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Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Brain Evolution and Why it is Meaningful Today to Improve Our Brain Health

Over the last months, thanks to the traf­fic growth of SharpBrains.com (over 100,000 unique vis­i­tors per month these days, THANK YOU for vis­it­ing today and please come back!), a num­ber of proac­tive book agents, pub­lish­ers and authors have con­tact­ed us to inform us of their lat­est brain-relat­ed books. We have tak­en a look at many books, wrote reviews of The Dana Guide to Brain Health book review‚ and Best of the Brain from Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can, and inter­viewed sci­en­tists such as Judith Beck, Robert Emmons and James Zull.

Brain Trust ProgramNow we are launch­ing a new Author Speaks Series to pro­vide a plat­form for lead­ing sci­en­tists and experts writ­ing high-qual­i­ty brain-relat­ed books to reach a wide audi­ence. We are hon­ored to start the series with an arti­cle by Lar­ry McCleary, M.D, for­mer act­ing Chief of Pedi­atric Neu­ro­surgery at Den­ver Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, and author of The Brain Trust Pro­gram: A Sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly Based Three-Part Plan to Improve Mem­o­ry, Ele­vate Mood, Enhance Atten­tion, Alle­vi­ate Migraine and Menopausal Symp­toms, and Boost Men­tal Ener­gy (Perigee Trade, 2007).

With­out fur­ther ado, let’s enjoy Dr. McCleary’s arti­cle:

Brain Evo­lu­tion and Why it is Mean­ing­ful Today to Improve Our Brain Health

You may feel over­whelmed by the stream of seem­ing­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry sug­ges­tions regard­ing the best way to main­tain men­tal clar­i­ty as you age. Based on an analy­sis of sem­i­nal fac­tors in the devel­op­ment of mod­ern brain anato­my, I believe it is pos­si­ble to make some very com­pelling rec­om­men­da­tions for grow­ing big brains, enhanc­ing their func­tion, and mak­ing them resis­tant to the aging process. These may be loose­ly cat­e­go­rized as fac­tors per­tain­ing to the men­tal or phys­i­cal attrib­ut­es of the brain. Although they are not tru­ly inde­pen­dent enti­ties, such a con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion pro­vides a basis for the gen­er­a­tion of brain healthy pre­scrip­tions. Diet, phys­i­cal exer­cise, and stress reduc­tion enhance neu­ronal resilience. Sleep and men­tal stim­u­la­tion are vital for cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty, learn­ing, and mem­o­ry.

Diet: Fol­low a mod­ern shore-based/­ma­rine diet includ­ing seafood in its most gen­er­al sense, non-starchy veg­eta­bles of all col­ors, berries, and eggs. Oth­er sources of lean pro­tein con­tain­ing long-chain omega 3 fat­ty acids such as free range beef, chick­en, bison, or elk are nutri­tious alter­na­tives.

Phys­i­cal exer­cise (Think fight or flight — activ­i­ty.): Include all types. Aer­o­bic activ­i­ties such as swim­ming, bicy­cling, walk­ing, or hik­ing for pro­mo­tion of vas­cu­lar health and weight con­trol; resis­tance train­ing for pro­mo­tion of neu­rotroph­ic fac­tors, nat­u­ral­ly occur­ring com­pounds that make brain cells more resis­tant to aging, such as IGF‑1 (Insulin-like growth factor‑1) and BDNF (Brain-derived neu­rotroph­ic fac­tor); and bal­ance, coor­di­na­tion, and agili­ty train­ing such as ping-pong, bal­ance beam, tram­po­line, and jump­ing rope to enhance cog­ni­tive speed and motor skills.

Stress Con­trol: From an evo­lu­tion­ary per­spec­tive, stres­sors (such as meet­ing a cave bear) and intense phys­i­cal activ­i­ty (run­ning or fight­ing) were brief in dura­tion and usu­al­ly occurred togeth­er. Mod­ern stres­sors (psy­cho­log­i­cal or emo­tion­al stress) tend to be unremit­ting and are gen­er­al­ly uncou­pled from the phys­i­cal (fight or flight) com­po­nent, mean­ing stress devel­ops with­out any asso­ci­at­ed phys­i­cal activ­i­ty. Such intense phys­i­cal pur­suits are now called exer­cise. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, exer­cise is a per­fect phys­i­o­log­ic anti­dote for stress due to its ben­e­fi­cial impact on cor­ti­sol (the stress hor­mone) and blood pres­sure and should be incor­po­rat­ed into any pro­gram of stress reduc­tion.

