if we go without eating for a prolonged period or when we restrict dietary carbohydrates.

Migraine Headaches: A migraine originates entirely within the brain itself, painlessly, with a burst of unusual firing from one or more small clusters of brain cells. This is caused by the buildup of calcium and sodium within the cells. The cause of this buildup is found out to be an energy-production deficit. (The calcium and sodium ions movement is crucial in the case of synaptic message transportation.)

This abnormal firing activity releases an array of compounds which may cause inflammation or a cause of opening or narrowing arteries. The current thinking is the irritation of the pain sensors on the surface of the blood vessels and brain coverings by these compounds causes migraine headache pain.

A low magnesium levels were found in brains of migraine patients. Supplementing with magnesium can help prevent migraines and can make them less painful and of shorter duration.

Finally the book is very interesting to read with easy to follow guidelines for optimum brain health. There are exercises for the brain. There are recommended cocktail recipes to follow and eliminate the discomfort of Hot Flashes and Migraine Headaches, Ketogenic Cocktail, Anti-Excitatory Cocktail and Antimigraine Cocktail. I am giving those three cocktails as written in the book. Please read the book and understand before using them.
Box 7.1 Ketogenic Cocktail
Take whole cocktail one to three times per day.
1-2 tablespoons MCT oil (about 15 grams/tablespoon)
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon flaxseed oil
50mg EPA
Box 7.2 Anti-Excitatory Cocktail
Take whole cocktail twice per day
400 milligrams magnesium 10 milligrams thiamin
75 micrograms huperzine A 50 milligrams GABA
5 milli grams vinpocetine 1 gram taurine
Plus 1 milligram melatonin at bedtime
Box 7.3 Antimigraine Cocktail
Please note that the antimigraine cocktail represents the recommended total daily
intake of these nutrients, to be taken in place of and not in addition to the amounts
of these nutrients recommended in chapter 5. Take this cocktail twice a day.
400 milligrams magnesium
1 gram taurine
100 milligrams coenzyme Q10
100 micrograms huperzine A
10 milligrams vinpocetine
Plus Ketogenic cocktail(page 203) twice daily (if migraines are still problematic
after a trail of the above cocktail)

Monday, December 21, 2009

5. The Mind At Work ---- Ellen Lucas

The Mind at Work ---- How to make it work better for you By Ellen Lucas (1993) The Millbrook Press, 2 Old New Milford Road, Brookfield, Connecticut 06804 USA

ABSTRACT: A practical guide to how the brain works and how to maximize its potential. Explains what is cognition, thinking, critical thinking and creative thinking.

All of us were born with the same amount of nerve cells(100 billion) and brain matter (which can grow to about 3 lb) without any skills for survival. We all learned our survival skills; how to walk, how to eat etc. practically in the same way --- struggling. That being said, why do some of us become great like Albert Einstein and some of us go unnoticed ? This book tries to explore this question.

Let us examine the intellectual infrastructure that we all have in common with all great people. On the top of the spinal cord, the brain stem handles all the automatic responses which keeps us alive; Breathing , Heart rate etc. This is the communication gateway between the body and the brain.

The cerebellum in the brain is a little more advanced structure which handles and coordinates messages between the brain and the muscles in the arms and legs. It handles all normal physical activities without consciously thinking about them; Walking, Riding a bike etc.

There is a group of structures in the brain called the limbic system which regulates the way we feel. One of the structures in this group, hypothalamus, deals with our primitive responses; Eating, Sleeping, Fighting, Mating etc.
Another component within the limbic system is the hippocampus which deals with all the sensory input systems and plays a vital role in memory.
The thalamus, another component, deals with the physical sensations: Pain, Heat, Cold etc.

At the top of the brain is the cerebrum, the most advanced system of the brain compared to the all living creatures. Cerebrum is the one which makes us human while rest of the brain is working to keep us alive. The Cerebrum is where we learn to think and dream.

The cerebrum is divided into two halves, called left and right hemispheres. The right hemisphere controls the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body. Thus when we move our right hand, the signals are coming from the left side of our brain.
These hemispheres are connected by a thick band of nerve fibers called the corpus callosum. The entire cerebrum is covered by nerve cells called cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is where advanced brain functions occur.

