There is a 17-year-old girl named Megan Sherow who was diagnosed with stage 3 brain cancer at the age of 13. The doctors showed no signs of optimism toward her survival, even after an aggressive treatment of chemotherapy and radiation. Megan did not want to give up on her battle to survive, and so she came across the raw food diet, which changed her life completely.
The raw food diet is based on the consumption of all raw, non-cooked, foods, mainly plants. Fruits and vegetables are the richest sources of valuable nutrients. If animal foods are eaten, they too are raw, and milk would be consumed unpasteurized. The plant-based diet mainly provides nutrient-dense foods that are rich in fiber. Fiber acts as an “intestinal broom” that picks up toxins deposited in the intestinal tract and carries them out.
The diet avoids processed foods, thus eliminating trans-fat, and providing low levels of saturated fat, sodium, and sugar. Processed foods contain chemical additives to make them look and taste better, chemical preservatives to make them last longer, and some synthetic vitamins and minerals that attempt to restore the foods’ nutritional values. Some artificial substances pass through the body, but others that do not get trapped in the kidneys, liver, intestines, and tissues like the heart, blood vessels, and brain.
Cooking foods exposes the nutrients in the food to heat, which can destroy them, especially water-soluble vitamins, antioxidants, and unsaturated fats, a popular one being omega-3s. The nutrients can be converted from an organic to an inorganic state, rendering them useless to the body. The beneficial effects of dietary fibers can also be altered and reduced. Cooking meat can lead to charring, generating heterocyclic amines, which are carcinogenic compounds. Cooking carbohydrates may produce acrylamide, which is also a potential carcinogen. Cooking has the potential destroy enzymes, lessen the nutritional value of food, and raise its acidity.
For those interested in scientific research, the Nobel Prize is an esteemed award, recognizing one’s work and dedication. However, many student researchers are often disillusioned about the kind of work that is put in to receive such high praise. More often than not, these individuals did not suddenly discover something new. To be sure, their findings are the fruits of years of research and passion in the field of science. As a great model of dedication, recent Nobel laureate Thomas Südhof provided incredible insight to our understanding of the human brain communication. But, once again, his work was in the basic-science field, on a topic which, in fact, we learn about in our introductory neuroscience courses. In this brief article, I will outline the most recent findings from Dr. Südhof’s lab in hopes of showing aspiring researchers that continued diligence and passion for learning is most important.
Neurons communicate with each other by a signaling process mediated by what is known as action potentials. Changes in concentration and electrical gradients cause the action potentials to fire down the neuron, until it reaches the synaptic bouton. It is here that one neuron forms a synapse with another neuron. The synapse is the site at which communication is happening. But, for the most part, two neurons are not physically connected, so how does communication happen? In a process called neurotransmission, when the action potential reaches the end of the neuron, an influx of Ca2+ ions cause vesicles to release certain chemicals out of the neuron, as a signal to the next. These vesicles are like little packets of neurotransmitter chemicals. Herein lies the question that Dr. Südhof sought to illuminate: mechanistically, how do these vesicles actually release the chemicals?
Stressed out? You may be at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease. You’re probably wondering to yourself how that is possible. Highly intelligent people who use their brains all of the time, like scientists, CEOs, and presidents, deal with stress on a day to day basis. The truth is that lack of higher education or brain activity is not the only major cause of dementia.
If keeping your brain active is a good way to prevent cognitive decline, then why did people such as Ronald Reagan and Norman Rockwell develop Alzheimer’s disease? The answer is stress. Recent studies have shown that people who deal with high levels of stress in their career or their family life are more likely to develop dementia. Stress cannot be said to directly cause dementia, but it is a trigger for the degenerative process in the brain.
An Argentine research team examined 118 patients with Alzheimer’s disease and 81 healthy individuals whose age, gender, and educational level were comparable to the Alzheimer’s patients. Both groups were questioned about the amount of stress that they had faced in the past three years. The researchers reported that 72% of the Alzheimer’s patients admitted to coping with severe emotional stress or grief, such as the death of a loved one or financial problems. This was nearly three times as many as the control group.
Have you ever wondered how long a perfect nap should be? We all decide to take naps because we feel our bodies and minds start to shut down, and the thought of doing anything productive just seems absolutely impossible. So what constitutes the perfect nap?
Your brain goes through five stages of brain activity during a sleep cycle. The first stage is falling asleep; it usually lasts five to ten minutes. This is the stage in which one may feel as though they are falling and their muscles may contract, causing what is called hypnic myoclonia. The second stage is known as light sleep. There are periods of muscle tone and muscle relaxation, along with a slowed heart rate and decreased body temperature. This is the body’s way of preparing for deep sleep. The third and fourth stages are the deep sleep stages, known as slow-wave or delta sleep. The highest arousal thresholds are seen in deep sleep, meaning that waking up is the most difficult during this stage. The final stage is called REM sleep, or rapid eye movement. The brainwaves during REM are very similar to those during wakefulness and heart rate, along with respiration, speed up. The eyes move rapidly in different directions, and intense dreaming occurs due to the heightened brain activity.
With that being said, it is now important to decide what the goal of your nap is. A nap of ten to twenty minutes yields mostly stage 2 of sleep, and therefore enhances alertness and concentration, elevates mood, and sharpens motor skills. Drinking coffee right before you take a “power nap” will aid in alertness upon waking, because it takes coffee about 20-30 minutes to fully kick in. Also try to sit slightly upright during the nap. This will help you avoid entering deep sleep and potential grogginess. It is important to note that if you find yourself dreaming during your power naps, it is a sign of sleep deprivation.
