Posts Tagged ‘news’

Working Memory Training to Reduce Alcohol Consumption

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

Reduce DrinkingDutch scientists have found that working memory training can reduce drinking for problem drinkers. The researchers from Maastricht University in the Netherlands concluded that working memory training may be an effective strategy to reduce drinking because it increases control over automatic impulses to drink alcohol.

Under the direction of Katrijn Houben, the team recruited problem drinkers (identified using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test or AUDIT test) and divided them into two groups — the first group receiving 25 sessions of working memory training, and the control group engaging in tasks that were not designed to increase working memory (the same tasks, but with no change in the level of difficulty). For at least a month after training, the group who had received working memory training reported a reduction in alcohol consumption of more than 30%.

Furthermore, the researchers found that the reduction in alcohol consumption was greatest for those with the most subconscious positive associations with alcohol. This supported the theory that working memory training was able to reduce drinking by allowing the participants to gain greater control over their subconscious impulses.

The following working memory training tasks were used in the study:

“During the visuospatial WM task, several squares in a 4 × 4 grid on a computer screen changed color. Participants had to reproduce the sequence of changes by using a computer mouse to click, in order, on the squares that had changed color. During the backward digit span task, several numbers were presented on the computer screen one at a time, and participants had to reproduce this sequence in reverse order using either the computer mouse or the number keys on the keyboard. Finally, in the letter span task, several letters were presented one at a time in a circle on the computer screen. One of the positions in this circle was then indicated, and participants had to enter the corresponding letter using the keyboard. Each of the three tasks consisted of 30 trials.”

Working Memory Capacity Split Between Hemispheres

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

MIT researchers have made a surprising finding: The two hemispheres of the brain each have their own working memory capacity contributing to a combined overall working memory capacity.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences today the researchers tested monkeys (who have a similar working memory capacity to humans) with visual items on the left and right of the visual field.

“Surprisingly, we found that monkeys, and by extension humans, do not have a general capacity in the brain,” says Earl Miller, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience in MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory. “Rather, they have two independent, smaller capacities in the right and left halves of the visual space. It was as if two separate brains – the two cerebral hemispheres – were looking at different halves of visual space.”

The researchers showed the monkeys from two to five colored squares on a computer screen. They then repeated the pattern but with one square altered, thus engaging their working memory. They rewarded the monkeys for noticing the change.

The more items in the sequence, the harder it became for the monkeys to identify the change. But the team noticed that an extra square to the left side of the computer screen had not effect on a monkey’s working memory for items on the right side of the screen, and vice versa. The hemispheres had independent working memory capacities.

Monitoring with electrodes showed that filling one side of the screen with squares caused hyperactivity in the nerve cells. But adding even more squares to the more sparsely populated side of the screen made little difference.

The results could lead to design innovations, Miller says. For instance, airport security staff might be better served if the monitoring display were to scroll vertically rather than horizontally, since sideways movement unnecessarily engages both hemispheres in registering the same information.

Says neuroscientist Edward Vogel of the University of Oregon in Eugene. “The more we understand about these basic capacity limits, the more that’s going to tell us something deep about the core cognitive abilities that differ from individual to individual.”

Sticky Thoughts: Working Memory Training To Alleviate Depression

Friday, July 15th, 2011
working memory and depression

The Bane Of Sticky Thoughts

Our own customers and previous published research studies have demonstrated a strong connection between working memory training and a reduction in depression. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science suggests that people with depression find it difficult to move on from depressive thoughts. The study centered on the central role of working memory in this process.

Those with depression tend to revisit depressing memories. “They basically get stuck in a mindset where they relive what happened to them over and over again,” said Jutta Joormann from the University of Miami, study co-author with Sara Levens and Ian H. Gotlib of Stanford University. “Even though they think, oh, it’s not helpful, I should stop thinking about this, I should get on with my life—they can’t stop doing it,” she said. The team postulated a link between depression and working memory function, or malfunction. The brain uses working memory for all active thoughts — both those we want and those that creep in uninvited.

Testing twenty-six people with depression and twenty-seven who had never suffered from depression, the team presented each participant with three words in turn, allowing them one second to read the word. After being instructed to remember the words in forward or reverse order they were shown one of the words from the list and asked to say whether it had come first second or third. A faster response indicated more flexible thinking.

