Posts tagged brain health
Why I Run

On a guest post for Mary Knudson's HeartSense blog, I talk about why I started running:

Being a sprinter, I had never done much long distance work. In the past, making it around the 400m track just once was an accomplishment for me. Plus, my closest friends from college are hard-core distance runners. And by that, I mean they are really, really fast. Like 2:30ish marathon fast. Top 50 in the Boston Marathon fast. Fast fast. You get the point. So getting into this road racing business was a bit intimidating. I didn’t even tell my best friends what I was doing until shortly before my first race.

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What Did the NIH Report on Lifestyle Modification/Alzheimer's Really Say?

My inbox flooded with links to the report released by NIH (and evangelized by TIME) stating that lifestyle interventions (diet, physical activity, mental exercises, etc.) may not be that effective in preventing Alzheimer's Disease. Before I mount my full counterattack, I need to carefully read through the studies the meta-analysis cites.  Still, a quick glance at the exclusion criteria of the meta-analysis reveals the authors limited their review to studies using patients over the age of fifty.  So really, these results imply that lifestyle modifications may not prevent, delay, or treat Alzheimer's Disease if you start these changes later in life.

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Internet: Good or Bad for the Brain?

I was fairly quiet on the blogs and Twitter the latter part of last week, because I spent Thursday and Friday at the Health Horizons Conference, sponsored by the Institute for the Future (IFTF). I’ll post some reflections soon, but first I want to comment on an interesting discussion that was brewing last week. Over at Neuron Culture, David Dobbs has some nice insight into the ongoing debate between renowned science/tech writers Stephen Pinker and Nicholas Carr.

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What Did We Really Learn From the BBC Brain-Training Software Study?

Ever since I saw the press releases yesterday telling of a new article to be released in Nature showing that brain-training software was ineffective, I knew a storm was brewing.  The paper was still under embargo at that point, so I was anxiously awaiting its release today.  Slowly, but surely, the mainstream media got wind of the paper, running headlines like “Brain Games Don’t Make You Smarter”.  Then the blogosphere lit up, with ongoing chatter throughout the day on this controversial paper. I was stuck in the lab all day, and couldn’t put a post together, so I’m a little late to the party.  But I wanted to give you a rundown of what exactly the study found, and point out a few intricacies of their findings.

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Sugar-coated Laziness

Check out this study. Researchers found that when "teenage" rats (30-45 days old) consumed massive amounts of sugar, they became extremely difficult to train as adults. For two weeks or so during adolescence, one group of rats had free access to a tasty 5% sucrose solution, while the control group only had water available. Similar to some American teenagers, the experimental group of rats consumed about 20% of their daily caloric intake as simple sugar.

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How "The Science of Success" Redefines Psychology

I just finished reading Dave Dobbs' new article in the the December issue of The Atlantic, "The Science of Success".  Dobbs turns the classic question of Nature vs. Nurture, whether our genes or our environment are the deterministic drivers of our fate, on its head.  Traditionally, those who support "nature" say that our genes are most influential in defining us.  On the other hand, those that support the "nurture" side say that our environment plays a more important role. Based on new research, Dobbs introduces the idea of two types of people, "dandelions" and "orchids".  Dandelions can thrive anywhere, despite their environment or upbringing.  Orchids, however, are more temperamental, and require a stable environment to survive.  At first glance, the orchids may seem like a liability, and in fact, they often carry genes that make them susceptible to mood disorders and psychological disease.  The astounding part of Dobbs' report is that he shows that given the right care, or environment, the orchids don't just do OK, but far surpass the dandelions in perfomance.  In other words, given the right training, orchids may in fact be destined for greatness.

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Why Behavior Change Is (Still) Better Medicine Than Drugs

While attending the Institute for the Future's Health Horizons Fall Conference on Monday, one thing became eminently clear. The 21st century will be the era of brain, the last great scientific frontier. Due to societal shifts, environmental changes, and the fact that we are just living longer, we are poised to see a sharp rise in cases of diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, autism, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The only thing worse than the increasing prevalence of brain disease is the sobering fact that few viable treatments currently exist.

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White-Noise and the Developing Brain

Usually, we think of preventive medicine as a first-person experience, e.g. what we can do to keep ourselves healthy. But preventive medicine includes steps to keep our families healthy as well, as in the case of an elderly relative, or a newborn baby. My first postdoc stint was in a developmental neuroscience lab at UCSF, where many talented researchers spent years answering questions like, "How do different types of environmental noise affect the development of the auditory system?". So when a friend of mine sent me a message the other day, asking about using a white-noise generator to stop her crying, colicky baby, some red flags immediately went off in my head. Because I've been asked this question several times over the past few months, I decided to post my take here.

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Cheeseburgers on the Mind

Making a choice that leads to better health is not always easy.  Otherwise, we would have many more ex-smokers and far fewer holiday pounds to shed.  We would have no need for nicotine gum and patches, or Weight Watcher's meetings.  So if it's that difficult, why bother?  For years, physicians have told the American public that reducing your calorie intake, eating a diet low in salt/sugar/saturated fat, and exercising 3-5 days per week will reduce your risk for heart disease and diabetes.  Now, new information has shown that the benefits of a healthy lifestyle are even more far reaching than initially thought -- diet and exercise can affect our minds. About 5-8% of people over the age of 65, and nearly 50% of people in their 80's, show signs of dementia.  As the baby-boomer generation increases the population of the 55-64 age group in the U.S. from 29 to 40 million by 2014 , and their life expectancy continues to rise, the number of people affected by dementia is poised to increase as well.  Recent studies have shown that regular exercise may prove to be a potent mediator of dementia and Alzheimer's Disease.  In one study, those who exercised 3 or more days per week had a 32% risk reduction in developing dementia compared to those who exercised less.  Exercise has also been linked in similar studies to moderate cognitive improvements in adults who are at risk for Alzheimer's Disease, as well as a lower occurrence of vascular dementia.

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