• The Science Of Sin

    This month’s blog is dedicated to a major milestone in my life.

    My first ever solo effort as an author hit the bookshops across the UK on 12th July

    It has it’s own dedicated site, so you can find all about it here: www.sciofsin.com

     

    A few days later, on 17th July, I did a sell out gig at Bart’s Pathology Museum (between St Paul’s Cathedral and Smithfield’s Market). I was delighted to find that 2 clergymen had trekked all the way from west London to hear what I had to say.

    The event was hosted by Carla Valentine – with whom I’d worked last year on a Vampire Special of my Geek Chic’s Weird Science podcast recorded live at Soho Theatre – and who insisted that we pose for this: my favourite photo ever…

    The Priest, The Mortician and the Neuroscientist

     

     

     

     

     

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  • Online Gaming Bilingual Boost

    You’ve probably heard by now that learning a foreign language is good for the brain. This is true in the sense that using a second language on a regular basis seems to help build up cognitive reserve. This results from bolstering certain connections in the prefrontal cortex (the part behind your forehead) involved in the process of switching from one language system to another. The linguistic “gear-shift” mechanism of the brain actually involves a vast network of interconnected neurons spanning every lobe of the brain. They constantly re-organise themselves on a trial and error basis (but only if you regularly use both languages) in order to help the person get better and better at using all their brain resources with slightly greater flexibility than people who only speak one language from one week to the next.

    The cognitive demands involved in learning a new language are vast. Once the endless list of words have been memorised, the grammatical quirks of each language finally mastered, our brains will have physically changed themselves, having updated the brain’s wiring to have neural networks capable of communicating using either of the learned languages. The ability to switch between two languages turns out to be great cognitive exercise which results in the development of cognitive reserve that can come in to play in later life to compensate for problems caused when bran cells die off in large numbers due to neurodegenerative conditions.

    Cognitive reserve is something that we would all be well advised to put time and effort into developing. And beyond that many people find the motivation to put themselves through the extensive process of learning a language because they know that when traveling overseas, communicating with the locals in their own language improves the quality of your experiences exponentially. Because most people don’t bother, it really does differentiate a English native-speaker if they actually do try to speak a foreign language. It opens so many doors, helping you gain access to experiences that simply wouldn’t be on offer when the communication barrier gets in the way all the time. Surprisingly, it turns out that, the technology may already be at hand to help people clock up enough hours of interaction in a new language to make relatively fluent communication easier to achieve, for keen computer gamers at least.

    The study I stumbled upon during my latest exploration of the science journals looked at the impact of playing Massively Multi-Player Online Role Play Games (MMORPGs) on language acquisition. It had been postulated that, for example, when MMORPG gamers sit in front of their computers – each in a different country, wearing headphones / mics so they can coordinate their battles with dragons, dwarves and elves – they may end up improving their command of a non-native language. Under such circumstances, English is usually the language that everyone has in common and people end up getting hundreds of hours per month experience of listening to and speaking in this non-native tongue, due to the need to stay in constant contact with each other to coordinate everyone’s efforts to win the game. So seeing as people are already doing this, all the researchers had to do was track these people down and compare them to people who don’t play those kinds of games. This hypothesis is perfectly cogent in terms of how neuroplasticity works. This is because the brain only invests resources in reinforcing and bolstering neuronal pathways that are used regularly, intensively and over long periods of time. Given that some people on the Steam Wall of Shame – a list of how many hours individual gamers have clocked up playing online games – do it for more hours each year than can be accumulated during a 52 week year of working 9-5, these pre-requisites all seem adequately covered.

    As you may have guessed, several studies HAVE shown a benefit in people who regularly play MMORPGs in terms of improving their grasp of a foreign language and several others have tried to unpick the processes by which this effect is realised:

    • Kongmee, I., Strachan, R., Pickard, A., and Montgomery, C. (2012). A case study of using online communities and virtual environment in massively multiplayer role playing games (MMORPGs) as a learning and teaching tool for second language learners. Int. J. Virtual Pers. Learn. Environ. 3, 1–15. doi: 10.4018/jvple. 2012100101
    • Peterson, M. (2010). Massively multiplayer online role-playing games as arenas for second language learning. Comput. Assist. Lang. Learn. 23, 429–439. doi: 10.1080/09588221.2010.520673
    • Peterson, M. (2011). Digital gaming and second language development: Japanese learners interactions in a MMORPG. Digit. Cult. Educ. 38, 289–299.
    • Peterson, M. (2012). Learner interaction in a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG): a sociocultural discourse analysis. ReCALL 24, 361–380. doi: 10.1017/S0958344012000195
    • Zheng, D., Bischoff, M., and Gilliland, B. (2015). Vocabulary learning in massively multiplayer online games: context and action before words. Educ. Technol. Res. Dev. 63, 771–790. doi: 10.1007/s11423-015-9387-4
    • Zheng, D., Newgarden, K., and Young, M. F. (2012). Multimodal analysis of language learning in World of Warcraft play: languaging as values-realizing. ReCALL 24, 339–360. doi: 10.1017/S0958344012000183
    • Zheng, D., Young, M. F., Wagner, M., and Brewer, B. (2009). Negotiation for action: english language learning in game-based virtual worlds. Mod. Lang. J. 93, 489–511. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4781.2009.00927.x

    What does this mean to you? Well if you fancy learning Mandarin and can’t get over to China to immerse yourself in the language in person – you could download an app to learn the basic vocabulary, pronunciation of and word order for common phrases – and then sign up to a Chinese-speaking MMORPG. If you can find time to play for an hour or so every day then, before long, you’ll soon find yourself able to understand certain phrases that are commonly-uttered in the context of such games and who knows, you might even summon the courage to say something yourself. One thing is for sure, if you get yourself hooked on the game, then you’ll rack up the hours of immersion in that foreign language much faster than one or two hour long lessons per week…

    In addition to these monthly brain blogs, I tweet about brain-related research that hits the press on a daily basis (@drjacklewis) and do a fortnightly podcast about recent quirky science stories called Geek Chic’s Weird Science. I have a new book – The Science of Sin – coming out next month in the UK (pre-order here) and in September in the USA (pre-order here). It now has its very own website where you’ll soon be able to find some video footage of a speech I gave from a soapbox at Speaker’s Corner and a fun quiz to help people work out which of the Seven Deadly Sins is the temptation they struggle with the most (www.sciofsin.com).

