How Exercise Makes Your Brain Grow

Story at-a-glance

Recent research reveals that exercise promotes a process known as neurogenesis, i.e. your brain’s ability to adapt and grow new brain cells, regardless of your age Continue reading

Vitamin D and Omega-3 for Brain and Heart Health

For years every major drug company in the world has been locked in a bitter battle to bring the first Alzheimer’s disease cure to the market — with a profit potential that’s been estimated at more than $20 billion a year.

Well, that market may have suddenly just shrunk to ZERO. That’s because a team of remarkable California researchers may have discovered the first great Alzheimer’s breakthrough of Continue reading

Green Tea, Red Wine Stop Alzheimer’s in its Tracks

Chemicals naturally occurring in green tea and red wine can actually put a stop to the process that leads to brain damage in Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Leeds and published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

“This is an important step in increasing our understanding of Continue reading

Dementia Protection without the Side Effects

I’d never fault anyone for doing everything they thought necessary to ward off dementia. If you’ve ever watched a loved one struggle with this debilitating condition, you know what a heartbreak it can be.

But, if like me, you believe that the first rule of medicine should still be, “Do no harm,” Continue reading

Read Body Language with the Help of Mirror Neurons

 How Do Mirror Neurons Work?

When you see a basketball player setting up to shoot, your brain relates to the movement – your body doesn’t mimic the action, but you know exactly what is going to happen next – that’s how mirror neurons work. Continue reading

Why Half of America May Have Impaired Brain Function by 2030

Story at-a-glance

  • A new UCLA study shows that fructose impairs your memory and learning; this is the first study to demonstrate that excess fructose consumption can directly damage your brain
  • The research also indicates that omega-3 fats, specifically DHA, can mitigate fructose’s damaging effects on brain function Continue reading

How Calcium Could Affect Your Brain

Calcium is one of the overarching most popular natural supplements around. There is no doubting its importance, particularly for women of postmenopausal age. This study takes a different route, one that warns against having too high calcium — in particular, what it does to the brain.

Older adults worried about declining mental function may want to have their calcium levels checked every so often. That’s because a team of Dutch researchers have just found that high levels of blood calcium — rather than calcium in the bone — are linked to a faster decline in cognitive ability.

In other words, high blood calcium is a signal that your mind might be weakening more quickly. Signs that your brain function may not be what it used to be include generally what one would assume: a slipping memory; difficulty concentrating; inability to pay attention as well; inability to learn new things easily; simple thinking becoming more challenging; and use of language is not as sharp anymore.

Previous studies have illustrated that small rises in calcium within nerve and brain cells can actually kill those cells. While it’s known that calcium can slip from the blood into the brain, Continue reading

Your Immune System Can Kill

Sometimes the disease itself doesn’t kill; the killer is the victim’s own immune system.

A growing amount of research shows that this can happen with certain infections, such as those that cause Lyme disease, syphilis, mycoplasmal pneumonia, and especially viral infections of the nervous system. Death and severe neurological damage come from an attack by our own body’s immune system and not from the damage done by the invading microorganism.

Activation of the body’s immune system triggers the release of glutamate which slowly kills brain cells by a process called excitotoxicity.

A recent study examined a viral infection of the central nervous system of mice which produced severe damage to the hippocampus area of the brain and to the spinal cord, and resulted in death in all of the mice in a little over a week. In some of the mice, researchers used an AMPA type glutamate receptor blocker, which prevented death in most of the animals and also prevented spinal cord damage.

Ironically, at the time the animals were protected from the damage by the glutamate receptor blocker, Continue reading

Gladstone Scientist Converts Human Skin Cells into Functional Brain Cells

Breakthrough discovery is likely to advance medicine and human health

A scientist at the Gladstone Institutes has discovered a novel way to convert human skin cells into brain cells, advancing medicine and human health by offering new hope for regenerative medicine and personalized drug discovery and development.

In a paper being published online today in the scientific journal Cell Stem Cell, Sheng Ding, PhD, reveals efficient and robust methods for transforming adult skin cells into neurons that are capable of transmitting brain signals, marking one of the first documented experiments for transforming an adult human’s skin cells into functioning brain cells.

“This work could have important ramifications  Continue reading

Use your Diet to Turn off Cancer

Orthodox medicine wants you to believe that 95% of cancer is in the genes you inherit. But how your genes react to environmental and dietary influences is far more important. That area of research is called Epigenetics. Certain genes that help prevent cancer are turned off with certain foods while other foods turn on genes to fight cancer.

Avoid or Minimize Sugar

Of course, avoiding or minimizing sugar doesn’t mean replacing it with aspartame or other toxic sweeteners. It does mean avoiding high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). It also means avoiding refined grains. Apparently, the cancer industry has ignored 1930s Nobel Prize winner Dr. Otto Warburg’s discovery that cancer cells thrive on glucose and die in oxygen rich environments. Continue reading

Tiny Laser-Scanning Microscope Images Brain Cells

BERLIN – Tiny laser-scanning microscope images brain cells in freely moving animals. The majority of our life is spent moving around a static world and we generate our impression of the world using visual and other senses simultaneously. It is the ability to freely explore our environment that is essential for the view we form of our local surroundings.

When we walk down the street and enter a shop to buy fruit, the street, shop and fruit are not moving, we are. What our brain is probably doing is constantly updating our position based on the information received from our sensory inputs such as eyes, ears, skin as well as our motor and vestibular systems, all in real time. The problem for researchers trying to understand how this occurs has always been how to record meaningful signals from the brain cells that do the calculations while we are in motion.

To get around this problem researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen have developed a way of actually watching the activity of many brain cells simultaneously in an animal that is free to move around the environment. By developing a small, light-weight laser-scanning microscope, researchers were able to, for the first time, image activity from fluorescent neurons in animals that were awake and moving around, while tracking the exact position of the animal in space.

The microscope uses a high-powered pulsing laser and fiber optics to scan cells below the surface of the brain, eliminating the need to insert electrodes, which are traditionally used. Because of this, the microscope is non-invasive to the brain tissue.

The traditional approach to solving these sorts of questions is to restrain the animal and present it with a series of scenes or movies or images. The miniaturized microscope allows the researchers to turn this paradigm around and allow the animal to freely move around in its environment, while still allowing the scientists to monitor the activity of the brain cells responsible for processing visual information.

It is clear that the brain does not work one cell at a time to recognize the environment, so the microscope records from many cells at a time, allowing for the first time the ability to look at how the brain is able to generate an internal representation of the outside world, while using natural vision.

“We need to let the animal behave as naturally as possible if we want to understand how its brain operates during interaction with complex environments. The new technology is a major milestone on the way to helping us understand how perception and attention work”, says Jason Kerr, lead author of the study.

Protein that Repairs Alzheimer’s Brain Damage Identified

TRENTON – Scientists from University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey have identified a protein that can repair brain damage in Alzheimer’s patients.

They said that a protein called vimentin normally appears twice in a lifetime – when neurons in the brain are forming during the first years of life and, years later when the brain’s neurons are under siege from Alzheimer’s or other neurodegenerative diseases.

“Vimentin is expressed by neurons in regions of the brain where there is Alzheimer’s damage but not in undamaged areas of the brain,” said Dr Robert Nagele, a professor at UMDNJ and the study’s corresponding author.

“When the patient shows up at the doctor’s office with symptoms of cognitive impairment, the neurons have reached the point where they can no longer keep pace with the ever-increasing damage caused by Alzheimer’s,” he added.

While explaining the study results, Nagele likened neurons to a tree with long strands called dendrites branching off from the main part of the cell.

The dendrite branches are covered with 10,000 tiny “leaves” called synapses that allow neurons to communicate with each other. Vimentin is an essential protein for building the dendrite branches that support the synapses.

“A hallmark of Alzheimer’s is the accumulation of amyloid deposits that gradually destroy the synapses and cause the collapse of dendrite branches,” he said.

“When the dendrites and synapses degenerate, the neuron releases vimentin in an attempt to re-grow the dendrite tree branches and synapses. It’s a rerun of the embryonic program that allowed the brain to develop in the early years of life,” Nagele added.

The researchers also reported some initial findings that indicated a similar damage response mechanism takes place following traumatic brain injury, suggesting the possibility that similar therapeutic agents could be developed to enhance repair both for sudden brain trauma and for progressive neurodegenerative diseases.

The findings are published in journal Brain Research.

Introducing – Kava

Latin name: Piper methysticum

Other names: kava kava, kawa, kew, yagona, sakau

Kava is a tall shrub in the pepper family that grows in the South Pacific islands. It has been used there for thousands of years as a folk remedy and as a social and ceremonial beverage.

The part of the plant used medicinally is the root. Although the root was traditionally chewed or made into a beverage, kava is now available in capsule, tablet, beverage, tea, and liquid extract forms.

Why People Use Kava:

    * Anxiety

    * Insomnia

Because kava can cause sedation, and in high amounts, intoxication, kava drinks are consumed in some parts of the world in much the same way as alcohol.

How Kava Works:

The main active components in kava root are called kavalactones. Specific types of kavalactones include dihydrokavain, methysticin, kavain, dihydromethysticin, dihydrokawain, yangonin and desmethoxyyangonin.

Although it’s not clear exactly how kava works, kavalactones may affect the levels of neurotransmitters (chemicals that carry messages from nerve cells to other cells) in the blood. Kava has been found to affect the levels of specific neurotransmitters, including norepinephrine, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) and dopamine.

Scientific Evidence for Kava:

A number of well-designed studies have examined kava’s ability to relieve anxiety compared to anxiety medication or a placebo. The results have been promising.

In 2003, a review by the Cochrane Collaboration examined the existing research to see how kava fared compared to a placebo in treating anxiety. After analyzing the 11 studies (involving a total of 645 people) that met the criteria, the researchers concluded that kava “appears to be an effective symptomatic treatment option for anxiety.” However, they added that it seemed to be a small effect.

Concerns About Kava and the Liver:

Although rare, case reports have linked kava use with liver toxicity, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure.

As a result, the FDA issued a warning about kava in 2002. Several countries have banned or restricted the sale of kava.

Clinical trials have not found liver toxicity. Adverse liver reactions appear to be linked to factors such as pre-existing liver disease, alcohol consumption, excessive doses, genetic variations in the cytochrome P450 enzymes, consumption of other drugs or herbs that, combined, may have a toxic effect, or the use of stem or leaf extracts or extracts made with acetone or ethanol.

Potential Side Effects of Kava:

Side effects include indigestion, mouth numbness, skin rash, headache, drowsiness and visual disturbances. Chronic or heavy use of kava has linked to pulmonary hypertension, skin scaling, loss of muscle control, kidney damage, and blood abnormalities.

Kava may lower blood pressure and it also may interfere with blood clotting, so it shouldn’t be used by people with bleeding disorders. People with Parkinson’s disease shouldn’t use kava because it may worsen symptoms.

Kava should not be taken within 2 weeks of surgery. Pregnant and nursing women, children, and people with liver or kidney disease shouldn’t use kava.

Possible Drug Interactions:

Kava shouldn’t be taken by people who are taking Parkinson’s disease medications, antipsychotic drugs, or any medication that influences dopamine levels.

Kava shouldn’t be combined with alcohol or medications for anxiety or insomnia, including benzodiazepines such as Valium (diazepam) or Ativan (lorazepam). It may have an additive effect if taken with drugs that cause drowsiness.

Kava may have an additive effect if combined with antidepressant drugs called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI).

Kava shouldn’t be taken with any drug or herb that impairs liver function. Kava also may interfere with blood clotting, so people taking Coumadin (warfarin) or any drug that influences blood clotting should avoid it unless under a doctor’s supervision.

Kava is a diuretic, so it may have an additive effect if combined with drugs or herbs that have diuretic properties.

Brainy Ingredients Get Brawny

Brainy Ingredients Get Brawny

BEVERLY HILLS – An estimated 10 per cent of American adults have mood disorders — 21 million. Another five million have Alzheimer’s disease.

Interest in cognitive health is also expanding to the younger populations, ages 25—50 years. Many younger people are more receptive to ‘keeping their brain sharp’ as they find themselves taking care of an elderly parent suffering from age-related mental decline and realise that they might have a similar condition in a few decades.

One of the primary ingredients marketed for cognitive health is the omega-3 fatty acid DHA. Martek’s life’sDHA is used in many infant formulas for improved cognitive function (and eye health), and through this platform is finding a home elsewhere. Its success is demonstrated with Martek’s second quarter financial 2009 results, which showed revenues up two per cent to $92.4 million.