A man or a woman could be of above-average intelligence, well-educated in medicine and psychology, and understand that every statistical measurement of personality and temperament can be distributed across a bell-curve in a large enough population. He or she could comprehend the determining power of genetics, the impact of cultural influence on belief systems, and how neuroplasticity molds our mental processing to respond to environmental stimuli.
A clever, sophisticated professional could understand all of this, yet still believe that somehow, all members of the opposite sex are manipulative and irrational. Not some, all 3.5 billion of them. Why?
Perhaps throughout his or her life, this person has made irrational decisions to socialize with very irrational and emotional people of the opposite sex, and through these experiences has thus formed a gender bias. Research shows we tend to mostly place people into categories of gender, race, and age. This task is so pervasive that scientists have deemed it our “primitive” categorization.
Once we’ve made up our mind about a group, or even someone in particular (consciously or not), it’s often hard to change our opinion. When beliefs are formed, confirmation biases kick in and begin to look for information that supports our views, and selectively ignore everything which doesn’t. Maybe someone had decided that you were shy and uptight when you first met. You were more reticent than usual because you had only gotten 3 hours of sleep the night before. Now that acquaintance may not notice all the times you’re friendly and outgoing, but instead seems to pounce on all the times you’re a little quiet.
Are carbohydrates holding us back from our true potential? Exploring the possibilities of a ketogenic diet.
It is hard to avoid carbohydrates in the world we live in today, where since the industrial age 100-200 years ago, factories have been able to produce large quantities of sugar and white flour to feed the masses. Really though, foods high in carbohydrates (such as pasta, bread, rice, and potatoes) have only been available to us since the rise of agriculture, approximately 5-10,000 years ago. Prior to that, humans assumed a hunter-gatherer lifestyle where our diets consisted primarily of animal products and low starch vegetables, basically whatever we could find in nature without growing ourselves.
What if you were able to erase all of your painful memories by simply taking a pill? While this might sound like something out of a sci-fi film, a recent study conducted by a group of researchers at MIT suggests that it may be possible in the future.
The researchers say that they’ve identified a gene known as Tet1 that appears to be important in the process of “memory extinction.” Memory extinction is the natural process of older memories being overridden by newer experiences. In this process, conditioned responses to stimuli can change: what once elicited a fearful response doesn’t always need to if the danger has ceased.
In the study, researchers compared normal mice to mice without the Tet1 gene. The researchers conditioned all of the mice to fear a particular cage where they received a mild shock. Once the memory was formed, the researchers then put the mice in the cage but did not shock them. After a while, mice with the Tet1 gene lost their fear of the cage as new memories replaced the old ones. However, mice lacking the Tet1 gene remained fearful.
Traumatic brain injuries, often referred to as TBI, have gained major traction in the field of neuroscience over the past couple years, and for obvious reasons. The name itself suggests that something has gone horrible awry with our BRAIN – you know, the mass of cells inside our skulls responsible for telling our heart to pump and our muscles to contract, the organ that controls all of our cognitive abilities and complex processing, that space between our ears that has been associated with creating the somewhat vague concept of our mind? It’s not surprising that neuroscientists have deemed it important to begin researching ways to at least partially remedy the potentially devastating effects of an injury to our most central organ.
Previous TBI research hasn’t exactly led to the most uplifting results. While research has advanced enough for us to be able to visualize TBIs and generally understand the symptomology of TBI, the field has lagged in suggesting potential therapies for patients with this condition. The broad view has always been that patients with TBI improve up to a certain point, and then they plateau, staying at a consistently impaired state – until now.
It’s almost time for the dreaded fall midterms. Somehow, midterms manage to be even more stressful than finals. Maybe it’s because of the time of year they fall, which is easily the most beautiful time to be living in Boston. You just want to spend time outside walking on the esplanade, looking at the beautiful red and orange leaves on the trees that line the river and watching the rowing teams pass you by. Well, it may actually be beneficial to take some time out of your studying to take a stroll along the river, or to just sit on a bench for a little while. In fact, take some time to picnic this fall with some brain food, because studies show that it will enhance your studying experience.
Some of these brain foods include foods that you’d expect. These are the foods that your mom has been forcing down your throat, whether you like them or not, for as long as you can remember. But take a step back and think about why. Berries, for example, provide neurological benefits. They have a ton of antioxidants which will protect you from bacteria that make you sick when you’re stressed. Berries mediate signaling pathways that are involved in cell survival, and they increase the neuroplasticity, neurotransmission and calcium buffering properties of the brain, all related to aging, and in turn, memory and behavioral changes.
If you’ve ever seen someone with a baby, chances are you’ve heard them say something along the lines of “You’re so cute; I could just eat you up!”
Well a recent article published in Frontiers in Psychology by a research team at the Technische Universität of Dresden, Germany shows there may be a link between an infant’s smell and a female’s response, depending on the status of the female. Scientists have studied the connection between olfactory signals and the bond between a mother and her infant in several non-human mammal species. However, up until now, the research performed on mother-infant bonding in humans has only ever explored the visual and auditory senses.
What they did:
A total of 30 women were tested. Fifteen of the women had given birth for the first time three to six weeks prior to the experiment (primiparous). The other 15 women had never given birth (nulliparous). To obtain the sample odors, 18 infants each wore a T-shirt for two nights postpartum. The shirts were then placed in plastic bags and frozen to keep the odor unaltered. During the experiment, each woman was exposed to both “odorless” air and the odors of two different infants; primiparous women were never exposed to their own baby’s odor. The women were asked to rate the odor on intensity, familiarity, and pleasantness, though none of the participants were aware of what the odor stimulus was. As the women processed the different odors, an fMRI machine scanned their brain.