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.   


  1. Dear Sri Lakkarajugaaru, Namaskaaramulu.

    You have really taken great pains in publishing these articles on brain for the benefit of the readers. Thank you very much. I have read two articles sofar. I have a small doubt. In Para No.13 " 13. Healing -- The Biology of Belief by Jeffrey Kluger.

    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.

    MY doubt is whether "asymmetry in the thalamus" (where it is found in highly spiritual people) is good or bad? Is it considered as "better functioning of frontal lobes? Since the subject is purely scientific, I am asking this question.

    Your friendly,

  2. Dear Sri Lakkarajugaaru, Namaskaaramulu.

    Para No.4 of this article says:
    "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."

    But, I differ with this statement to some extent. In one of my articles in my blog, I wrote about the "E.C.K." - Energy; Consciousness; and Knowledge. Every being born will have these qualities. As the newly born baby has possessed the Consciousness of hungryness, it starts sucking mother's milk when the nipple is put into its mouth. Gaining external worldly knowledge comes later on.

    yours friendly,

  3. Dear madhavarao gaaroo,

    Most of the time asymmetry is viewed as uniqueness.

    In the case of highly spiritual people, who have thalamus asymmetry, they are healthier, have better mental setup and live longer. I think it is good. Some people may think highly spiritual people are superstitious people.

    In the case of dyslexia people, who also have thalamus asymmetry, have developmental reading disorder, it looks bad, but Einstein, Winston Churchill, Walt Disney have that disorder.

    So in this case it all depends on the beholder. Thanks for reading the post and responding.

  4. Maadhavarao garu,

    In the 14th Chapter which is on Evolution, I wrote the following
    "The newborns 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. "
    The autonomous system in the newborn is in action. But they do not have any skills to survive in the world, they are fully dependent and have to learn to talk, walk and deal with mommy, daddy, people and surroundings. What I mean by skills are survival skills.

    In the computer, the autonomous system is the basic operating system, when you press a key it appears on the screen, you click on print it prints etc. If you want to use it to draw, edit pictures, or make movies etc we have to learn that art of computer survival skill. That is where my comparison ends.

    Consciousness and cognition are hot topics and I do not want to venture into them now. Thanks for reading the post.

  5. You actually make it appear so easy with your presentation however I
    to find this topic to be actually something which I
    believe I'd never understand. It kind of feels too complicated and very vast for me. I am taking a look forward in your subsequent submit, I will attempt to get the hold of it!
    My page: diets that work

  6. Dear Anonymous
    Thanks for your comment. It is not that complicated. Let us explore together the mysteries of Brain in these pages.

  7. Hey! :)

    We just launched Aurora bookoo - it's a massive online yard sale for Aurora and surrounding areas.- Thousands of people buying and selling used stuff from each other, in a fun, family-friendly way! :)

    We're getting the word out to some local bloggers, and would like to send you a free bookoo t-shirt (no strings attached!). If you would like a free t-shirt, will you send me an email at with your address and shirt size? I'll get it out to you right away!

    Check out the website: