Saskia Sivananthan, chief research officer at the Alzheimer Society of Canada, said recently that if not much changes to the current trends, the number of people with dementia and the number of people caring for them “is going to be enormous. By investing in addressing modifiable risk factors that improve brain health, we can start changing and shifting some of those numbers down.”
Don’t bet on it. Unfortunately, the experts at the ASC appear to speak only to like-minded old-school scientists largely unaware of the research on neurodegenerative disorders being conducted outside their bubble. According to the Alzheimer Society report, “Navigating the Path Forward for Dementia in Canada,” “Certain risk factors like age and genetics are not modifiable.” While we all age, though, how we age is modifiable. We all know people who look and act 10 years younger than their chronological age and vice versa. Being active, having many interests, eating a proper diet , sleeping well, visiting your doctor for yearly check-ups, and not neglecting your oral hygiene are just some of the things we can all do to age well.
There is also some really exciting new research about rejuvenation. A study from the University of California-San Francisco showed that exposure of an aged animal to young blood can counteract and reverse pre-existing effects of brain aging by rejuvenating synaptic plasticity and improving cognitive function. This reminds me of the grotesque practice most commonly attributed to the historical figure of Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian countess and serial killer who lived from 1560 to 1614. Bathory believed that she could maintain eternal youth and beauty by bathing in the blood of virgins. Macabre, yes, but perhaps she was onto something? Healthy Brain and Severe AD Brain Tal Iram, a young neuroscientist at Stanford University, infused, instead of blood, cerebrospinal fluid taken from young mice into old mice. For comparison, a separate group of old mice was infused with artificial cerebrospinal fluid. A few weeks later, the mice were exposed to cues — a tone and a flashing light — that they had earlier learned to associate with shocks to their feet. The animals that had received the young cerebrospinal fluid infusion tended to freeze for longer, suggesting that they had preserved stronger memories of the original foot shock.
The ASC report mentions social isolation as a risk factor, but does not discuss the connection between social isolation and the bacteria in our guts, commonly referred to as the gut microbiome , a focus of much research all over the globe. For example, scientists from University of California-La Jolla found that loneliness was associated with a lack of diversity in the gut microbiome. On the other hand, wisdom and compassion were associated with a diverse microbiome. Conversely, the researchers said that social support, compassion, and wisdom might confer protection against loneliness-related instability of the gut microbiome. The relationship between loneliness and microbial diversity was particularly strong in older adults.
Healthy, diverse gut microflora may buffer the negative effects of chronic stress or help shape social behaviors that promote either wisdom or loneliness. It is possible that loneliness may result in decreased stability of the gut microbiome and, consequently, reduced resistance and resilience to stress-related disruptions, leading to inflammation and disease.
Other surprising new research from Stanford shows that the buildup of neurofibrillary tangles of tau protein inside neurons in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other brain diseases, which has been assumed to be the primary culprit, actually occurs in all aging cells, not just brain cells. Protein aggregation may be a universal phenomenon in aging cells and could be involved in many more diseases of aging than was suspected. Their discovery points to a new way of thinking about what goes wrong in cells as they age and, potentially, to new ways of preventing some unwelcome consequences of aging.
In the Alzheimer’s brain, abnormal levels of beta-amyloid protein, a naturally occurring protein, clump together to form plaques that collect between neurons and disrupt cell function. Pharmaceutical companies and neuroscientists have spent millions of hours and billions of dollars trying to clear the brain of these amyloid plaques.
Now a new study in the journal PLOS Biology, by John Mamo of Curtin University in Bentley, Australia, found that amyloid protein made in the liver, when transported to the brain, may be a significant contributor to neurodegeneration in the brain. Consequently, it seems logical to assume that the liver may play an important role in the onset or progression of the disease. Has anyone at the Alzheimer Society heard about this?
The “Navigating the Path Forward for Dementia in Canada” report advises us to get six-to-eight hours of quality sleep at night. Good advice. But what if you can’t? A majority of elderly people suffer from insomnia . The reason may be hiding in their gut. Diana Rogulja, an assistant professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, recently discovered how sleep deprivation causes death in fruit flies and mice. Lethal changes occur not in the brain but in the gut by way of a preponderance of reactive oxygen species (ROS), free radicals . If ROS are not swept up by antioxidant enzymes, they may cause damage to DNA, RNA, and proteins, and may lead to cell death.
In conclusion, it appears that there are many avenues open to improve the lives of people suffering from neurodegenerative disorders and, in the long run, to prevent these from occurring in the first place. Unfortunately, many scientists dealing with neurodegenerative diseases are too deeply invested in the current model to initiate change. The message needs to reach the public directly for real transformation. Pressure for reform must come from both inside and outside medicine.
Vaccaro, A., Dor, Y. K.., & Rogulja, D. et al., (2020). Sleep loss can cause death through accumulation of reactive oxygen species in the gut. Cell, 181(6), 1307-1328.
Nguyen, T. T., Zhang, X… & Jeste, D. V.et al., (2021). Association of loneliness and wisdom with gut microbial diversity and composition: an exploratory study. Frontiers in psychiatry, 395.
Lam, V., Takechi, R., Hackett, M. […]
So-called superagers maintain an exceptionally sharp memory into their eighties and above “Superagers” – people aged 80 or over with exceptionally good memories – may have larger than expected neurons in a region of the brain that is critical for memory .
With age , most people experience a gradual decline to their memory, but some maintain a remarkable ability to recall past events into their eighties or older, on par with people 20 to 30 years younger.