The results showed that the group with depression took longer to answer correctly after reversing the sequence. When the list contained words likely to be connected to depressive feelings, such as “death” or “sadness,” it took them longer still.

“The order of the words sort of gets stuck in their working memory, especially when the words are negative,” Joormann says.

So, what can we do with this information? Train our brains to be better at actively focusing on what we want to pay attention to!  Fortunately, working memory is a very flexible and trainable brain function. Intensive working memory training can help us in the moment to get into a better mood because it redirects our attention. It can also help us long term to gain greater control over our impulses and active working memory.

Increase IQ: New Study Shows Long Term Gains

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

The brain fitness researchers Suzanne Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl who first demonstrated cognitive gains from n-back training back in 2008 have now published follow up research showing that the gains hold long term.

Using n-back brain training software for a group of school children, the researchers tested the children’s IQs before and after training and then again after three months.

In a recent interview, the senior brain fitness researcher, Dr. Jonides, who supervised the study made the following observations:

“These new studies demonstrate that the more training people have on the dual n-back task, the greater the improvement in fluid intelligence,” Jonides said. “It’s actually a dose-response effect. And we also demonstrate that the much simpler single n-back training using spatial cues has the same positive effect.”

In addition to a gain in IQ the researchers found that the training made children less likely to be distracted by invalid or irrelevant information.

“Psychologically, training made them more conservative,” Jonides said.

They also studied how the training affected brain activity.

“We found two effects of our training regimen,” he said. “After training, people had reduced amounts of blood flow in active brain regions when they were doing training tasks. And they had increased amounts of blood flow in those regions when they were not doing training tasks.

“In some ways, this is much like training a muscle in the body, and in some ways, it is different. When new muscle fibers have been grown as a result of training, they require greater blood flow when they are not being used. However, by contrast, when the new muscles are in use, they require more blood, unlike the trained regions of the brain.”

Brain Nutrition & Detoxification: Brain Fitness Essentials

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

mercury brain detoxificationAbout a year ago I received a call from Paul Reynolds and Declan Owens at Zortho, LLC. Before our conversation I knew very little about good brain nutrition and the impact of environmental toxins such as mercury, lead and arsenic on brain health, but by the time we’d finished I was eager to receive my first shipment of Zortho’s brain detoxification and brain nutrition supplement, ZeSol.

How could one phone call make such a difference? Paul Reynolds’ depth of knowledge and experience in researching and testing brain supplements for detoxification and brain nutrition convinced me that this subject was worth my attention. After trying ZeSol for just a few days I felt mentally sharper; it was as if a fog had been lifted that I didn’t know was there. And knowing now what environmental toxins do to our bodies and brains I can’t imagine living with a brain supplement that will remove them.

Please skip ahead to the end of this post to find out how to become a preferred customer and receive an ongoing discount on your purchases of Zortho’s brain detoxification, brain nutrition, and other health supplements. Or click here for more information on the latest news relating to brain food, brain nutrition and brain detoxification.

Here are some of the key questions I asked Paul and Declan on that first call about their work in brain detoxification and brain nutrition:

How do I know whether I have been affected by environmental toxins?

Paul and Declan chuckled. “Everyone is affected,” Paul said, “It’s a fact of life in the modern world.” Paul went on to explain that a simple urine test shows whether a person has toxins in their system. One of the top researchers into the effects of chelating agents for the past twenty years told Paul and Declan that she has yet to test someone who did not have some level of toxicity. Toxins lodge in our body’s tissue and actually destroy brain cells inhibiting our ability to function at our peak.

How do I know whether ZeSol is detoxifying and contributing to a healthy brain?

After taking a chelating agent to extract and expel the toxins, the level of toxins in the urine will increase. Paul explained that although people can go through the process of submitting pre and post samples for urine analysis, this is laborious and time consuming. He pointed out that even without such analysis the benefits of brain detoxification and brain nutrition reveal themselves by the way we feel. ZeSol’s detoxification and brain nutrition boosts the whole system.

Is ZeSol safe; how does it provide brain nutrition?

Paul explained that ZeSol incorporates microporous minerals (Zeolite, ClearEarth, Humic acid) that naturally extract and eliminate environmental toxins including heavy metals such as Mercury, Tin, Lead, Aluminum, Cadmium, and Arsenic. As a non-pharmaceutical, highly pure chelating agent, ZeSol detoxifies safely even for sensitive people and children, absorbing, neutralizing and eliminating neurotoxins and cytotoxins. Zortho‘s dietary supplements also include a broad range of trace minerals to naturally boost mineral levels as they expel the environmental toxins and reestablish a healthy balance in the body’s immune and endocrine systems.

