Stress vs. Brain power: Stress Could KO Your Brain Power

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pacquiao

 

Up to the moment of this writing, the crew of Designer Brain Blog still rants about the Dream Match -- hey, besides brains, we also dig brawns! The Manny Pacquiao (world's best pound-for-pound fighter) and boxing superstar Oscar de la Hoya fight, was definitely one of the most talked about fights in boxing history. It was a face-off of two boxing legends, armed with the best skills and punching powers that could easily equal the magnitude of a clash of the titans epic. Unfortunately, it didn't.
 
 Manny Pacquiao's victory was a one-sided display of superior speed and power without disregarding defense -- if he was not careful, the Golden Boy may have unleashed his killer left hook that could possibly change the outcome of the fight. Despite his apparent dominance in each round, he remained cautious and calculated -- not risking a wayward left hook from De la Hoya (which, to the disappointment of fans, didn't really materialize).
 

This brings us to the brain's powers: memory and intelligence. We may have the intelligence and sharp memory, but if we do not defend ourselves against stress, we may lose the battle to memory decline.

New studies point out that stress can literally shrink and destroy your hippocampus--the brain region associated with memory. Bruce McEwen, neuroendocrinology head at the Rockefeller University in New York City said experiments with rats showed that repeated exposure to stress actually shrinks the neurons in the hippocampus and, "the same thing happens in the brain region called the prefrontal cortex, which is crucial for decision-making and attention."

Don't get us wrong. We also need to be stressed out every now and then to keep us alert, on edge, and, in the case of Manny Pacquiao, to psyche himself up to the adrenaline-pumping level of defence and aggressiveness. Stress could be man's instinctive response for self-preservation -- it could give you a quick burst of energy for survival reasons.

It is the constant unmanaged stress, that produces high levels of cortisol, that could knock your brain power down. Cortisol impairs cognitive performance (your thinking), higher blood pressure, lower immunity, and increased abdominal fat, among others. Come to think of it, stress could make you a pot-bellied jerk. Not to mention senile.

Seriously now, some people's means of dealing with stress could actually worsen things for them. Drinking after a hard day's work, if not done in moderation (meaning, not every night) could lead to more health, domestic problems and negative effect on one's work performance.

So, before you develop that habit of chain-smoking, over-eating, impulse shopping, or other (conscious or unconscious) self-destructive means, we would recommend the following as just a few of how to effectively deal with stress:

* Sweat it out - live an active lifestyle, hit the gym, engage in sports. Haven't you noticed that when you get a good workout, you feel more energized than tired? It's actually the result of endorphins, the happy hormones, that our body produces when we exercise.

* Embark on a new hobby - grow a garden, build miniature airplanes, go trekking or fishing, etc. One of these must catch your fancy. You know how getting engrossed in something you like doing could be therapeutic.

* Drink water - surprised? Dehydration causes fatigue, and it is more difficult to handle stressful situations when you are tired.

* Get a massage - light up aromatherapy candles and lighten up your day. A good massage loosens tense muscles and circulates blood circulation. Pamper yourself and feel like a king.

* Meditate - it has been said that meditation could be the most powerful healing tool against stress. It clears your mind of negative thoughts by concentrating on tranquility. Think of Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano) mouthing "Yawzah...." between deep breaths to calm himself while freaking out over Marcus Burnett's (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowry's (Will Smith) misadventures in the movie "Bad Boys."

* Sex - OK, this might already been at the back of your mind, but doctors actually recommend sex as a good remedy to release pent-up rage or bad vibes that you get from stress. Having a loving relationship with your significant other actually would do wonders.

* Sleep - stress could be directly related to being tired. Sleep deprivation would actually affect your performance and it could be directly related to stress. Proper diet, exercise, and iMusic could help you get that good night's sleep. Sleeping also gives your brain the time to do its "housekeeping" functions, i.e., memory consolidation.

* Therapy - if all else fails, a psychiatrist or a life coach could help you figure out the means to get out of your chronic stress problem.

Like Manny Pacquiao, you should not only focus on improving your game (intelligence and memory), you should also develop a good defense against one of your brain's worst enemy --- stress.

 

(photo courtesy of the LA Times)

New Report: Napping Better than Coffee as Picker-Upper

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We reported in our August 29, 2008 post that moderate coffee drinking is good for the health, and may improve short-term memory. Standing by our commitment to give you the "latest," here goes: a December 1, 2008 article from the New York Times reports that an afternoon nap works better than your cup of strong coffee.


This was the finding of a study "Comparing the benefits of caffeine, naps and placebo on verbal, motor and perceptual memory," by a group of researchers at the University of California in San Diego.

 

61 people were tested to compare the declarative verbal memory, procedural motor skills, and perceptual performances of those who had caffeine, to those who only took a nap, and to those who were given a placebo. For verbal tasks, the group was asked to memorize a list of words, for motor skills, they were trained to tap a keyboard in a specific sequence, and for the perceptual task, they were trained to discriminate shapes on a computer screen. After the training, the participants were then randomly divided into three groups: one group was given a 200-milligram caffeine pill, another group took a nap from 1 to 3 pm, and the third group was given placebo.

 

The result: Those who took a nap scored better in the verbal tasks (word recall) compared to those who took caffeine and placebo pills. Motor skills are significantly impaired for those who took caffeine compared to those who took a nap and those who were given placebo. In perceptual learning tests, those who were given placebo (but did not nap and didn't get caffeine pills) fared poorly compared to those who took a nap or who were given a placebo.

 

Sarah C. Mednick, research team leader and assistant professor of Psychiatry said, "People think they are smarter on caffeine," but, as the research's abstract says, "These findings provide evidence of the limited benefits of caffeine for memory improvement compared with napping."

 

Do we hear a collective protest from coffee lovers over this?

 

P.S. Check out "How to Boost Your Energy Without Caffeine"

The Spinning Lady: Left Brain vs. Right Brain Test?

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spinning lady

 

This spinning lady was once popular on the internet as a way of a test to find out whether one is a left-brained or right-brained individual. The idea was, if you see the dancer turning counter-clockwise then you use more of the left side of your brain. If you see her turning clockwise, then you are a right-brained person. You can focus on the moving figure for a while and try to make the direction of her spin the other way around. Try it. What do you see, a girl spinning counter-clockwise or clockwise?


This video is nothing new but we have noticed the resurgence of this spinning girl among the social networks and the responses to this "test" are quite revealing, er.... at least some of them:


* "Wo-hooo! I can see the girl spin clockwise, then opposite. I'm a balanced person!"

* "The girl is programmed to spin clockwise, then counter-clockwise. It's a fake."

* "I'm a left-brained person through and through but why do I see the girl spinning clockwise?"

* "Please anyone, help! All I can see is a silhouette spinning clockwise!"


The truth is, it is simply an optical illusion (not a test) of how our visual system reconstruct the image (which is not actually "spinning" -- it's a series of 2-dimensional gif images animated in 34 frames). It is our brain's visual processing that interprets the video as a 3-D spinning image. You can actually force your visual system to perceive it as moving to the direction you wish it to by focusing on the shadow, or some other part.

Below are the differences between people with left and right brain functions:

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While being logical and practical seem to be the more dependable choice than being "subjective" the right-brain dominant person's creativity and daring are equally appealing. For a "real" test to see whether you are a right-brained or left-brained person, check out this link or this one .

Please feel free to post your comments below.

image source: http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,22535838-5012895,00.html

 

You can get smarter than you are now...really!

 

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Have you ever wondered why, despite being the class genius, you still feel the class buffoon is way smarter than you are? Oh yes, you score perfect on exams while everyone barely makes it to the passing grade, but outside the classroom everyone else seem smarter. Later in life you are the company's star programmer but, you stand in awe at how quick-witted that guy in the mail room is.