Alongside a decline in memory, our brains naturally shrink with age, with previous studies suggesting this occurs less with superagers.
Now, researchers have shown that superagers may have larger than expected neurons in their entorhinal cortex, a component of the brain’s memory system.
Tamar Gefen at Northwestern University in Illinois and her colleagues imaged brains donated by six superagers who died at an average age of 91. The six individuals previously took part in ongoing research into superagers .
These images were compared with seven people who died at an average age of 89 and a further six people who died at an average of 49, all of whom had memories that would be considered normal for their age.
Among the superagers, their entorhinal cortex neurons were around 10 per cent larger than those of the people who died at a similar age with a to-be-expected memory.
The superagers’ neurons were even around 5 per cent larger than the people who died 40 years younger, suggesting that larger than average neurons may contribute to an exceptional memory at age 80 or over.
The superagers also had substantially fewer protein clumps called tau tangles inside their neurons than their counterparts who died at a similar age. An abnormal build-up of tau has been suggested as a cause of Alzheimer’s disease .
“I am not yet sure why larger neurons are associated with preserved memory other than that they are more resistant to tau tangles,” says Gefen. “One other hypothesis is that they are more structurally sound and can generate more optimal [neural connections].”
“[The overall study] adds to the growing evidence that superagers differ from typical adults on multiple levels of the brain,” says Alexandra Touroutoglou at Harvard Medical School.
“The sample size here is relatively small, but that’s understandable. Superagers are a rare group, so finding a good number of them in a postmortem brain study is difficult,“ she says.
According to Joseph Andreano , also at Harvard Medical School, other brain regions linked to cognition have been shown to differ in size in superagers compared with people with a to-be-expected memory. It is unclear whether neuron size in the entorhinal cortex specifically accounts for enhanced memory, he says.
( Natural News ) Blueberries are full of beneficial antioxidants. According to a study published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience , eating wild blueberries regularly can help reverse cognitive decline among the elderly .
While conducting the study, researchers from the University of North Carolina (UNC) discovered that elderly Americans who were already suffering from “demonstrable cognitive issues” experienced incredible benefits from consuming blueberries each day.
In many cases, the brain health of the study participants reached the same levels as those with no known history of cognitive decline. This is important because there are no mainstream cures for dementia .
Blueberries are a popular “superfood,” with impressive antioxidant properties. The berries also contain different vitamins and minerals linked to brain health and reductions in heart disease and cancer risk.
A one-cup serving (about 148 grams) of blueberries provides 24 percent of your daily intake of vitamin C, 36 percent of vitamin K, 25 percent of manganese and 14 percent of dietary fiber. Cognitive function and blueberry consumption
For the study, researchers gathered data from 86 elderly adults between the ages of 65 and 80.
The volunteers all self-reported cognitive issues. Another 43 people in the same age range but without reported brain issues took part in the study as the control group.
After an initial screening to determine cognitive functioning at the start of the study, participants were split into two groups: One group added wild blueberry powder to their diets while the other added a placebo. (Related: Anthocyanins in fruits like blueberries can boost brain and heart health .)
Dr. Carol Cheatham, lead researcher and an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at UNC, said that they specifically used wild blueberries from Maine for the study because the phytochemicals they contain can fight skin cancer, pests and other elements in the harsh northeastern environment. Blueberries can reverse cognitive decline
When people consume berries, the protective benefits of the fruits’ phytochemical content are transferred to humans. The study showed that the phytochemicals in wild blueberries can boost brain health .
For the study, the volunteers mixed blueberry powder into their food every day. Six months later, they were screened for cognitive health again.
The researchers discovered that the mental processing speed of participants who consumed the blueberries daily greatly recovered after the study period.
On average, their mental processing was restored to the point that they had the same processing speed as the control group who reported no cognitive decline.
Processing speed refers to the brain’s ability to store and recall information. The researchers explained that processing speed is key to all brain functions, and this improvement points to an “overall jump in brain health.”
The study was relatively small, but Cheatham believes that her team has found a natural and effective solution to the cognitive issues affecting millions of Americans.
Cheatham herself incorporates blueberries into her regular diet by mixing at least two cups of berries into a breakfast smoothie.
You can also boost your brain health by consuming blueberries every day. Even amounts much smaller than Cheatham’s daily intake can still be effective. Boost your brain health with these tasty blueberry recipes
Try these amazing recipes featuring antioxidant-rich blueberries to boost your brain health.
Healthy blueberry and oatmeal muffins
This recipe pairs blueberries with fiber-rich oatmeal .
Ingredients for 12 servings: 1 1/5 Cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 Cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 Cup oats
1 Cup vanilla almond milk , unsweetened
1/2 Cup coconut oil
1/2 Cup honey 1 Teaspoon baking powder 1/2 Teaspoon baking soda 1/2 Teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 Teaspoon salt 1 Teaspoon vanilla extract 1 Large egg Preparation: > Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl: Flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Whisk the wet ingredients in a medium bowl: Coconut oil, egg, honey, vanilla and almond milk. Pour the mixture with the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Do not overmix. Set the mixture aside for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 F and line the muffin tin with liners while the mixture is set aside. Mix in the blueberries and divide the batter evenly among the muffin tin holes. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with more oats for garnish. Bake the muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, flipping the pan around the ten-minute mark to bake all muffins evenly. The muffins are done when you insert a toothpick into the center of the muffins and it comes out clean without any batter on it. Let the muffins cool for 10 minutes and transfer them to a cooling rack to finish cooling. No-bake vegan blueberry breakfast bars These vegan blueberry bars don’t need to be baked and they’re perfect for a quick and tasty breakfast or snack. Ingredients for 16 servings: 1 1/5 Cups 100 percent pure, uncontaminated, rolled oats (certified gluten-free) 1 Cup almond butter 3/4 Cup whole almonds 1/2 Heaping cup dried blueberries ½ cup pistachios 1/3 Cup ground flaxseed 1/3 Cup pepitas 1/3 Cup pure maple syrup or honey 1/3 Cup walnuts 1/4 Cup sunflower seeds 1/4 Cup unsweetened apple sauce Preparation: > Line an 8″x 8″ or similar size baking pan with parchment or wax paper until the paper hangs over the edges. Combine the oats, almonds, blueberries, pistachios, ground flaxseed, walnuts, pepitas and sunflower seeds in a large bowl and mix to combine. Add the maple syrup or honey and apple sauce to the large bowl, then mix again to combine. Add the almond butter to the combined ingredients in the bowl and mix until combined. Place the batter in the prepared pan. Press down firmly with the palm of your hands or use a mini-roller. Distribute the mixture as evenly as possible. Leave the pan in the freezer for at least one hour. Remove the pan from the freezer. Carefully lift the frozen slab from the pan using the excess along the edges. Set the slab down and gently peel the paper away. Slice the slab diagonally into eight long bars, […]
Enlarge People have long tried to use music as a tool to improve their abilities. Soldiers chanted songs when marching into battle, sailors sang songs on long voyages, and cloth makers sang when weaving. But do we have any evidence that music makes a difference for any of our activities?
We’ve only recently started to ask that question scientifically. It began with the Mozart effect, which seemed to link classical music to improved mental performance. Named after the famous composer, it was shorthand for the apparent boost in IQ tests that people listening to his music experienced. But the phenomenon turned out not to be real. “Background music was thought to help with work. [It was] found to be the noise stopping the person from being distracted,” says Professor Concetta Tomaino, executive director and co-founder of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function.
However, research into music and its effects on human abilities continued and eventually resulted in the discovery of an effect called brain entrainment, which appears capable of improving memory, focus, sleep, and physical activity. Making waves
The technique involves manipulating some of the waves of activity that are part of normal brain behavior. We’ve discovered five types of brain waves: alpha, beta, theta, delta, and gamma. David Sonnenschein, founder of iQsonics, a company that is developing tools for autistic children, says that alpha waves mark resting states and that beta waves are for waking consciousness. However, their effects also overlap; Tomaino says that “Gamma and beta waves help with attention and theta and delta waves help with sleep.”
In theory, you can tune difference in music frequency to boost the activity of any one of these brain waves. “In essence, brain entrainment is the production of specific brain patterns from certain types of music that has specific phase difference,” says Sonnenschein, whose tools for autistic children are based on the idea. Brain entrainment works by having a person listen to music with two different frequencies using headphones. “You can have music at 408 Hz and music at 400 Hz—this creates a difference,” Sonnenschein said, “and that difference is the frequency of brain waves you produce in the brain.”
Beyond these frequency effects, the exact benefits of different types of music are still hotly debated. Some researchers suspect that brain entrainment has a very large effect regardless of the type of music. This group includes Adam Shea-Hewett, who has worked on using music to improve human abilities for nearly two decades and is co-founder of Evoked Response, a company that provides music it claims improves individual capabilities.
However, there are others, such as Mari Tervaniemi, research director at the Centre of Excellence in Music, Mind, Body, and Brain at the University of Helsinki, who differ. “In most cases, it is the favorite music which is beneficial—beneficial to changing the emotional state. Positive emotions can then also contribute to improving cognition. It depends on the music that person likes,” she told Ars. However, she does caution that there are very few studies on South America or Africa, so any cultural differences in how music is appreciated remain unexplored.
There is evidence that the music itself matters. A study with 50 volunteers used brain entrainment that stimulated theta brainwaves but used different means of doing so: either white noise or music. A simple memory test showed that those listening to music saw a much greater boost in performance. Lots of questions
However, everyone we talked to agreed that music has an effect. But how large is this effect, and how long does it last? That is a question researchers have been struggling with for quite some time.
Research indicates that the effects can be wide-ranging, from improving memory to increasing attention. However, these effects do not last forever. Both Tervaniemi and Tomaino say that you can use it for one or two sessions throughout the day. More than this and you would adapt to the music, limiting its effect.
There is some data on how long changes last following exposure to music. Music produced by Evoked Response has been shown to increase focus in an attention-based task, and the effect seemed to last well after the music was shut off. “We don’t know how long the effects last, but an improvement was seen compared to those without music after two hours from the session,” says Shea-Hewett. Evoked Response and others have found similar timing when music was used to influence memory, physical activity, and attention—effects last for one to two hours after the music listening phase.
Another study looking into the effects on sleep showed that individuals who listened to music as they fell asleep saw an increase in their slow wave oscillations (brain waves of a certain frequency), which occur during the later hours of sleep and are essential for memory consolidation. The group that also used the specially crafted music showed a doubling in their time spent in deep sleep and over a halving in the time taken to fall asleep. Self-medication?