Ade­quate sleep: The body needs rest, but the brain requires sleep. Acute or chron­ic sleep depri­va­tion caus­es dev­as­tat­ing short and long-term con­se­quences to brain anato­my (synap­tic loss) and func­tion (mem­o­ry and learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties). Off-line infor­ma­tion pro­cess­ing and mem­o­ry con­sol­i­da­tion are addi­tion­al sleep-relat­ed ben­e­fits.

Men­tal stim­u­la­tion: Brain-train­ing, a cog­ni­tive­ly chal­leng­ing lifestyle, nov­el­ty, and social­iza­tion are vital for the pro­mo­tion of neu­ronal plas­tic­i­ty and neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis (the for­ma­tion of new nerve cells and neu­ronal con­nec­tions), the enhance­ment of spe­cif­ic brain func­tions such as mem­o­ry, and the devel­op­ment of cog­ni­tive reserve — addi­tion­al men­tal pro­cess­ing poten­tial that may be brought online when need­ed.

The com­bi­na­tion of these rec­om­men­da­tions, each of which was instru­men­tal in the trans­for­ma­tion from prim­i­tive to mod­ern ner­vous sys­tems, pro­vides a tem­plate for the most log­i­cal approach for enhanc­ing men­tal func­tion and resist­ing neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion as we trav­el through life.

The Evo­lu­tion­ary Ratio­nale

The human brain clear­ly has the genet­ic poten­tial for dra­mat­ic expan­sion. This was illus­trat­ed about Read the rest of this entry »

Use It or Lose It, and Cells that Fire together Wire together

Every­one has heard of “Use It or Lose It.” Now…what is “It”?

Last week I gave a talk at the Ital­ian Con­sulate in San Fran­cis­co, and one of the areas atten­dees seemed to enjoy the most was learn­ing about what our brains are and how they work, peak­ing into the “black box” of our minds. With­out under­stand­ing a few basics, how can we make good deci­sions about brain health?

At a quick glance:, the brain is com­posed of 3 “brains” or main sub-sys­tems, each named after the evo­lu­tion­ary moment in which the sub-sys­tem is believed to have appeared. Read the rest of this entry »

Darwin’s adult neuroplasticity

Charles Darwin 1880Charles Dar­win (1809–1882)‘s auto­bi­og­ra­phy (full text free online) includes some very insight­ful refec­tions on the evo­lu­tion of his own mind dur­ing his mid­dle-age, show­cas­ing the pow­er of the brain to rewire itself through expe­ri­ence (neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty) dur­ing our whole life­times-not just when we are youngest.

He wrote these paragraphs at the age of 72 (I have bold­ed some key sen­tences for empha­sis, the whole text makes great read­ing):

I have said that in one respect my mind has changed dur­ing the last twen­ty or thir­ty years. Up to the age of thir­ty, or beyond it, poet­ry of many kinds, such as the works of Mil­ton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shel­ley, gave me great plea­sure, and even as a school­boy I took intense delight in Shake­speare, espe­cial­ly in the his­tor­i­cal plays. I have also said that for­mer­ly pic­tures gave me con­sid­er­able, and music very great delight. But now for many years I can­not endure to read a line of poet­ry: I have tried late­ly to read Shake­speare, and found it so intol­er­a­bly dull that it nau­se­at­ed me. I have also almost lost my taste for pic­tures or music. Music gen­er­al­ly sets me think­ing too ener­get­i­cal­ly on what I have been at work on, instead of giv­ing me plea­sure. I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquis­ite delight which it for­mer­ly did. On the oth­er hand, nov­els which are works of the imag­i­na­tion, though not of a very high order, have been for years a won­der­ful relief and plea­sure to me, and I often bless all nov­el­ists. A sur­pris­ing num­ber have been read aloud to me, and I like all if mod­er­ate­ly good, and if they do not end unhap­pi­ly– against which a law ought to be passed. A nov­el, accord­ing to my taste, does not come into the first class unless it con­tains some per­son whom one can thor­ough­ly love, and if a pret­ty woman all the bet­ter.

This curi­ous and lam­en­ta­ble loss of the high­er aes­thet­ic tastes is all the odd­er, as books on his­to­ry, biogra­phies, and trav­els (inde­pen­dent­ly of any sci­en­tif­ic facts which they may con­tain), and essays on all sorts of sub­jects inter­est me as much as ever they did. My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grind­ing gen­er­al laws out of large col­lec­tions of facts, but why this should have caused the atro­phy of that part of the brain alone, on which the high­er tastes depend, I can­not con­ceive. A man with Read the rest of this entry »

Cognitive Fitness as a New Frontier of Fitness

emWave for Stress ManagementVery good arti­cle in the LA Times today. Like a Stair­Mas­ter for the brain: Can men­tal work­outs improve the mind’s agili­ty? Baby boomer con­cerns stim­u­late an indus­try expan­sion.