The cerebral cortex is divided into four lobes: parietal, occipital, temporal and frontal. The parietal lobe assembles information from various places in the body. The occipital lobe receives messages from the eyes and controls our vision. The temporal lobe plays a great part in our sense of hearing, language and memory. The frontal lobe's function is to manage and distribute information coming from other parts of the brain.

The Cerebrum and Cerebral Cortex is the place where everything happens that makes us human. We learn, we think , we reason and we conclude. This area is much larger and more developed in humans than in any other animal.

The entire cerebrum is covered by the cerebral cortex, a layer of nerve cells 1/8 inch thick . Nerve cells are also called neurons, sending and receiving information 24 hours a day. They could receive information from thousands of other neurons and also have the capability of sending messages to thousand of other neurons. This feat is accomplished through the neuron components, dendrites to receive messages and axons to send messages. One neuron's dendrites are coupled to other neuron's axons(or vice versa). The place where an axon terminal and the dendrite of another neuron is called synapse. Chemical messengers called neurotransmitters relay messages across the synapses between neurons.

When we were born, the skull is soft to enable us to fit through the birth canal. During the first year of life it triples in size. As cerebrum continues to grow, it quickly runs out of room in the skull and develops wrinkles and folds to increase the surface area as it acquires information and knowledge. By the age of seven it reaches the maximum weight, about 3 pounds.

For the brain to function properly it needs energy which it receives from the food we eat. It needs natural carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins. I stress "natural" because we are biologically equipped to break down natural substances and use them for energy. That is why a well balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables is essential. You can receive someone else's heart or liver and still be you, but not someone else's brain. It is better to take care of it properly in a natural way.

As the brain structure is out of the way, let us examine how it works. The Mind is what encompasses the working brain and the magic word which describes how it works is 'Cognition'. Cognition is a process that includes perception, learning, remembering , and all the things we call thinking.

Perception is the input stage of cognition. It involves all our senses, smell, taste, hearing, touch and seeing. The Brain receives signals from all these senses 24/7 and it may probably ignore some of them if they are continuous, like an unpleasant smell in a barn. Sensory input gives us perception.(For example, a small child sees a four legged creature, hears some sounds and smells something. A perceived package evolves.)

Learning is the process of knowing the description of what the input signals are telling and filing it. Simply put, Learning is receiving sensory input and filing them for later retrieval.(Mother tells the child that creature is a dog. The perceived package is filed as dog.)

Memory is the storage and retrieval of information learned. Scientists think memories are created by neurons forming memory patterns called "memory traces". These memory traces are a combination of electrical impulses and chemical reactions associated with them. (If the child sees the same type of four legged creature, the child remembers it as a dog.)

Thinking is information processing. (If the child sees similar four legged animals and comes out saying 'dogs'. If someone questions what is a dog, describing dog from the package we stored is also thinking.)

The cognitive processes are invisible, we can not see them even if we open the skull. As we know brain does these cognitive processes through chemical and electrical impulses, only way to track them is through the machines which recognize chemical and electrical impulses.

Electroencephalograms(EEG), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron-emission tomography (PET), and computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans are being used for brain imaging. They give us pictures of what is happening and where in the brain. These help us determining and connecting, what thoughts generate what type of pictures and where in the brain, thus giving a glimpse of the mind at work.

The path to thinking is laid out. First we observe things through our senses, we record them in memory and we retrieve them to think about them.
How we record them makes it easy to retrieve them. For example, we record the dog as a four legged animal in our memory, we could retrieve the info in two ways, by seeing a four legged animal or hearing the word dog. suppose if we add sound to the recording, we can retrieve information by just hearing the sound without seeing. The point is the more descriptions you have for an entity the more paths you can create in memory thereby allowing us to retrieve the information in multiple ways. This is the trick in remembering things quickly.