Sadly, sometimes your spectacular IQ score does not seem to manifest itself in your daily interactions with people around you. What you need actually is fluid intelligence. Fluid intelligence is the measure of your skill at adapting to new or unfamiliar situations without relying on "crystallized intelligence" (or the skills that you have learned or memorized like grammar, math, or vocabulary). The good news is you can actually become smarter than you are right now. Neuroplasticity has debunked the belief that people are either "smart" or "not smart" - and the belief that you could not change it.


The truth is, a "smart" person can become less smart and someone who isn't could, with the right training and tools like iMusic, develop a blazing peak-performing brain. And, oh yes, you can also improve your IQ as a result. Martin Buschkuehl, a psychology researcher at the University of Bern in Switzerland, reports in his research which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that test subjects who were trained on a different memory task have shown a significant improvement on answering IQ tests.


Our brain is like a muscle (see "Brain Plasticity: Use it or Lose it"). In their report "Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory" Buschkuehl's team states that "the extent of gain in intelligence critically depends on the amount of training: the more training, the more improvement in fluid intelligence."

Brain Plasticity: Use it or Lose it

 

 

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Dr. Thomas Elbert, professor of Clinical Psychology and Neuropsychology at the University of Konstanz, Germany said that it was a belief 20 years ago that the brain develops only during childhood and then it stops growing. Dr. George Wittenberg at Wake Forest University Medical Center in Winstons-Salem, N.C. said that it was a belief that neuron formation for adults is only limited to specific areas of the brain.

 

Both experts say these beliefs have been proven otherwise: Brain plasticity happens 1) at the beginning of life as the immature brain organizes itself; 2) after a stroke or injury to adapt to changed circumstances, e.g. to compensate for lost or remaining functions and 3) through adulthood when you try to learn a new skill like juggling, memorize something, learn a new language, etc.

 

Let us take juggling, for example.

 

German researchers, led by Dr. Arne May at the University of Regernsburg in Germany, took 24 non-jugglers and divided them into two groups-one group to learn how to juggle for three months. The study showed that those who did not learn how to juggle did not show any difference in their fMRI over a three month period, while those who learned the new skill showed "an increase in gray matter in two areas of the brain involved in visual and motor activity..."

 

What makes this study understand us more about brain plasticity is their finding that when those who learned new skills stopped practicing for another three months, they "lost their gained brain power," and the enhanced regions of the brain decreased in volume. Use it, or lose it!

 

Our brain is like a muscle. We need to constantly exercise it. Just like our muscles, constant brain activity such as learning a new hobby, problem-solving, learning to play a musical instrument, etc., would provide growth benefits to the brain.

 

A little help from iMusic

 

There are a lot of instances when despite your desire to flex your "brain muscles," the going is tougher than you thought. Trying to learn new things, or even trying to concentrate becomes an uphill climb. iMusic can enhance neuroplasticity. It is a doctor-approved, and scientifically proven, brain-performance enhancer, through neuron and brainwave stimulation.

 

If you believe your brain is already giving you your peak performance, wait till you try iMusic. "Using iMusic is akin to plugging yourself into a machine that instantly transforms you into a productive, effective and energized android with amazing capabilities," Duncan Reynolds, a movie executive, says.

 

Brain plasticity becomes at its peak usefulness when one needs to relearn or compensate for some lost function due to injury, or to learn to maximize whatever is left. iMusic has been proven to help. David Solomonian, a coma and brain injury survivor, has this to say: "After a serious car accident left me in a coma for nearly 3 weeks with a serious brain injury, I awoke with almost no short term memory, terrible focus and diminished mental capability. I began using iMusic and the immediate improvements in my concentration, attentiveness, and mental acuity were powerful. After a week of use I could feel noticeable changes in my intelligence and mental sharpness... I was thinking faster, feeling more energized and even talking with more confidence. I am now an honors economics/mathematics university student and with iMusic, I know I am going to continue achieving and improving."

