Tag Archives: brain

Good News Monday: It’s Not You, It’s Your Brain

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(© beats_ – stock.adobe.com)

[Reprinted from studyfinds.org]

Our brains may be wired to seek out junk food, scientists say

by Chris Melore

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WAGENINGEN, Netherlands — If you’ve ever snuck into your kitchen for a midnight snack, you probably know exactly where all the sweet and tasty treats are hidden with your eyes closed. Researchers in the Netherlands say this isn’t just about good memory, the human brain may actually be wired to hunt down high-calorie food. Their study finds humans are significantly better at remembering where junk foods are kept than they are with healthier options.

A team from Wageningen University & Research believes the human brain has evolved to focus on memorizing where high-calorie foods are located. Study authors theorize this allowed our hunter-gatherer ancestors to survive in tough environments with few food options.

The study tested 512 participants who were put through a sort of food-memory maze. Researchers had the group follow a fixed route through a room where eight foods or food-scented pads were strategically placed.

As each participant walked through the maze, they either tasted the food or smelled the pads. These tasty options ranged from apples and cucumbers to potato chips and chocolate brownies. The group was also asked to rate how much they like each food they encountered. Researchers then gave the volunteers a surprise quiz on where these snacks were located.

Junk food more appealing to our mind, too

The results reveal the group was 27 percent more accurate at picking the right locations of high-calorie foods than low-calorie options. Participants were even better with food scents, spotting high-calorie pads with 28 percent more accuracy than low-calorie ones.

Researchers report that the results weren’t affected by whether the high-calorie snack was sweet or savory. It also didn’t seem to matter if the participants liked the foods or not. Overall, people were 2.5 times (or 243 percent) better at memorizing where actual food was compared to food-scented pads.

Is there a downside to this skill?

While this ability likely served humans well in the distant past, the study suggests it could lead to problems today. Researchers hint that the memory bias towards high-calorie foods can create dieting issues for many people.

They add that brains which can resist the urge to hunt down sweeter snacks will likely avoid these dieting problems. Researchers are now looking at how the high-calorie memory bias affects present day eating habits.

The study appears in Scientific Reports.

Dementia or Alzheimer’s?

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A few days ago DH and I watched the lovely and touching movie, The Leisure Seeker, which reminded me to share an interesting article.

My parents’ generation used to refer to this health issue as “losing your marbles”, which sounds more charmingly benign than the sad reality of cognitive decline. Whether you’re concerned for yourself, an aging relative, or a friend, I hope you’ll find it informative.

(SHARED FROM AARP)

Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s: Which Is It? How to understand the difference — and why it matters

by Kathleen Fifield, AARP, June 25, 2018 

The terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” have been around for more than a century, which means people have likely been mixing them up for that long, too. But knowing the difference is important. While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia (accounting for an estimated 60 to 80 percent of cases), there are several other types. The second most common form, vascular dementia, has a very different cause — namely, high blood pressure. Other types of dementia include alcohol-related dementia, Parkinson’s dementia and frontotemporal dementia; each has different causes as well. In addition, certain medical conditions can cause serious memory problems that resemble dementia.

A correct diagnosis means the right medicines, remedies and support. For example, knowing that you have Alzheimer’s instead of another type of dementia might lead to a prescription for a cognition-enhancing drug instead of an antidepressant. Finally, you may be eligible to participate in a clinical trial for Alzheimer’s if you’ve been specifically diagnosed with the disease.

What It Is

Dementia 

In the simplest terms, dementia is a nonreversible decline in mental function.

It is a catchall phrase that encompasses several disorders that cause chronic memory loss, personality changes or impaired reasoning, Alzheimer’s disease being just one of them, says Dan G. Blazer, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center.

To be called dementia, the disorder must be severe enough to interfere with your daily life, says Constantine George Lyketsos, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center in Baltimore.

Alzheimer’s

It is a specific disease that slowly and irreversibly destroys memory and thinking skills.

Eventually, Alzheimer’s disease takes away the ability to carry out even the simplest tasks.