Getting information of a four legged animal with a doggy sound is thinking. Once you got information in memory, identifying it as a dog is critical thinking. Possibilities of having different dog sounds is creative thinking. You can go and look for different sounds coming from dog look a likes.

To be good at cognitive process, we have to gather information first (from schooling, observation etc). Second we have to put that in memory. The more descriptors we have for that information, the more easier to retrieve. Brain has to create memory traces and it uses energy which we have to provide by eating healthy food. Once the information is there we have to practice critical thinking and creative thinking to use that information.

Summing up, while all humans are created with identical brain structures, it is the cognitive function which truly illustrates ones greatness. If one wants to be great, one has to perceive a lot of information and store it for easy retrieval. Once you have information stored in your brain, retrieve it, think critically about it, use it, question it, evaluate it and manipulate it creatively using your brain power with your creative thinking.

One tip, without review, about 80 percent of new material learned in a one-hour period will be forgotten within twenty-four hours. So repeat what you've read and heard within 24 hours, to get the maximum for your effort and blast your neurons for maximum synapses to form memory traces.

There you have it; the path to greatness.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

4. Creating Mind ---- How the brain works by John E Dowling

Creating Mind ---- By John E. Dowling (1998)
W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110 USA

This is a beautiful book on Brain architecture and function with detailed illustrations. Complex neurological systems are explained in simple terms which makes you visualize and understand. The actual clinical stories are interesting and will give an imagery of what is happening. Specially this is the book to read for in depth understanding of optical and audio sensors.

This book presents a beautiful description of the brain formation, its organization levels and their functions. The autonomous system which controls the human system and the non autonomous which is controlled by human senses are well described

Among all creatures, the uniqueness of humans is Brain. Whatever we do in our daily life as humans are controlled by brain. We learn, we think, we imagine, we work, we relax, we look for comfort, we try to fulfill our desires, we create things, we feel happy, we cry, we feel disgusted; all these are controlled by our brain. How do we do these things, we do not know. But the uniqueness of humans is to try to find out how it is all happening. How we have that inquisitiveness? we do not know. This books explores all these human brain functions.

About three weeks after conception, a group of cells (about 125,000) form a flat sheet along the back side of the embryo. This flat plate is called the neural plate and all the cells (neurons,glial) of the nervous system are derived from here. About 250,000 neurons are created per minute. Almost all 100 billion neurons human brains have are created before human birth.

Unfortunately as humans were born with minimal skills for survival,( it is just like getting a bare bones computer with just an operating system), we have to learn all necessary skills for survival as a dependent starting from walking. we have to start forming neural connections as fast as we could because we start loosing them by 10,000 to 100,000 a day after the age of 20. We have to better start learning all our survival skills before age 20.

The formation of neural plate is interesting. Ectodermal cells which cover the embryo causes the formation of skin and the endodermal cells which are inside embryo lining form stomach, intestine and other internal organs. About a two and half weeks of embryo development, a third, intermediate layer of cells called mesoderm forms. The mesoderm differentiates into many tissues , including muscles, skeleton and cardiovascular system, and also is responsible for the formation of neural plate cells.

Between the third and fourth week of development, the neural plate folds inwards and forms the neural tube. All of the central nervous system originates from neural tube. The anterior part of the tube forms brain and the posterior part becomes spinal cord. By about forty days of development, three swellings appear along the anterior part of the neural tube which eventually become forebrain, midbrain and hindbrain. As the neural tube forms, some cells are left behind on either side of the tube. These cells are called neural crest cells. Much of the peripheral nervous system is derived from these neural crest cells.

Brain uses about 50,000 of about 100,000 genes human genome has to generate for necessary proteins(enzymes) for human body functioning. Out of these 50,000 nearly 30,000 are used only for brain function.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

3. Human Brain Abnormalities

This post is an addendum to my earlier post on the book Your Brain by Tabitha M. Powledge.

Anencephaly and spina bifida.
These abnormalities develop because the ends of the neural tube in the embryo are not closed properly. The result may be a miscarriage. These abnormalities are as a result of not having folic acid, one of B vitamins. Folic acid is essential in pregnancy.