How quickly does ZeSol’s brain nutrition and detoxification work?

ZeSol works right away, providing immediate detoxification and boosting brain nutrition within hours. People begin to feel the benefits anywhere between a few days and a couple of weeks.

How long do I take a brain detoxification and brain nutrition supplement?

I already knew the answer to this question before I asked; it’s the same answer I give to people who ask how long to keep brain training. People enjoy many of the benefits of ZeSol’s brain detoxification and brain nutrition over the short term (a few weeks or so), but ideally we should keep taking a maintenance dose on a regular basis. The toxins are still out there and it’s only by actively extracting and removing them that we’ll keep our body healthy and our brain healthy.

Order ZeSol Today And Save

Since that first call I’ve had many fascinating discussions with Paul and Declan. The thoroughness, professionalism, and integrity of their work continues to impress me. I’m therefore privileged to announce that MindSparke is now a preferred Zortho partner. Zortho supplements are available through referral only and I’m extremely pleased to be able to share our referral and our preferred partner discount with the MindSparke brain fitness community.

If you’d like to learn more and take advantage of the MindSparke preferred partner discount on Zortho’s brain detoxification, brain nutrition, and other health supplements.

  • Go to www.Zortho.com
  • In the “new customer area” enter the Access Code MindSparke

brain supplements from zorthoUsing the MindSparke Access Code you can immediately set-up a “preferred account” for the discounted purchase of Zortho’s brain detoxification, brain nutrition, and other health supplements. Once your new account is in place, you have access to the private Zortho website. As a preferred customer, you will receive an ongoing discount on your purchases of Zortho’s brain detoxification, brain nutrition, and other health supplements.
More about Zortho’s ZeSol™ for brain detoxification and brain nutrition

  • mild tasting
  • easy to use
  • highly effective for brain detoxification and optimal brain nutrition.

Learn More And Purchase

Brain Fitness from Strength Training

Monday, March 14th, 2011
Brain Fitness Resistance Training

Maybe Not

We’ve reported before on the benefits of aerobic exercise to brain fitness and brain function (Exercise Makes Your Brain Bigger | Exercise That Stimulates Brain Plasticity). And the second of those reports seemed to show that strength exercise (weight lifting) didn’t improve brain fitness and mental sharpness the way that aerobic exercise did. However, more recent research seems to suggest otherwise.

In one study Brazilian brain scientists devised a means of getting rodents to do resistance training (climbing a ladder with weights tied to their tails) for several weeks. They compared the brain training benefits of this resistance training to the benefits of regular aerobic exercise or no exercise and concluded that both the resistance training and the aerobic exercise improved spatial memory and activated neurogenesis.

And in a similar study Japanese researchers added a resistance load to the training wheels of rats, causing muscle gain over a period of training. This study, too, found that the resistance training acted as brain training, activating neurogenesis in the rats’ brains.

Studies of humans has also produced evidence in support of the hypothesis that resistance training in the form of weight lifting or loaded resistance exercise can improve brain function. (See A Better Brain After Weight Lifting.)

When viewed from a holistic and practical perspective it makes sense that we would have evolved in such a way that physical exercise and resistance training would act as a spur for neurogenesis and provide an excellent means of brain fitness training. If we’re living a sedentary, undemanding existence our brains can idle — they’re not being called upon to find or win food or outwit our competitors or provide solutions to life’s problems. On the other hand, a physically tough existence calls the brain to action so that it can help us secure that next morsel or escape the encroaching wildebeast.

Brain Fitness Foods: Top Ten Edibles for The Brain

Monday, March 14th, 2011

By way of the “Shape” top eleven we have the 10 best foods for the brain (we left out Yerba Mate tea since it’s a drink…):

Brain Fitness Food #1: Beets

Scientists at Wake Forest University found that natural nitrates in beets can increase blood flow to the brain, thereby improving mental performance.

Brain Fitness Food #2: Sage

Sage contains compounds that prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory. A study published in Pharmacological Biochemical Behavior showed that young adults who took sage-oil extract (50 micro liters) before cognitive tests performed better than those given a placebo.

Brain Fitness Food #3: Beef

As published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition women with healthy iron levels performed better on mental tasks and completed them faster than those with poor iron status. Iron helps transport oxygen throughout the body and to the brain.