While many people are excited about the prospects of using music to boost everyday performance, others have tested it for its therapeutic value. “Many studies in this area are normally focused on people with pathological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, insomnia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” says Tomaino. “For example, music has been shown to improve memory of dementia patients or focus for people with ADHD.” But the greatest effect is on those with Parkinson’s disease, which is marked by uncontrollable movements. “Training with music can lead to a recovery of movement, and the effects are seen instantly.”
Given that listening to music has a long history and is deeply ingrained in many cultures, it’s tempting to view these results as a clear benefit. But the benefit is unlikely to be uniform. For example, there are people who suffer from amusia. “These people do not detect musical pitch and so will not get an effect from music,” Tervaniemi told Ars. Amusia may be as common as dyslexia and is currently poorly studied. We also don’t […]
In today’s highly competitive world, popping a pill for extra brain power can be a tempting solution for those needing a quick boost in productivity, or hoping to get the creative juices flowing.
Recent years have seen an enormous spike in demand for neuroenhancers known as nootropics or “smart drugs,” especially among university students during exam time, but also among working professionals with looming deadlines and older folks worried about cognitive decline in advanced age.
In response to this demand, a whole black-market industry has sprung up around prescription medications such as Adderall, Ritalin, and modafinil — powerful, mind-altering drugs intended to treat psychiatric and neurological conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, but which are also widely believed — rightly or wrongly — to stimulate the brain and improve mental performance in healthy individuals.
If you’re considering taking nootropics, it’s important to know that synthetic psychostimulants are very often controlled substances, which means possessing them without a prescription can land you in jail. Worse than that, abusing these medications can also put you in the hospital, in rehab — or even in the morgue.
Fortunately, not all nootropics are prescription-only pharmaceutical products with frightening safety profiles. Many can be found growing all around us, or on the shelves of your local health food store — although you should still consult your doctor before using them. Here are some of the best: Bacopa Monnieri
Bacopa monnieri , also known as waterhyssop or brahmi, is a perennial herb native to the wetlands of India and Australia. Used in Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) for centuries, Bacopa contains a number of chemical compounds, known collectively as bacosides, which can cross the blood-brain barrier and provide significant neuroprotective and neuroenhancement benefits. 
A 2013 neuropharmacological review of Bacopa monnieri at the Pitzer (Claremont) College Department of Neuroscience found that “unlike the potentially addictive and forceful action of widely used psychostimulants,” such as modafinil, long-term moderate use of Bacopa “appears to nourish rather than deplete neurons.”  Despite the herb’s slower, gentler influence on the brain than pharmaceutical nootropics, a 2013 meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology has shown chronic Bacopa administration to have an overall greater positive impact on cognitive processes than modafinil, especially in the domain of memory. 
“Bacopa could potentially be clinically prescribed as a memory enhancer,” according to a 2012 systematic review carried out at the Swinburne University of Technology’s Center for Human Psychopharmacology in Australia, which analyzed the results of six high-quality, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human trials.  More recently, in 2022, an article in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Pharmacology noted that, in addition to memory enhancement, “several therapeutic and laboratory researches have demonstrated the usefulness of Bacopa monnieri in improving intellect and concentration,” and that Bacopa extract “has already been shown to help cognitive performance in adolescents with ADHD.”  Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba , often simply called ginkgo, is a species of tree native to China and a staple of traditional Chinese medicine. Extracts from its leaves contain many bioactive compounds, including ginkgolides and bilobalide, which are considered to exert memory-enhancing,  neuroprotective, and neuroregenerative effects  by improving blood circulation and assisting the distribution of nutrients and oxygen to the brain. 
A systematic review of seven randomized controlled trials by an international team of scientists from India, Israel, and Poland in 2012 reported that despite only “limited evidence” for Ginkgo as a treatment for ADHD (unlike Bacopa monnieri ), the plant was nevertheless “found to provide cognitive benefits in patients with Alzheimer’s disease,” and that “some executive functions, selective attention, and long-term memory were all enhanced by its extracts.” 
In patients with dementia, the standardized ginkgo extract EGb761 was shown to be more effective than placebo in a 2010 meta-analysis of nine clinical trials,  and although its alleged benefits in this area remain hotly debated, the authors of a more recent (2015) article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Pharmaceutical Health Care & Sciences concluded that “taking a 240-mg daily dose of Ginkgo biloba extract is effective and safe in the treatment of dementia”  — a conclusion further corroborated by an updated review for Frontiers in Pharmacology in 2020. 
Similarly, as a complementary therapy for ischemic stroke, Ginkgo extract has been observed to “improve neurological function” and “seems generally safe for clinical application,” according to a 2020 systematic review of 15 randomized clinical trials involving more than 1,800 participants. 
In early 2022, a comprehensive survey of plant-derived nootropics by a group of Spanish scientists, who analyzed the findings from over 250 research papers published between 2000 and 2021, summarized that “ Ginkgo biloba was the most relevant nootropic regarding perceptual and motor functions” — the neurocognitive domain responsible for receiving, interpreting, and using sensory information.  Perceptual motor skills include hand-eye coordination, body-eye coordination, auditory language skills, and visual-auditory skills. Withania Somnifera
Variously known as ashwagandha and winter cherry, Withania somnifera — another Ayurvedic herb — is an evergreen shrub mainly cultivated in the dry regions of India. Since this adaptogenic herb is already fairly well established as a folk remedy for stress, depression, and anxiety, it is perhaps unsurprising that the same study that assessed Ginkgo biloba to be the best plant-derived nootropic (PDN) for perceptual-motor function-enhancement also evaluated Withania as the most effective PDN for improving social cognition — the ability to process, remember, and use information in social situations.  The active phytochemicals in Withania, and the role they play in the herb’s medicinal applications, are not yet clearly understood,  but their effects on the brain are well documented.