Caused because of a blockage of cerebrospinal fluid flowing freely in the brain. The cerebrum gets compressed causing the skull expand; making the head very big. Could be corrected by draining the fluid.

Kallmann Syndrome.
Because of the lack of the special tropic factor that guides fetal neurons to two particular areas of the brain. Genitals of these children are much smaller than usual and they have no sense of smell. Could be treated by hormone therapy.

The basic design of all mammalian fetuses is female. If we want male fetus, the neural system has to switch on and off genes to produce right amount of male fetal hormones at the right time. That type of hormonal control is not achieved yet by external means.

Parkinson's Disease
It is a brain disease affecting parts of the motor control system in the body.
It produces special kind of involuntary movements: rhythmic tremors, slow twitching hand movements, jerking movements of the arms, legs, and face muscles, and distorted posture. Usually affects over forty people. The basal ganglia neurons which regulate movement in the body and produce neurotransmitter dopamine slowly die in case of this disease. Basal ganglia neurons surround thalamus. Taking drugs that increase dopamine may improve in some cases.

Alzheimer's disease
In this disease the neurons degenerate. This may not be because of aging. One theory is a kind of amyloid protein opens up ion channels in the neural cell membranes allowing excessive amounts of calcium ions causing damage to the cell.

It is not a disease but occurs because of a physical disease that affects brain. some causes are drug intoxication, overactive thyroid, bleeding in the brain, and non malignant tumors; can be treated successfully and dementia disappears.

Motion Sickness
This happens because of brain receiving contradictory signals from its sensors. Suppose you are reading a book while travelling, your body says you are moving but your eyes say that you are reading a stationary book. The result is dizziness, sweating, and sometimes severe nausea. Only way to avoid the contradictory signals is to unify the signals. Stop reading the book and look at the moving scenery.

Brain Tumors
Neurons can not multiply after they are matured but the glial cells, which are neuron supportive cells can divide and cause tumors.

Blood flow to the brain is interrupted in a stroke and neurons die because of the lack of oxygen.
Since neurons can not be regenerated, partial recovery may occur because of the functional take our by the nearby neurons.

There are two prominent brain related crippling abnormalities.
(The Brain Trust Program ---- By Larry McCleary M.D. (2007)Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014, USA)

For the women at the beginning of menopause, inadequate estrogen leads to fewer sugar shuttles for energy conversion in the brain cells. This leads to an energy crisis which leads to a surge of norepinephtine(NE) in the hypothalamus. This is the cause of hot flashes, which is a simple body reaction to raise the low sugar level and brain starvation. This results in an accumulation of the brain chemical glutamate. This brain chemical excites the cells, putting an added energy demand on an already strained system.

The way to avoid this problem is to get the estrogen to optimal level or bypass this system and provide energy alternate means with ketogenic diet providing ketone bodies (which do not require shuttles) as an alternate fuel source to blood sugar.

Ketone bodies, or simply ketones, are the natural by-products of fat burning; they are basically partially burned fats. They are produced if we go without eating for a prolonged period or when we restrict dietary carbohydrates.

Migraine Headaches: A migraine originates entirely within the brain itself, painlessly, with a burst of unusual firing from one or more small clusters of brain cells. This is caused by the buildup of calcium and sodium within the cells. The cause of this buildup is found out to be an energy-production deficit. (The calcium and sodium ions movement is crucial in the case of synaptic message transportation.)

This abnormal firing activity releases an array of compounds which may cause inflammation or a cause of opening or narrowing arteries. The current thinking is the irritation of the pain sensors on the surface of the blood vessels and brain coverings by these compounds causes migraine headache pain.

A low magnesium levels were found in brains of migraine patients. Supplementing with magnesium can help prevent migraines and can make them less painful and of shorter duration.

Finally the book is very interesting to read and easy to follow the guidelines for optimum brain health. There are exercises for the brain. There are recommended recipes for cocktails to follow and eliminate the uncomfort of Hot Flashes and Migraine Headaches, Ketogenic Cocktail, Anti-Excitatory Cocktail and Antimigraine Cocktail.