Brain Fitness Food #4: Sardines

Rich with EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids sardines facilitate communication among brain cells and help regulate neurotransmitters responsible for mental focus.

Brain Fitness Food #5: Egg Yolks

Egg yolks are a key source of choline which the body uses to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory formation. Eating protein-rich foods like eggs for breakfast can improve overall cognitive performance, according to Swiss researchers.

Brain Fitness Food #6: Oats

Since our bodies break down the carbohydrates in whole-grain oats very slowly, oats help keep glucose levels high for several hours rather than providing a rush and crash like more readily available carbs found in refined sugars, potatoes and wheat.

Brain Fitness Food #7: Lentils

Lentils are rich in folate, a B vitamin shown to help boost brain power. Folate also plays a role in decreasing levels of amino acids that can impair brain functioning.

Brain Fitness Food #8: Ground Flaxseed

Flax is the best source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)—a healthy fat that improves the workings of the cerebral cortex, the area of the brain that processes sensory information like touch and taste.

Brain Fitness Food #9: Walnuts

Scientists at Tufts University in Boston found that a diet rich in walnuts may improve mental performance. Walnuts have high levels of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.

Brain Fitness Food #10: Spinach and Other Vegetables

Harvard Medical School researchers found that women who ate the most vegetables—especially green leafy vegetables (spinach and romaine lettuce) and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower)—experienced a slower rate of cognitive decline than women who ate the fewer vegetables.

Neurogenesis For Better Memory

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

New research into neurogenesis, brain plasticity and memory gives a clue as to how our brains form memories using new brain cells and a tantalizing promise of developing a better memory.

Working with mice, researchers tested how well the mice remembered the location of their last meal (by seeing how easily they could return to the site). When the food locations were well separated the mice did fine. But when the researchers placed the food quite close to a previous location, one group of mice became confused. In these mice the researchers had disabled hippocampal neurogenesis, disrupting the ability of the mice brains to generate new brain cells. Neurogenesis, it seemed, led to better memory formation.

While the function of newborn brain cells is not well understood, many researchers now believe that new cells help in memory formation, but not all memory formation — contextual memories that can get easily confused (like where you left the car keys).

We can encourage neurogenesis through diet, aerobic exercise, and brain exercise.

access
“We are closer to understanding how memories are truly formed and stored in the brain,” says Craig Stark, director of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine. “If we want to try to help get better memories, we’d darn well better know how the system works.”

Neurogenesis

Neurogenesis occurs in the hippocampus, a brain region important for learning and memory. The hippocampus encodes and prepares new memories for storage, then dispatches them to different parts of the brain. In 1998, scientists showed that the hippocampus produces thousands of new brain cells each month. The nursery for nerve cells is a peanut-sized region of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus. Approximately 3 to 5 percent of the cells in the dentate gyrus are developing, says Fred Gage, a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif.

Many scientists think brain cells produced by neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus are crucial for better memory formation. New nerve cells, “neuronal progenitor cells,” aren’t connected to the brain’s neural network. Over their first month, the new cells begin to mature and establish exploratory connections with the surrounding brain tissue, beginning to elongate and to look more like nerve cells in the rest of the brain.

When the new brain cells finish maturing they integrate into the rest of the hippocampus, where they remain for a lifetime. “Most of the dentate gyrus is formed after birth,” Gage says. “A lot of it is formed in the first four years of life. That’s when you’re getting your baseline of memories. Then a low level of neurogenesis persists.”

Better Memory

Gage and others hypothesize that these adult-born nerve cells assist in a particular kind of memory called pattern separation, which keeps similar experiences from overlapping.

“New neurons are helping to distinguish between events that are close to each other,” Gage says. “It’s like a bar code. You put the bar code of the [memory] into the dentate. It’s coded with lots of information.”

For better memory formation, the brain stores the context of the memory, says Raymond Kesner, a psychology professor at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. “If you try to remember a story, time and place will always be important.”

In experiments described in 2008 in Hippo­campus, Kesner’s team demonstrated that rats with a healthy dentate gyrus had a better memory for object locations than those with a disabled dentate gyrus. His experiments support the idea that neurogensis in the dentate gyrus helps the brain remember the context of a memory.