In 2021, eight scientists from four top U.S. universities noted in a review of 21 nutrients’ effects on cognitive function that Withania has “demonstrated promising results as a safe and effective treatment for improving immediate and general memory, executive function, attention, and information-processing speed” in patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).  This review — which summarized the findings of nearly 100 research papers from the […]
A cap embedded with electrodes that deliver small electric zaps to the brain appeared to boost memory in a group of older adults for at least one month, according to a new study.
The researchers say the technology, the results of which were published Monday in the journal Nature Neuroscience , could one day be used as an at-home intervention for people at risk of dementia to improve memory, when diet and other lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough.
Though both the study’s authors and outside experts say that more work is needed before people could go out and use such a device, there’s an air of excitement around the results.
The findings are “quite remarkable,” said Dr. Gregory Worrell, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who was not involved in the research.
“Memory dysfunction is such a common comorbidity of neurologic and psychiatric disease, so these kinds of results could have really wide-ranging applications,” he said.
As people begin to live longer, the approach could become an important tool to protect or even enhance memory in older adults, said senior study author Robert Reinhart, a neuroscientist at Boston University.
More than 16 million people in the U.S., many over the age of 65, have some form of cognitive impairment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .
“It’s an unfortunate fact of life that as we age we all become a little more forgetful,” Reinhart said. “Memory deficits impair our activities of daily living, planning, decision making, cognition, learning, and that can generally have a negative effect of diminishing quality of life.” A brain-zapping cap
The new study included 150 people ages 65 to 88 who did not have a diagnosed neurological disorder .
Using the cap, the researchers delivered a weak electrical current to participants’ brains while asking them to recall five lists of 20 words. The process was done for 20 minutes on four consecutive days. Forty people in the study received a placebo treatment — they wore the cap but didn’t receive the electrical stimulation.
The study found that memory performance improved by approximately 50% to 65% in participants who received the four-day intervention. That translated to participants recalling four to six more words, on average, as compared to the group of people receiving the placebo stimulation, according to the researchers.
“This is not a small effect,” Worrell said.
The study also found that the intervention was capable of boosting both working memory and long-term memory. Both types of memory are important — the former helps store information for seconds and minutes, like when you need to remember a phone number. Long-term memory is important for storing information over days, months or years.
The people with the worst cognitive function coming into the experiment showed the most improvement during the intervention and one month later, the researchers said, adding that that may lay the groundwork for a clinical trial for people with Alzheimer’s disease .
Reinhart noted that the research is still in its early stages. Additional studies are still needed to determine whether these effects can last beyond one month, as well as whether these methods can enhance memory performance in people with impaired cognition due to neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s.
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The technology also has limitations. The approach cannot correct for the death of brain cells, something common among people with these disorders, said Shrey Grover, a doctoral student in Reinhart’s lab and the lead author of the study.
However, it’s not the first time researchers have shown that zapping the brain can temporarily improve memory. Worrell, of the Mayo Clinic, published a study in 2018 that found low-intensity electrical stimulation to a specific area appeared to improve verbal short-term memory. Overall, he acknowledged, that previous research on the topic has been a mixed bag.
Dr. Michael Fox, a Harvard Medical School neurologist who was not involved in the research, said the promise of being able to put on a cap 20 minutes a day and enhance cognitive function gets “people excited.”
Still, Fox said he wonders what sort of adverse effects, if any, the method could have on the mind.
Feeling forgetful? How stress may affect memory
April 12, 202203:37
“If someone is above the age of 65 and their No. 1 problem is memory, this could still be something that helps and this might be OK if it comes at the expense of some other function that doesn’t bother them,” he said.
The study’s authors said that they did not observe any serious adverse effects over the course of the study.Grover said participants often experienced itching and a tingling sensation shortly before and after using the helmet. Some people experienced a slight “poking sensation” on their scalp, he said, but they generally found the sensation very manageable. Wide use one day? Many researchers in the field expect that the technology could one day be used widely to help those experiencing cognitive impairment.The technology used in the helmet is relatively cheap and noninvasive, Worrell said, meaning people could one day possibly use the device at home.There are already similar devices sold at brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers, like Amazon, he said, but none have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for memory improvement and may not work as advertised.Grover said the approach could be administered outside of a doctor’s office and combined with existing therapies.But aside from its potential clinical use, Reinhart said that if the approach becomes available to the wider public, he could see people using it the same way they use caffeine to increase arousal .“You can imagine a future potentially where people are using stimulation,” he said. “I think people are just overwhelmingly interested in augmenting their ability to provide a kind of cutting-edge advantage.”Worrell agreed. “It is more expensive than a cup of coffee, but it is really not incredibly expensive,” he said. Follow NBC HEALTH on Twitter & Facebook .
The question of what makes modern humans unique has long been a driving force for researchers. Comparisons with our closest relatives, the Neanderthals, therefore provide fascinating insights. The increase in brain size, and in neuron production during brain development, are considered to be major factors for the increased cognitive abilities that occurred during human evolution. However, while both Neanderthals and modern humans develop brains of similar size, very little is known about whether modern human and Neanderthal brains may have differed in terms of their neuron production during development.