The reporter, Melis­sa Healy, reviews the healthy aging seg­ment in the Brain Fit­ness field. A few select­ed quotes:

- “There is plau­si­bil­i­ty, both bio­log­i­cal and behav­ioral, to the claim that these may work,” says Mol­ly Wag­ster, chief of the Nation­al Insti­tute on Aging’s neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy branch. “But it is still a sit­u­a­tion of ‘buy­er beware.’ ”

- “I see this as a new fron­tier of fit­ness over­all,” says Alvaro Fer­nan­dez, founder and chief exec­u­tive of the web­site Sharp­Brains .com, which tracks the busi­ness and sci­ence of brain-train­ing. Amer­i­cans already under­stand the val­ue of phys­i­cal fit­ness as a means of pre­serv­ing the body’s prop­er func­tion and pre­vent­ing age-relat­ed dis­eases, says Fer­nan­dez. He pre­dicts that cog­ni­tive fit­ness will become a goal to which Amer­i­cans equal­ly aspire as we learn more about aging and the brain.
— (Dr. Elkhonon) Gold­berg, who pro­vides sci­en­tif­ic advice on the web­site http://www.sharpbrains.com/, says that as neu­ro­sci­en­tists use imag­ing tech­nolo­gies to “see” the cel­lu­lar changes that come with learn­ing, he grows more con­fi­dent that well-designed train­ing pro­grams can have dis­cernible every­day effects in pre­serv­ing or repair­ing the intel­lec­tu­al func­tion of old­er adults. “This is shared hard­ware” that’s being changed in the brain, “and to the extent you some­how enhance it, that will have wide-rang­ing effects,” Gold­berg says. “It pro­vides a much more com­pelling raison­tre for this whole busi­ness.”

The arti­cle adds that “Amer­i­cans this year are expect­ed to invest $225 mil­lion in these pro­grams — up from just $70 mil­lion in 2003 — in an effort to tune up the brain, strength­en the mem­o­ry and fore­stall or reverse the cog­ni­tive slip­page that often comes with age, psy­chi­atric dis­ease, stroke or med­ical treat­ments.”

Our break­down for those 2007 US pre­dic­tions are as fol­lows: $80m for the Con­sumer seg­ment, $60m in K12 Edu­ca­tion, $50m in Clin­i­cal appli­ca­tions, and $35m in the Cor­po­rate seg­ment. The Con­sumer seg­ment, with a healthy aging val­ue propo­si­tion, is the most recent one but the most rapid­ly grow­ing.

Read the full arti­cle: Like a Stair­Mas­ter for the brain.

PS: the arti­cle also says “In the last three years, these brain­pow­er-boost­ing pro­grams have pro­lif­er­at­ed, with names like Mind­Fit, Hap­py Neu­ron, Brain Fit­ness and Lumos­i­ty.”.. if there are reporters read­ing this, please avoid future con­fu­sion by nam­ing Posit Sci­ence’s pro­gram “Posit Sci­ence Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram 2.0”. Brain Fit­ness refers to the full cat­e­go­ry.

Rethinking the Brain Fitness Business

Great arti­cle on the grow­ing brain fit­ness field. Rethink­ing the Brain Busi­ness: Why a men­tal-fit­ness pro­gram may be the start of some­thing big. Some quotes:

- “But Merzenich has lofti­er ambi­tions. He envi­sions his com­pa­ny as part of a new indus­try that will become a “mir­ror” of the drug indus­try. He wants to go far beyond sim­ply sharp­en­ing mem­o­ry and cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty to tack­le dis­eases as well. Instead of med­ica­tions, he sees a busi­ness root­ed in neu­ro­science that will use non­in­va­sive com­put­er exer­cis­es to rewire the brain, grad­u­al­ly train­ing it back to men­tal health.”

- For now, Merzenich believes the emerg­ing field of “brain health” is clut­tered with bad sci­ence. He sin­gled out Nin­ten­do’s brain games as an exam­ple of a prod­uct that has no sci­ence to back up its claims. But he does­n’t expect that to last.

- “This field is undis­ci­plined now and full of trash,” he says. “But it will mature and ulti­mate­ly the snake oil will be cleaned up. It will grow like the fit­ness indus­try from almost nowhere. And it will become a part of every­day life.”

For help on how to eval­u­ate the grow­ing num­ber of pro­grams, check out our Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram eval­u­a­tion check­list.

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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