Scientists explain Personality through “wiring” in the brain

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Are you a choleric type of a person? Phlegmatic? Or are you more of an analyst than a leader? There are a lot of personality tests on the web that purports to tell you who you are. In fact there are too many of these different schools of thought that the uninitiated could go bonkers while trying to figure out his personality type.


Two of the methods mostly preferred by management training workshops are the Merrill-Reid method and the Myers-Briggs personality test. Some of these schools of thought would try to simplify by being more descriptive like "powerful," "popular," "spirited," or "perfect." Some would guide you to your personality using different personalities from cartoon characters like Snoopy, or Winnie the Pooh, or Charlie Brown - no Loony Tunes character? It would be nice to know if your office bully's a Tasmanian Devil, or Daffy perhaps?


Medical NewsToday, reports a new development in the science of personality testing, (which will appear in the next issue of Nature Neuroscience) through the use of modern MRI. Michael X. Cohen and Dr. Bernd Weber at the University of Bonn conducted a study on the "wiring" of the striatum and the hippocampus (see this blog's previous reference to these brain areas at "Why your brain goes autopilot and makes you forget to drop off the dry cleaning").


The report states that innovation-oriented people have their striatum and hippocampus apparently interacting particularly well. The results of their tests suggest that people who have "(the) stronger connection between frontal lobe and ventral striatum, the more distinctive the desire for recognition by that person's environment.' This is not quite unexpected, Weber says, as "it is known that people with defects of the frontal lobe violate social norms more frequently."


Personality testing is a thriving $400 million a year-industry as businesses, from major corporations to mom-and-pop operations use these tests to assess prospective employee's strengths and weaknesses. While German scientists are conducting more studies to confirm these results, a personality test done through getting strapped inside a lab could be more compelling than test questionnaires. "Oh, I'm psychotic! I won't let them know -- I'll fake my written exam answers."

 

Note:  Check out Designer Brain Blog group's
wacky 'personality test' -- proceed to our discussion area and guess
the personality of the person above you (last picture posted) and find
out how others "see" you as they describe your personality based on
your picture.  This is nothing serious -- just for fun.  If you haven't
joined the group yet, now would be the best time.  Cheers!

http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=43742314047

 

The A.D.H.D. debate: The Michael Phelps Factor

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Michael Phelps' amazing performances during the Beijing Olympics caught everyone's attention. What caught ours was his being diagnosed with A.D.H.D and we thought Michael Phelps "just gave parents of ADHD-diagnosed children a new ray of hope" (see Michael Phelps gives a new face to ADHD).
 
 Phelps has certainly emerged as a new dynamic in the discussions on A.D.H.D. Tara Parker-Pope writes "A New Face of A.D.H.D., and a Debate " in the New York Times today and said, "the emergence of a major celebrity with attention deficit has revealed a schism in the community of patients, parents, doctors and educators who deal with the disorder."
 

Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, director of the Child Study Center at New York University said, "There is a tremendous, tremendous amount of pride - I got the impression sometimes that some of the kids (with A.D.H.D) felt like they owned Michael. There is a special feeling when someone belongs to your club and the whole world is adoring him."

 

Other experts have a different opinion, though. Natalie Knochenhauer, founder of A.D.H.D Aware does not think the "reframing of A.D.H.D. as a gift," is helpful. While the success story of Michael Phelps can be inspiring, parents need to know their children are facing real risks. "You can't have a disability that needs to be accommodated in the classroom, and also have this (as a) special gift. There are a lot of people out there - not only do their kids have gifts, but their kids are really struggling," Knochenhauer added.

 

You may read the full article from the New York Times here and come back to this site for your comments.

“Chill out, dude: marijuana's good for the brain”

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The folks from the National Institute on Drug Abuse must be so horrified by this pronouncement from scientists at Ohio University. They must think these Ohio dudes could be high when they say that marijuana could help reduce memory loss in old age and could be a deterrent against the dreaded Alzheimer's Disease.