A cure for Alzheimer’s remains elusive, although researchers have identified biological evidence of the disease: amyloid plaques and tangles in the brain. You can see them microscopically, or more recently, using a PET scan that employs a newly discovered tracer that binds to the proteins. You can also detect the presence of these proteins in cerebral spinal fluid, but that method isn’t used often in the U.S.

How It’s Diagnosed

Dementia

A doctor must find that you have two or three cognitive areas in decline.

These areas include disorientation, disorganization, language impairment and memory loss. To make that diagnosis, a doctor or neurologist typically administers several mental-skill challenges.

In the Hopkins verbal learning test, for example, you try to memorize then recall a list of 12 words — and a few similar words may be thrown in to challenge you. Another test — also used to evaluate driving skills — has you draw lines to connect a series of numbers and letters in a complicated sequence.

Alzheimer’s 

There’s no definitive test; doctors mostly rely on observation and ruling out other possibilities.

For decades, diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease has been a guessing game based on looking at a person’s symptoms. A firm diagnosis was not possible until an autopsy was performed.

But that so-called guessing game, which is still used today in diagnosing the disease, is accurate between 85 and 90 percent of the time, Lyketsos says. The new PET scan can get you to 95 percent accuracy, but it’s usually recommended only as a way to identify Alzheimer’s in patients who have atypical symptoms.

(Images from Pixabay.com)

Avoiding Brain Drain

In hopes of staving off cognitive decline, I’ve been refreshing my French with the help of the free online language courses on DuoLingo. Next up: brushing up on my minimal Italian (one college semester) in preparation for our trip to Sicily, Milan and Florence in October.flag-2292679_640Younger readers may think this is an issue that only affects their parents or grandparents. Not so fast: apparently the seeds of dementia can be sewn in our 30’s, 40’s and 50’s — up to three decades before the disease appears full-blown. Yowza.

Nearly two-thirds of Alzheimer’s sufferers are women. But the good news is that there’s a lot we can do to protect ourselves – at every age. Reducing inflammation, insulin resistance, blood sugar, high LDL cholesterol and vascular problems lowers our risk, and current research now focuses as much on causes as on cures.

The Big Three: Eating, Exercise and Engagement.

EATING

The Mediterranean Diet won’t just keep you slim; it’s literally brain food. Eating veggies, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry and olive oil boosts brain health. And don’t forget the wine: the resveratrol in red wine has many benefits.

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  • Protects the lining of our arteries so blood can flow freely
  • Improves the body’s ability to repair damage caused by free radicals, which helps prevent premature aging of cells
  • Blocks the production of inflammatory agents

What to avoid? Sugar. Too much can lead to obesity and diabetes, both of which increase the risk of dementia. So swap that margarita for cabernet! And watch your cholesterol: high levels can cause plaque buildup in blood vessels and keep blood from effectively reaching all parts of your brain.

EXERCISE

It’s as good for your brain as it is for your butt.

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  • Aerobic exercise builds up grey matter in the cerebral cortex (where memories live), releases chemicals thought to affect learning and memory, and delivers oxygen to your brain.
  • Regular exercise sharpens focus and stimulates nerve cells and blood vessel formation in the hippocampus, another part of the brain associated with memory. Don’t you love the word hippocampus, which sounds like a university for, you know, hippos? (I threw that in to see if you’re paying attention.) hippo-783522_640
  • Studies have shown that strength training improves blood flow to areas of the brain associated with executive function and memory. So pump that iron!
  • Stress busters such as yoga help reduce cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone that can go into overdrive, impairing memory and causing neuron-damaging inflammation.

ENGAGEMENT 

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  • Learn something new and keep doing new things (at least an hour each day).
  • Spend time socializing; it helps build new brain cells.
  • Protect your heart (and not just romantically!) The better it pumps, the more blood can circulate throughout your body, nourishing the neurons and blood vessels in your brain.
  • Feeling bored at work or in a social situation? Wiggle your toes — it snaps you back to the moment.
  • Hit the sheets for at least seven hours. The slow-wave stage before REM sleep is thought to be the time when cognitive function strengthens and consolidates.
  • Take time to relax. It lowers blood pressure to help reduce strain on blood vessels.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my new fitness regimen: lifting several heavy glasses of wine while reading Italian travel guides and researching restaurants. Gotta start someplace, right? Salute e ciao!