Brain Fat: The Other Global Epidemic

May 19, 2012
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How healthy are you?

The next time you go to the doctor, I think the stethoscope might best be placed on your head and not your heart.  Because, there’s an epidemic out there and it’s a serious problem!

How healthy are you?

The next time you go to the doctor, I think the stethoscope might best be placed on your head and not your heart.  Because, there’s an epidemic out there and it’s a serious problem!

Brain Fat. The emerging clinical, social and cognitive condition caused from lack of use.

Here’s my concern:  We spend so much time talking about aerobic exercise, fat-free and BMI that we are missing the most essential organ that needs exercise–the BRAIN!!!!

Thinking hard…

An active brain is more healthy and drives synaptic development.  A brain that is less active is more likely to be associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (my theory).  Simply stated, use it or lose it!  Recent data from the journal Biological Psychiatry explains it:

Researchers used data from the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study, a large population-based study in the United Kingdom that has been following over 13,000   prospectively since 1991.

At the time of this study, 329 brains had been donated and were available for analysis. Brains were compared based on the individual’s dementia status at death (yes or no) and cognitive lifestyle score, or CLS (low, middle, or high).

The three CLS groups did not differ among multiple Alzheimer’s disease (AD)  measures, including plaques, neurofibrillary , and atrophy. This means that cognitive lifestyle seems to have no effect on the brain changes typically seen in those with Alzheimer’s disease.

However, an active cognitive lifestyle in men was associated with less , in particular disease of the brain’s microscopic blood vessels. An active cognitive lifestyle in women was associated with greater brain weight. In both men and women, high CLS was associated with greater neuronal density and cortical thickness in the .

“These findings suggest that increased engagement in stimulating activities are part of a lifestyle that is, overall, more healthy,” commented Dr. John Krystal, Editor ofBiological Psychiatry. “Rather than specifically protecting the health of activated circuits, it seems that a more active lifestyle has general effects on brain health reflected in greater neuronal density and preservation of the blood supply to the brain.”

“Overall, our research suggests that multiple complex brain changes may be responsible for the ‘use it or lose it’ effect,” Valenzuela added.

With a globally aging society and the risk of dementia increasing significantly with age, dementia-prevention strategies are of rising importance. Understanding the mechanisms of cognitive enhancement through research such as this can help support and inform the development of effective strategies to enrich cognitive lifestyle and potentially reduce dementia risk.

More information: The article is “Multiple Biological Pathways Link Cognitive Lifestyle to Protection from Dementia” by Michael J. Valenzuela, Fiona E. Matthews, Carol Brayne, Paul Ince, Glenda Halliday, Jillian J. Kril, Marshall A. Dalton, Kathryn Richardson, Gill Forster, Perminder S. Sachdev, for the Medical Research Council Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.07.036). The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 71, Issue 9 (May 1, 2012).

 

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And not thinking at all.

Exercising the brain is not just expanding language skills or playing chess.  There is another, even greater aspect to this story–grooming consciousness and the evolution of mind.  Now, take a deep breath, because this is important.  SYSTEMATIC INTROSPECTION (LIKE PRAYER AND MEDITATION) IS AN ESSENTIAL ASPECT OF HUMAN GROWTH AND TRANSCENDANCE.  Contemplation is a powerful tool that is well established in great religions of the world and helps us up the ladder of personal growth–moving into a full-established sense of self (the ego) and then moving higher up to trans-personal levels.  Introspection and meditation are hot topics in acedemic research too:

A study, published in the May 2011 issue of Neuroimage, suggests that one effect of all this focusing and refocusing is increased brain connectivity. Researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles compared the brain activity of volunteers who had finished eight weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction training with that of volunteers who did not do such training. Functional MRI scans showed stronger connections in several regions of the meditators’ brains—especially those associated with attention and auditory and visual processing. Unfortunately, the study didn’t scan the volunteers’ brains before mindfulness training, so no one can say for sure that mindfulness training was responsible for the differences.

At Massachusetts General Hospital, researchers used MRI scans to document before and after changes in the brain’s gray matter—the “processing” neurons—associated with mindfulness meditation. The density of gray matter increased in regions governing such distinctly different activities as memory, self-awareness, and compassion, and decreased in the amygdala—the part of the brain associated with fear and stress.  More on  this intriguing research is in the April issue of Harvard Women’s Health Watch.

At the moment, scientists can only speculate about the relationship between these brain changes and the health benefits associated with mindfulness meditation. But the research adds to growing evidence that meditative practices can alter the body at a fundamental level—even, it turns out, at the level of our genes. Meditation elicits the “relaxation response,” a state of deep relaxation first described more than 35 years ago by mind-body pioneer Dr. Herbert Benson, currently emeritus director of the Benson-Henry Institute of Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Since then, Benson and his colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have discovered that relaxation techniques (including meditation and yoga) turn certain sets of genes on and off in people who practice them regularly. Benson, who is the medical editor of Stress Management: Approaches for preventing and reducing stress.

So, next time you go to the gym,  fuss with your hair or spend hours searching for that perfect suit, think about grooming the very thing that defines you in a way Armini can never do–your brain.

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“Hey–do I look fat in this brain?!”