The study found out that tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive substance in cannabis sativa, could be good for the brain as it reduces inflammation (mostly associated with Alzheimer's) and even promote the development of new brain cells.


So, uh, you see, my grandpa and uncles have Alzheimer's. Can I.... uh, y'know...uh, smoke pot now?


Gary Wenk, team leader and professor of psychology at Ohio State University who presented the research before the Society for Neuroscience says, "It might actually work," (place cheers and applause from the junkies crowd here) "but we're not saying that (you may smoke marijuana)" (place jeers and boos from junkies here).


Their research is suggesting for the development of a legal drug that resembles the properties found in THC without its capability of getting the person "high."


"Marijuana that doesn't get you high? Bummer." says my Uncle Ben. And he doesn't have Alzheimer's! Oh, well....

Brain implant could make amputees become Bionic Men

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 bionic man
 
 
We are definitely living in an era where the fiction of the past three decades are merging with today's reality.

 

When we say "bionic man," children of the 70's have only one thing in mind: Lee Majors running in slow-mo (guess that's the only way the film technology of that era could represent someone moving in "super-fast" speeds) as the "The Six Million Dollar Man," in a popular TV show.

 

The TV series revolves around Steve Austin who met an accident resulting to having both his legs and an arm amputated. A U.S. government agency then spent six million dollars (hence the title) to attach bionic limbs and an arm (plus other body parts) that gave the TV hero super strengths and speed.

 

Fast forward to today.

 

Scientists at MicroBridge Services, based at Cardiff University in South Wales, (micro engineering and nanomachining...bridges the gap between silicon wafer fabrication process and ultra-precision conventional processes) are working on an implant that works by picking up electrical impulses from the brain to control prosthetic limbs.

 

Geeks in white coats have been toying with this idea when they were developing brain-to-PC interface technology, as how the lab rats from Eurosky and Emotiv have been working.

 

Dr. Robert Hoyle said the implants (the size of a match head and carries 100 tungsten carbide sensors that are just slightly thicker than a human hair) amplifies the signals from the brain and transmits them to the artificial limbs. The patients will just have to learn the correct mental activity (which could be weeks of training) to get the right response.

 

Hoyle said he hopes to also make this technology useful for those who have been paralyzed due to spinal damage.


Look out for bionic men in your neighborhood in the near future. It looks like prosthetics won't be mere cosmetic appendages anymore, they'll be awesome bionic limbs!

This just in: Scientists corroborate Einstein’s e-mc2 formula!

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It's all over the web today: ABC News headlined, "e=mc2: 103 years later, Einstein proven right," Yahoo! featured it too as, "Einstein's formula proven."

It is not the "proven" or the "corroborated" part that caught our attention, it is this: "It's taken more than a century, but Einstein's celebrated formula e=mc2 has finally been corroborated... A brainpower consortium led by Laurent Lellouch of France's Centre for Theoretical Physics, using some of the world's mightiest supercomputers, have set down the calculations..."

It took more than a century and a "brainpower consortium" and "some of the world's supercomputers" to finally catch up with the brain of a single genius! Hurrah to brain power!

It is quite easy to think that the computer is more powerful than the brain considering the speed it takes to calculate N10000000. The truth is the brain contains some 100 billion neurons and trillions of interconnections. As Steve Lee says, "No computer comes close to the brain in that respect."
 

Computer vs. Brain (CvB.net) comes up with a "simplistic" calculation to say that the brain has about 100 million MIPS (Million computer Instructions Per Second) while today's most powerful supercomputer only has a few million MIPS worth in processor speed; and there's still the matter about the memory to deal with...

 

Everyday, scientists continue to discover something new about this extremely complex and fascinating 1,200 lbs. of mushy, yucky mass that pumps up about 3 cans of soda every minute.

 

Stay with us as we continue this exploration of the brain....everyday!