Friday, January 13, 2006

Better, Healthier and More Peaceful Brains

It seems as though the human brain can improve in a number of ways. I've found a few articles regarding the subject that are quite interesting.

For example, increasing your brain power doesn't mean having to study or force yourself to concentrate. There are many other tips and tricks to do it.


Does getting old have to mean worsening memory, slower reactions and fuzzy thinking?

AROUND the age of 40, honest folks may already admit to noticing changes in their mental abilities. This is the beginning of a gradual decline that in all too many of us will culminate in full-blown dementia. If it were possible somehow to reverse it, slow it or mask it, wouldn't you?
A few drugs that might do the job, known as "cognitive enhancement", are already on the market, and a few dozen others are on the way. Perhaps the best-known is modafinil. Licensed to treat narcolepsy, the condition that causes people to suddenly fall asleep, it has notable effects in healthy people too. Modafinil can keep a person awake and alert for 90 hours straight, with none of the jitteriness and bad concentration that amphetamines or even coffee seem to produce.
In fact, with the help of modafinil, sleep-deprived people can perform even better than their well-rested, unmedicated selves. The forfeited rest doesn't even need to be made good. Military research is finding that people can stay awake for 40 hours, sleep the normal 8 hours, and then pull a few more all-nighters with no ill effects. It's an open secret that many, perhaps most, prescriptions for modafinil are written not for people who suffer from narcolepsy, but for those who simply want to stay awake. Similarly, many people are using Ritalin not because they suffer from attention deficit or any other disorder, but because they want superior
concentration during exams or heavy-duty negotiations.
The pharmaceutical pipeline is clogged with promising compounds - drugs that act on the nicotinic receptors that smokers have long exploited, drugs that work on the cannabinoid system to block pot-smoking-type effects. Some drugs have also been specially designed to augment memory. Many of these look genuinely plausible: they seem to work, and without any major side effects.
So why aren't we all on cognitive enhancers already? "We need to be careful what we wish for," says Daniele Piomelli at the University of California at Irvine. He is studying the body's cannabinoid system with a view to making memories less emotionally charged in people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Tinkering with memory may have unwanted effects, he warns. "Ultimately we may end up remembering things we don't want to."


First, go to the top of the class by eating breakfast. The brain is best fuelled by a steady supply of glucose, and many studies have shown that skipping breakfast reduces people's performance at school and at work.

A smart choice for lunch is omelette and salad. Eggs are rich in choline, which your body uses to produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

Round off lunch with a yogurt dessert, and you should be alert and ready to face the stresses of the afternoon.

Don't forget to snaffle a snack mid-afternoon, to maintain your glucose levels. Just make sure you avoid junk food, and especially highly processed goodies such as cakes, pastries and biscuits, which contain trans-fatty acids. These not only pile on the pounds, but are implicated in a slew of serious mental disorders, from dyslexia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) to autism.

Finally, you could do worse than finish off your evening meal with strawberries and blueberries. Rats fed on these fruits have shown improved coordination, concentration and short-term memory. And even if they don't work such wonders in people, they still taste fantastic. So what have you got to lose?


A DECADE ago Frances Rauscher, a psychologist now at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, and her colleagues made waves with the discovery that listening to Mozart improved people's mathematical and spatial reasoning. Even rats ran mazes faster and more accurately after hearing Mozart than after white noise or music by the minimalist composer Philip Glass. Last year, Rauscher reported that, for rats at least, a Mozart piano sonata seems to stimulate activity in three genes involved in nerve-cell signalling in the brain.


Actors use a related technique: they attach emotional meaning to what they say. We always remember highly emotional moments better than less emotionally loaded ones. Professional actors also seem to link words with movement, remembering action-accompanied lines significantly better than those delivered while static, even months after a show has closed.

Helga Noice, a psychologist from Elmhurst College in Illinois, and Tony Noice, an actor, who together discovered this effect, found that non-thesps can benefit by adopting a similar technique. Students who paired their words with previously learned actions could reproduce 38 per cent of them after just 5 minutes, whereas rote learners only managed 14 per cent.