“Our success within the infant formula market has provided us credibility with the food companies. If we are good enough for babies, we must be good enough for the rest of the population,” says Sarah Sullivan, senior manager of marketing at Martek Biosciences. “We market DHA based on the available science. And because DHA has brain, eye and heart-health benefits, there are many directions we can go. Ultimately, it’s up to the CPG company and how they want to position the ingredient within their food. But, because there isn’t as much competition within the ‘brain-health’ space, we generally recommend that they go that route.”

Other ingredients are hopping on the DHA bandwagon. Ocean Nutrition Canada, a major supplier of fish oil, has partnered with Kyowa Hakko USA and its Cognizin ingredient, which is GRAS and water-soluble.

Functional ingredients

Citicoline

Cocoa

Curcumin

Eleuthero

Gamma amino butyric acid (GABA)

Ginkgo biloba

Huperzia serrata

L-carnitine

L-theanine

L-tyrosine

Melatonin

Omega-3 DHA

Phosphatidylserine (PS)

Pomegranate

St John’s wort

Turmeric

Vinpocetine

Vitamin D

Vitamin E

“We wanted to leverage both companies’ ingredients for brain health,” says Karen E Todd, RD, director of marketing for Kyowa Hakko USA. “We have found that Cognizin not only supports memory function and healthy cognition, but crosses over many functions — increasing levels of critical neurotransmitters such as dopamine and acetylcholine, enhancing cellular integrity by increasing phospholipids synthesis, and supporting cellular activity by increasing levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).”

Chemi Nutra combined omega-3 fatty acids with phosphatidylserine (PS) to form a new offering. “OmegaAid PS is the natural evolution of combining marine-sourced omega-3 fatty acids with PS, utilizing Chemi’s proprietary manufacturing expertise, and supported by Chemi’s numerous patents,” says Scott Hagerman, president of Chemi Nutra and Chemi Pharma.

Hagerman says the company works to leverage market interest into successful new ingredients. “We first look at market attractiveness, long-term prospects of selling, production capabilities and, finally, patent opportunities, since we have to make substantial investments in identifying and developing new ingredient product opportunities.”

One new entrant to the field is Vivimind by Ovos Natural Health. The ingredient, derived from homotaurine found in seaweed, has a great deal of research behind it, on more than 2,000 individuals. It is set to launch in the US market by the end of the year.

“Vivimind has received scientific support and has been embraced by consumers in the Canadian market since its launch in September 2008,” says Jim Stitley, general manager of US commercial operations for Ovos.

Other emerging ingredients include vinpocetine, curcumin and turmeric. And — surprise, surprise — vitamin D. A May 2009 study in Europe of more than 3,000 men aged 40-79 found those with high vitamin D levels performed better on memory and information processing tes

Cocaine Changes How Genes Work in Brain

Cocaine Changes How Genes Work in Brain

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Prolonged exposure to cocaine can cause permanent changes in the way genes are switched on and off in the brain, a finding that may lead to more effective treatments for many kinds of addiction, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.

A study in mice by Ian Maze of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and colleagues found that chronic cocaine addiction kept a specific enzyme from doing its job of shutting off other genes in the pleasure circuits of the brain, making the mice crave the drug even more.

The study helps explain how cocaine use changes the brain, said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the study published in the journal Science.

“This finding is opening up our understanding about how repeated drug use modifies in long-lasting ways the function of neurons,” Volkow said in a telephone interview.

For the study, the team gave one group of young mice repeated doses of cocaine and another group repeated doses of saline, then a single dose of cocaine.

They found that one way cocaine alters the reward circuits in the brain is by repressing gene 9A, which makes an enzyme that plays a critical role in switching genes on and off.

Other studies have found that animals exposed to cocaine for a long period of time undergo dramatic changes in the way certain genes are turned on and off, and they develop a strong preference for cocaine.

This study helps explain how that occurs, Volkow said, and may even lead to new ways of overcoming addiction.

In the study, Maze and colleagues showed these effects could be reversed by increasing the activity of gene 9A.

“When they do that, they completely reverse the effects of chronic cocaine use,” Volkow said.

She said this mechanism is likely not confined to cocaine addiction, and could lead to a new area of addiction research for other drugs, alcohol and even nicotine addition.

“One of the questions we’ve had all along is, after discontinuing a drug, why do you continue to be addicted?

“This is one of the mechanisms that probably is responsible for these long-lasting modifications to the way people who are addicted to drugs perceive the world and react to it,” she said.

Source: Reuters