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden now show that the modern human variant of the protein TKTL1, which differs by only a single amino acid from the Neanderthal variant, increases one type of brain progenitor cells, called basal radial glia, in the modern human brain. Basal radial glial cells generate the majority of the neurons in the developing neocortex, a part of the brain that is crucial for many cognitive abilities. As TKTL1 activity is particularly high in the frontal lobe of the fetal human brain, the researchers conclude that this single human-specific amino acid substitution in TKTL1 underlies a greater neuron production in the developing frontal lobe of the neocortex in modern humans than Neanderthals.
Only a small number of proteins have differences in the sequence of their amino acids — the building blocks of proteins — between modern humans and our extinct relatives, the Neanderthals and Denisovans. The biological significance of these differences for the development of the modern human brain is largely unknown. In fact, both, modern humans and Neanderthals, feature a brain, and notably a neocortex, of similar size, but whether this similar neocortex size implies a similar number of neurons remains unclear. The latest study of the research group of Wieland Huttner, one of the founding directors of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, carried out in collaboration with Svante Pääbo, director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, and Pauline Wimberger of the University Hospital Dresden and their colleagues, addresses just this question. The researchers focus on one of these proteins that presents a single amino acid change in essentially all modern humans compared to Neanderthals, the protein transketolase-like 1 (TKTL1). Specifically, in modern humans TKTL1 contains an arginine at the sequence position in question, whereas in Neanderthal TKTL1 it is the related amino acid lysine. In the fetal human neocortex, TKTL1 is found in neocortical progenitor cells, the cells from which all cortical neurons derive. Notably, the level of TKTL1 is highest in the progenitor cells of the frontal lobe.
Modern human TKTL1, but not Neanderthal TKTL1, leads to more neurons in embryonic mouse neocortex
Anneline Pinson, the lead author of the study and researcher in the group of Wieland Huttner, set out to investigate the significance of this one amino acid change for neocortex development. Anneline and her colleagues introduced either the modern human or the Neanderthal variant of TKTL1 into the neocortex of mouse embryos. They observed that basal radial glial cells, the type of neocortical progenitors thought to be the driving force for a bigger brain, increased with the modern human variant of TKTL1 but not with the Neanderthal variant. As a consequence, the brains of mouse embryos with the modern human TKTL1 contained more neurons.
More neurons in the frontal lobe of modern humans
After this, the researchers explored the relevance of these effects for human brain development. To this end, they replaced the arginine in modern human TKTL1 with the lysine characteristic of Neanderthal TKTL1, using human brain organoids — miniature organ-like structures that can be grown from human stem cells in cell culture dishes in the lab and that mimic aspects of early human brain development. “We found that with the Neanderthal-type of amino acid in TKTL1, fewer basal radial glial cells were produced than with the modern human-type and, as a consequence, also fewer neurons,” says Anneline Pinson. “This shows us that even though we do not know how many neurons the Neanderthal brain had, we can assume that modern humans have more neurons in the frontal lobe of the brain, where TKTL1 activity is highest, than Neanderthals.” The researchers also found that modern human TKTL1 acts through changes in metabolism, specifically a stimulation of the pentose phosphate pathway followed by increased fatty acid synthesis. In this way, modern human TKTL1 is thought to increase the synthesis of certain membrane lipids needed to generate the long process of basal radial glial cells that stimulates their proliferation and, therefore, to increase neuron production.
“This study implies that the production of neurons in the neocortex during fetal development is greater in modern humans than it was in Neanderthals, in particular in the frontal lobe,” summarizes Wieland Huttner, who supervised the study. “It is tempting to speculate that this promoted modern human cognitive abilities associated with the frontal lobe.”
Materials provided by Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) . Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Journal Reference :
> Anneline Pinson, Lei Xing, Takashi Namba, Nereo Kalebic, Jula Peters, Christina Eugster Oegema, Sofia Traikov, Katrin Reppe, Stephan Riesenberg, Tomislav Maricic, Razvan Derihaci, Pauline Wimberger, Svante Pääbo, Wieland B. Huttner. Human TKTL1 implies greater neurogenesis in frontal neocortex of modern humans than Neanderthals . Science , 2022; 377 (6611) DOI: 10.1126/science.abl6422
Many of us will struggle to remember things as we get older. A gentle form of brain stimulation might help, according to new research. The approach appears to boost the memories of older people and help them remember lists of words.
The technique can be adapted to improve either long-term or short-term memory, and the benefits appear to last for at least a month. It’s the first time this type of brain stimulation has been shown to have such long-lasting effects on human memory, say the researchers behind the work.
“This was a very short intervention which produced both an immediate effect and a very durable one,” says Marom Bikson, a neural engineer at the City College of New York, who was not involved in the study. “More research is needed, but if this works out it could be in every doctor’s office … and it could eventually be something that people use at home.” Electric brains
“It’s an uncomfortable fact of life that as we age, we all become a little bit forgetful,” says Rob Reinhart, a neuroscientist at Boston University, who led the work. Reinhart studies brain networks for functions like cognition, attention, and memory—and how they seem to decline with age and as a result of some disorders.
Brain cells communicate with each other using electrical pulses, and brain networks and regions have their own pulses of electrical activity. Growing evidence suggests that applying electrical stimulation to these networks can change the way they work, potentially strengthening connections between brain regions.
To find out if this approach could improve memory, Reinhart and his colleagues turned to a form of brain stimulation called transcranial alternating current stimulation. tACS, as it’s known, allows gentle pulses of electricity to the skull via electrodes embedded in what is essentially a swimming cap.
