Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Six tips to build resilience and prevent brain-damaging stress

These days, we all live under considerable stress — economic challenges, job demands, family tensions, always-on technology and the 24-hour news cycle all contribute to ceaseless worry. While many have learned to simply “live with it,” this ongoing stress can, unless properly managed, have a Read the rest of this entry »

The Neurobiology of Stress: The Stress Response Explained

(Editor’s note: below you have part 4 of the 6-part The Neurobiology of Stress series. If you are joining the series now, you can read the previous part Here.)

Stayin’  Alive

Understanding the Human Brain and How It Responds to Stress


Stress was put on the map, so to speak, by a Hungarian – born Canadian endocrinologist named Hans Hugo Bruno Selye (ZEL – yeh) in 1950, when he presented his research on rats at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association. To explain the impact of stress, Selye proposed something he called the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), which he said had three components. According to Selye, when an organism experiences some novel or threatening stimulus it responds with an alarm reaction. This is followed by what Selye referred to as the recovery or resistance stage, a period of time during which the brain repairs itself and stores the energy it will need to deal with the next stressful event.

Read the rest of this entry »

Does Coffee Boost Brain/ Cognitive Functions Over Time?

A fewA_small_cup_of_coffee eternal questions:
– Is caffeine good for the brain?
– Does it boost cognitive functions?
– Does it protect against dementia?

There is little doubt that drinking that morning cup of coffee will likely increase alertness, but the main questions that research is trying to answer go beyond that. Basically: is there a sustained, lifetime, benefit or harm from drinking coffee regularly?

The answer, so far, contains good news and bad news. The good news for coffee drinkers is that most of the long-term results are directionally more positive than negative, so no clear harm seems to occur. The bad news is that it is not clear so far whether caffeine has beneficial effects on general brain functions, either short-term or long-term (aged-related decline or risks of dementia).

It is important to note that many of the studies showing an effect of coffee consumption on brain functions or risks of dementia report a correlation or association (they are not randomized clinical trials). As you know, correlation doesn’t prove causation: coffee drinkers may seem to do well in a number in these long-term studies, but there may be other reasons why coffee drinkers do better.

Q: How does caffeine affect my brain?
A: Caffeine is a stimulant.

It belongs to a chemical group called xanthine. Adenosine is a naturally occurring xanthine in the brain that slows down the activity of brain cells (neurons). To a neuron, caffeine looks like adenosine. It is therefore used by some neurons in place of adenosine. The result is that these neurons speed up instead of slowing down.

This increased neuronal activity triggers the release of the adrenaline hormone, which will affect your body Read the rest of this entry »

Stress and Neural Wreckage: Part of the Brain Plasticity Puzzle

Victoria Crater MarsEditor’s Note: Below you have a very insightful article on stress by Gregory Kellet, a researcher at UCSF. Enjoy!


“My brain is fried, toast, frazzled, burnt out. How many times have you said or heard one version or another of these statements. Most of us think we are being figurative when we utter such phrases, but research shows that the biological consequences of sustained high levels of stress may have us being more accurate than we would like to think.

Crash Course on Stress

Our bodies are a complex balancing act between systems working full time to keep us alive and well. This balancing act is constantly adapting to the myriad of changes occurring every second within ourselves and our environments. When it gets dark our pupils dilate, when we get hot we sweat, when we smell food we salivate, and so forth. This constant balancing act maintains a range of stability in the body via change; and is often referred to as allostasis. Any change which threatens this balance can be referred to as allostatic load or stress.

Allostatic load/stress is part of being alive. For example just by getting up in the morning, we all experience a very important need to increase our heart rate and blood pressure in order to feed our newly elevated brain. Although usually manageable, this is a change which the body needs to adapt to and, by our definition, a stressor.

Stress is only a problem when this allostatic load becomes overload. When change is excessive or Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Essay Contest for High School Students

We are very excited to announce submissions are open for our Brain Essay Contest held in conjunction with four other blogs. The hosts are:

The goal of this contest is to connect high-school students and teachers of biology and psychology with science and psychology bloggers. Students will need to answer in 400-800 words:

“Based on brain and mind research (within the past 5 years),

  1. How do we learn?
  2. How can this new knowledge improve education and the lives of all people?”

Submissions are due by May 10, 2007.

The ten best essays, as selected by the jury of the host blogs, will be posted on the host blogs and entered into blog carnivals. The winners will gain recognition in the blogophere and get a complimentary annual subscription to TuitionCoach, a personalized, internet-based program that de-mystifies the college financial aid process for students and their families and helps families find the best options to finance college choices.

Are you a high school student? Do you know a high school student? If so, get those keyboards warmed up and send us your best!

Here you have some useful advice from a fellow blogger.

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