In 2010, in Hippocampus, Stark and his colleagues new neurons in the dentate gyrus of aged brains are relatively inactive or slow to make connections. In older tissue, the newborn nerve cells appear to require greater contrasts among images and experiences before reacting and capturing a memory. As people age, Stark says, “we seem to be less good about details and specifics.”

How To Improve Memory

Researchers have begun to pinpoint factors that decrease neurogenesis in the dentate — including stress, alcohol consumption and, according to a study in Neuroscience Letters in 2010, a high-fat diet. On the plus side physical activity and working memory brain training exercises can increase neurogenesis and lead to a better memory.

Henriette van Praag of the Neuroplasticity and Behavioral Unit at the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Md. reported last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that mice that exercise regularly perform better in pattern separation tests.

Compounds in fruits, vegetables and herbs also appear to enhance the survival of new brain cells. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as salmon and sardines, flavonoids found in non-green vegetables and berries, and curcumin, a common component of curry. (Epicatechin, from green tea and chocolate, doesn’t appear to promote the birth of neurons directly but does encourage existing neurons to sprout more connections to neighbors, improving memory. The effect is particularly strong when combined with exercise.)

And as MindSparke trainees know so well, brain training with intensive working memory exercises promotes neurogenesis and brain fitness, significantly boosting our memory and brain power.

Brain Training & Game Play – Activating Your Rat Brain

Monday, February 28th, 2011
shogi board - brain training

Shogi Board

To investigate the effects of long term training on the brain, Japanese researchers scanned the brains of expert and amateur Shogi players as they quickly sized up their next move. Shogi is a complex board game analogous to chess. The scientists were surprised to find that the experts tapped into brain regions typically lightly used in humans but more highly developed in mice and rats.

When forced to act quickly the experts relied on an overall assessment of the game board rather that a thorough analysis. Such mental resources weren’t available to the amateurs who lacked the years of specific brain training that frequent shogi games had provided the experts.

Professor Keiji Tanaka, a lead researcher on the project, said the area of the brain being used was in the basal ganglia region, one he did not associate with intelligence:

“The professional players started to use the parts of the brains that are well developed in mice and rats and not so well developed in primates, so the findings were a surprise – by becoming expert, shogi masters start to use all parts of the brain.”

These findings underscore the awareness that by application and dedication we can train or retrain our brains. It also points to the intriguing finding that by becoming expert in an activity we develop areas of the brain that are largely dormant — our rat brain, as it were. Acquiring such expertise develops our “big picture” aptitude, developing our intuition and ability to read a situation or circumstance quickly.

Brain Food, Mood, Brain Fitness & Neurogenesis

Thursday, February 24th, 2011
leptin and brain fitness

Leptin And Brain Fitness

This post could be otherwise titled: what is Leptin and what does it have to do with brain training and brain fitness?

Leptin (from the Greek leptos meaning thin) is a protein hormone produced from fat tissue; it is critical in regulating appetite and metabolism.

As we consume calories our bodies produce Leptin. In turn our hypothalamus reacts to the Leptin by inducing the “I’m full” feeling and by increasing energy consumption, particularly from stored fat. For the Leptin regulation system to operate effectively, our Leptin receptors need to be working well. But toxins and other harmful stressors can damage our brain’s Leptin receptors causing Leptin resistance. Leptin resistance is bad.

New research shows that Leptin has a tremendous impact on brain functioning and brain health. Leptin is essential to neurogenesis (the development of brain cells), brain nerve fiber growth, the formation of brain synapses, neuron excitability, neuro-protection and the regulation a compound that accumulates in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s!. A well-functioning Leptin system improves brain fitness, mental sharpness, leads to better memory, and enhances mood. Leptin may also protect the brain against the development of mood and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

To balance your leptin levels naturally:
  • Decrease sugar and grain consumption: sugar, high fructose corn syrup and heavy doses of grains, such as wheat, oats, rice, and starchy vegetables, will increase leptin resistance.
  • Steer clear of trans-fats.
  • Eat plenty of non-starchy vegetables and healthy fats, such as avocados, extra-virgin coconut and olive oils, grass-fed meat, free-range eggs, almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, walnuts, and hemp, flax and chia seeds.
  • Do high-intensity exercise for short stints. This will stimulate large secretions of human growth hormone, which boost fat-burning mechanisms and help to regulate leptin levels.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Leptin levels typically rise during sleep.

You can also take supplements to remove toxins from the body and protect your leptin regulators!