Simply walking sedately for half an hour three times a week can improve abilities such as learning, concentration and abstract reasoning by 15 per cent. The effects are particularly noticeable in older people. Senior citizens who walk regularly perform better on memory tests than their sedentary peers. What's more, over several years their scores on a variety of cognitive tests show far less decline than those of non-walkers. Every extra mile a week has measurable benefits.
It's not only oldies who benefit, however. Angela Balding from the University of Exeter, UK, has found that schoolchildren who exercise three or four times a week get higher than average exam grades at age 10 or 11. The effect is strongest in boys, and while Balding admits that the link may not be causal, she suggests that aerobic exercise may boost mental powers by getting extra oxygen to your energy-guzzling brain.
There's another reason why your brain loves physical exercise: it promotes the growth of new brain cells. Until recently, received wisdom had it that we are born with a full complement of neurons and produce no new ones during our lifetime. Fred Gage from the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, busted that myth in 2000 when he showed that even adults can grow new brain cells. He also found that exercise is one of the best ways to achieve this.

I think those drugs are, most probably, banned in the UAE.

Want to relieve stress and have a sounder and clearer mind?

Follow these simple steps:

- Sit upright in a comfortable chair, keeping your spine as straight as comfortable.
- Position your feet flat on the floor or ground.
- Allow your eyes to gaze comfortably downward.
- Soften your focus and do not "look" at anything.
- Keep your eyes open, but allow your eyelids to "droop" as far down as comfortable.
- Continue to gaze downward, focusing on nothing in particular.
- Gently notice that your breathing has become very regular and comfortable.
- Don't resist if your attention begins to drift. Just allow yourself to soften your focus and remain calm.
- If your eyes want to close, let them do so.
- Maintain your meditation for as long as you wish.
- End with two or three nice slow, deep breaths.

Repeat as many times as you wish for rapid stress reduction.

These sites are excellent, I quoted the above pieces from them:

New Scientist 11 Steps to a Better Brain (this is my favorite link, I highly reccomend that you read it)
Stress Reduction Elimination (second favorite)
Concentration Game
How to increase your brain power
Increase Your Brain Power

Breaking the Chains:

"Brain: an apparatus with which we think we think."

Ambrose Bierce


MD said...

quite interesting read!

so basically activity and good eating habits are going to be good for our brainpower. i shud try the Mozart thing :P in israel, docs are playing mozart in ariel sharon's room but i think that might be more because of his preferance for that music, than stirring the brain cells. u never know :)

nice links seraph. i have a continuous migraine since two days. i have enough people in my life that give me migraines (thats a different story) but right now, as i write...i have pounding pain my the left side of my head. and it sucks.

Dots said...

Pills: easiest way, yet no thank you..

Food: healthy breakfast.. who was it that skips his breakfast Seraaph? remind me :p And raspberries for dinner? hmm.. though i'd prefer something with MORE calories :p

Mozart: MD seriously they have Mozart Playing in his room? hmm.. imagine itha mozart chi ysawi .. how would il 8oran's effect be

walking.. reminds me.. wasnt i supposed to start excercising? *rolls eyes*

I need to try that technique.. madri laish when reading it it gave me this relaxing kind of feeling.

I wonder what made you think of this topic ? are you loosing your memory? Good join the club :P


MD said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Seraph said...

yup that's exactly it, i've actually been :p implementing some things from the articles into my daily life. Believe me, it works! And about your migraine, like dots said, pills are the easiest hahaha. THANK GOD FOR PANADOL :P

That girl who used to skip her breakfast :p occasionally does it nowadays lol.
About the raspberries yah i know but u shudn't eat a lot at night anyway or else u'd gain a lot of weight, just have a heavy lunch and ur good to go! lol!
the quran thing yeah i didnt think of that too.
lol and what made me think of this topic was a girl who gave me these links while i was with her online :p .. i liked it!

memory boost said...

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Seraph said...

Memory boost, welcome! I hope to see you around more often too! :D