Although the approach delivers electricity to regions of the brain, the doses are too low to trigger brain cells to fire. Instead, tACS modulates the way cells fire, says Reinhart. He prefers to describe his use of tACS as brain modulation rather than brain stimulation. “They’re noninvasive, safe, extremely weak levels of alternating current,” he says.
The team used a modern, high-definition form of tACS, which allows researchers to target small regions of the brain. The group chose to focus on two regions of the brain that are known to be involved in memory: part of the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain, which is involved in long-term memory, and the inferior parietal lobe, a region toward the back of the brain thought to be involved in short-term memory.
Each of these two brain regions has its own characteristic pattern of electrical pulses of activity, or brain waves. In the first experiment, Reinhart and his colleagues delivered pulses of activity to match the natural rhythms of each region—high frequencies for the prefrontal cortex and low frequencies for the parietal lobe. Tingling, itching, and warming
The team recruited 60 volunteers, all between the ages of 65 and 88, who were divided into three groups. In a task, each person was read a list of 20 words and had to recall them later. While they were performing this task, a third of the group had the prefrontal cortex of their brain modulated, and another third had their parietal lobes targeted. The remaining third wore a cap of electrodes but didn’t receive any stimulation.
Those who did receive brain stimulation did not feel anything dramatic, says Reinhart. “When the current is running, you feel like a mild tingling or itching or poking or warming sensation,” he says.
The 20-minute session was repeated for four consecutive days. Over those four days, people who received brain stimulation improved in their ability to remember words. There was no such improvement among those who weren’t stimulated.
And the type of memory improvement depended on which brain regions had been stimulated. Those who had the front of their brains stimulated were better at remembering the first words in the list, suggesting their long-term memory had improved. Those who had their parietal lobes stimulated saw improvements in their short-term memory.
By the end of the four days, those who’d had their brains stimulated improved their performance by around 50 to 65% and remembered around four to six extra words from the list of 20, on average, says Reinhart. “It’s very impressive,” says Roi Cohen Kadosh, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Surrey, who was not involved in the study.
“We can watch the memory improvements accumulate … with each passing day,” says Reinhart, who, along his colleagues, published the findings in the journal Nature Neuroscience on Monday.
The greatest improvements were among those who had the worst cognitive function at the start of the study. This suggests that the technique might one day be helpful for people with memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, says Reinhart.
When Reinhart’s team swapped the frequencies, targeting the front of the brain with low frequencies and the back of the brain with high ones, there was no improvement in either short- or long-term memory. This suggests that the type of stimulation must match the natural brain waves in order to work.
Reinhart and his colleagues only checked in on their volunteers a month after they did the experiment, and they don’t know if the improvements lasted beyond that point. And while the study found that the volunteers were better at remembering words from a list, Reinhart doesn’t know if their memories improved more generally, or if the stimulation improved their lives in any way.
“The effects are really specific, and not something that would benefit someone who would want to improve their memory [more generally],” says Cohen Kadosh. He points out that people who want to remember things for an exam, for example, don’t just want to remember the first and last things they read—they need to remember everything. “We need to see if there is really an effect … in everyday life functions,” he says. Bikson agrees this is a valid concern—some “brain training” games promise to boost […]
People are turning to nootropics for a boost in mental performance, memory and creativity and the supplements , which are touted to improve and enhance cognitive functions, are gaining in popularity, but do they work? “While some of these claims may be exaggerated, there is evidence that some nootropics can offer some cognitive benefits,” Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies tells us. Read on to learn about the most promising nootropics that have been shown to offer real benefits. As with all supplements and vitamins, it’s important to talk with your physician first before taking to ensure there’s no adverse side effects or interactions with current medications. Please consult your doctor for medical advice. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID .
Dr. Mitchell explains, “Nootropics are a type of supplement that is designed to improve cognitive function. The word “nootropic” comes from the Greek words for “mind” and “turning.” Nootropics are sometimes called “smart drugs” or “cognitive enhancers.” There is a wide variety of nootropics available on the market, and they can be used for a variety of purposes, including improving memory, focus, and task completion. Many people take nootropics in order to boost their productivity, and some even use them as a means of achieving better grades in school. Nootropics are also sometimes used as a treatment for conditions like ADHD and Alzheimer’s disease. While there is still much research to be done on the efficacy of nootropics, many people swear by their benefits and continue to use them on a regular basis.
Nootropics are a type of supplement that is designed to improve cognitive function. The benefits of nootropics include improved memory, concentration, and focus. They can also help to reduce stress and anxiety levels. In addition, nootropics have been shown to boost brain power and protect the brain from age-related damage. Some of the most popular nootropics include ginkgo biloba, omega-3 fatty acids, and resveratrol. While more research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of these supplements, there is evidence that they can provide a range of health benefits. As such, nootropics are an increasingly popular choice for those looking to improve their cognitive function.”
Dr. Mitchell tells us, “Although nootropics are generally considered to be safe and effective, there are some potential drawbacks to taking them. One of the most common concerns is that nootropics may interact with other medications or supplements, potentially resulting in dangerous side effects. Additionally, some people may experience negative effects such as headaches, nausea, or anxiety when taking nootropics. It is also important to note that the long-term effects of taking nootropics are not yet known. While they may improve cognitive function in the short term, it is possible that they could have negative consequences over time. As a result, anyone considering taking nootropics should speak with a healthcare provider first to ensure they are safe and appropriate for their individual needs.”
Dr. Mitchell states, “Caffeine is a psychoactive substance that has long been employed as a cognitive enhancer. Current research indicates that caffeine improves various aspects of cognition, including attention, vigilance, and reaction time . In addition, caffeine appears to have positive effects on memory and learning. One mechanism by which caffeine may enhance cognition is by reducing sleepiness and fatigue. Caffeine also increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which plays a role in executive function and attention. Overall, the evidence suggests that caffeine can be an effective cognitive enhancer, particularly for sleep-deprived individuals or those with attention deficits. However, it is important to note that tolerance to the effects of caffeine can develop quickly, so regular users may need to consume increasing amounts of caffeine to maintain the same level of cognitive enhancement.”
“Creatine is an amino acid or protein,” Dr. Mitchell says. “It’s found naturally in your body, mostly in your muscles, and it helps your muscles produce energy during heavy exercise. Creatine is also available as a dietary supplement. People take creatine as a performance-enhancing drug. Some research suggests that it might improve brain function in people with conditions that affect the brain, such as depression, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. However, there is not enough evidence to know if creatine has these effects. Creatine can cause side effects, including stomach pain and nausea. It can also cause weight gain and bloating. More research is needed to determine the long-term safety of taking creatine supplements. When used properly, creatine is generally considered safe. Consult with a doctor before taking any dietary supplements.” According to Dr. Mitchell, “Bacopa monnieri is a nootropic herb used in traditional Indian medicine for centuries. Also known as Brahmi, this herb is known for its memory-enhancing effects. Modern science has begun to back up these claims, and studies have shown that Bacopa can improve memory recall, attention span, and reaction time. Additionally, Bacopa has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, making it a well-rounded nootropic. How does Bacopa work? The active compounds in Bacopa are thought to increase neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which play a role in cognitive function. Additionally, Bacopa is a powerful antioxidant, and it is thought that this property may help to protect the brain against age-related damage. Bacopa is an effective nootropic that can improve cognitive function and protect the brain against age-related damage. Bacopa monnieri is a herb used in traditional Indian medicine for centuries. Modern research has shown that it can improve memory and cognitive function in healthy adults.”
Dr. Mitchell shares, “Ginkgo biloba is a popular nootropic herb used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Today, Ginkgo Biloba is one of the most commonly used herbs for cognitive enhancement and memory improvement. So, how does ginkgo biloba work? Studies have shown that ginkgo Biloba can improve blood circulation to the brain, which may help to enhance cognitive function and memory. Additionally, ginkgo Biloba is thought to increase […]
A new study investigates how a walk outdoors has positive effects on the brain.
Living in cities can increase one’s risk of developing anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia.
A new study investigated the brain processes underlying the positive effects on stress of taking a walk in a forest.
The results of the study showed that a walk in the forest reduces activity in the amygdala and benefits mental health.
Life in a large city can be incredibly stressful . Psychological research has shown that people who live in cities may have an increased risk for depression , anxiety , and schizophrenia compared to people living in more rural areas. In contrast, many people perceive hiking and spending time in nature as stress-relieving and calming. What has been largely unclear so far, however, is the question of how specifically spending time in nature affects our brain function to reduce stress. The positive effects of nature on mental well-being
A new study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry ( Sudimac et al., 2022 ), focused on precisely this question. In the study, entitled “How nature nurtures: Amygdala activity decreases as the result of a one-hour walk in nature,” a research team led by Sonja Sudimac from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin investigated how stress-related brain regions reacted to a one-hour walk in an urban environment—a busy street in Berlin—compared to a natural environment; in this case, a forest.
The researchers used a neuroscientific technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain activation in 63 healthy volunteers in two groups: walking in nature or walking in an urban environment. In both groups, brain activation was measured before and after the walk, using two different tasks in the MRI scanner. The first fMRI task was a fearful-faces task designed to activate anxiety-related brain networks, and the second fMRI task was a social-stress task designed to activate stress-related brain networks.
In the fearful-faces task, volunteers watched faces with fearful and neutral expressions while lying in the scanner. The so-called MIST (Montreal Imaging Stress Task) was used as the social stress task. In the MIST, volunteers have to solve very complicated mathematical tasks designed to be beyond their abilities, while they get compared to a fake “average.” The fake average the volunteers see is always better than their own performance, so that they may feel stressed since they perform so badly. Amygdala activity is reduced after a walk in nature
The scientists found very similar results in both the fearful faces and the stress test. For the group of volunteers that walked for one hour in an urban environment, there were no changes in the activation of fear or stress-related networks between the two scans. In contrast, for the group of volunteers that walked for one hour in nature, there was a decrease in activity in one specific brain area for both fMRI tasks after the walk: the amygdala; in particular, the right amygdala.
The amygdala is a group of neuronal nuclei within the temporal lobe of the brain and has been shown to be a key structure in the processing of fear and stress. In particular, when people are stressed out, their brains tend to switch to more amygdala-driven networks. The finding that amygdala activity reduces after a walk in nature, therefore, led the scientists to conclude that a walk in nature can help restore us from the negative effects of stress. This finding has powerful implications as it suggests that taking time off and hiking in the woods can have a protective effect on the development of many psychological disorders for which stress is often a major influence factor.
So what can you do the next time you feel stressed out? Take a hike in the woods, and you should feel a little less frazzled.