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  • Book Review: WHY WE SLEEP by Matt Walker

    By his own admission my dad is not a great reader of books. Yet he devoured Matthew Walker’s WHY WE SLEEP in no time at all. As he sped through this tome I received regular updates, sometimes on an hourly basis, summarising the parts he found most inspiring, shocking and illuminating. The goal was to get me to read it as a matter of urgency so that I might disseminate the countless invaluable insights contained within, describing the vital importance sleep in improving every aspect of brain health, as far and widely as possible. Fast forward a few weeks and this month’s blog was born…

    While the accounts in this book of the brain benefits associated with getting plenty of sleep on a regular basis are as fascinating and detailed as they are numerous, I must admit to finding the writing style a touch irritating. Emancipated from the rigid constraints of authoring important scientific studies in peer-reviewed journals, many life-long academics seize the opportunity to wield the English language with greater freedom of expression when they finally get the chance to write something for general consumption. The trouble is, just as it’s annoying to be in the audience of a presentation that’s packed with interesting facts, yet conveyed in context of overly-cluttered slides, liberally sprinkled with too many animations and transition effects, it can also get a bit much when an author indulges themselves with too much latitude in the creative language department. I found myself cringing at many of Professor Walker’s linguistic flourishes, which impeded my progress in getting through this otherwise excellent book. This is a great shame because the contents of this book are as awesome as his personal contributions to the world of sleep neuroscience have been immense. That said, aside from the writing style not being to everybody’s taste, I still agree with my old man’s contention that everyone should take the time to absorb the wisdom that is found within the pages of this book. For many people it could be lifesaving. Literally.

    The book kicks off with a lovely quote from Charlotte Brontë that everyone can surely relate to:

    “A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow”

    It is goes on to detail the many benefits of sleep for our physical and mental health. The stories are told with authority and in a manner that is entirely accessible. My favourite parts include research demonstrating that:

    • When a person falls asleep at the wheel while driving, their perception of what is going on around them is not merely degraded but actually switched off. During the few lethal moments of a micro-sleep, a person is completely unconscious. This would explain why drowsy driving is to blame for more road deaths than drink and drug driving together.
    • ‘Night owls’ suffer from higher rates of several serious physical (stroke, diabetes, heart attacks, cancer) and psychological (anxiety and depression) illnesses compared to the average ‘early bird’ sleepers. Yet stone-aged man almost certainly benefited from having a mixture of night owls and early birds in any given community to minimise the length of the period during which everyone is unconscious and so vulnerable to attack from predators and/or enemies.
    • The specific roles played by particular sleep stages in reviewing and consolidating memories (NREM: non-random-eye-movement) and the mechanism by which upsetting events from each day are revisited at night in order to emotionally detoxify them so that they can be more comfortably recalled in the future with less anxiety than at the time (REM).
    • The contribution of adenosine accumulation in the brain to feeling of needing to sleep, i.e. sleep pressure.
    • The accelerating rate of cognitive deficits that accumulate over successive nights of sleep deprivation.
    • The accounts of why pregnant women should avoid alcohol if they don’t want to disrupt the slumber of their (mostly sleeping) foetuses, why exactly it is that children need more sleep than adults and the compelling arguments to suggest that it is folly to have adolescents getting up extra early in the morning for pre-school sports, tuition, music or hobbies when their time would actually be much better spent in bed!

    On balance this really is a very important read and I thoroughly encourage everyone to get hold of a copy of this book by a fellow graduate of Nottingham University’s Neuroscience B.Sc. undergraduate degree, who went on to take the Ph.D. earned from the same institution over to the other side of the pond where he became a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (although how he pulled that off without a medical degree I have no idea!), finally settling into his current job as a Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at Berkley.

    Prof Walker is on a mission to inspire the world to get more sleep and I for one am thoroughly convinced. Now I can actually feel my adenosine levels, which have been steadily rising over the course of the morning, tipping me over into sluggishness, so I’m off to catch forty winks. That way I’ll be able to come back to this article with a sleep-refreshed brain, ready to get it published as efficiently as possible and enabling me to get on with the next job on my To Do list with greater verve and relish.

    If you struggle with sleep, help is out there. Websites like www.sleephelp.org contain plenty of info to help you find that much craved good night’s sleep that might just change your life.

    In addition to these monthly brain blogs, I regularly tweet about brain-related research that hits the lay press (@drjacklewis), I do a fortnightly podcast about the more unusual scientific breakthroughs (Geek Chic’s Weird Science) and on 12th July 2018 my new book The Science of Sin will hit the shelves in the UK (11th Sept in the USA).

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  • Three Brain Hacks

    Earlier this month I gave a talk in an achingly cool studio space in Wapping; a short distance east along the Thames from Tower Bridge. This future-proofing healthcare event seemed to be a great success and I even got meet a hero of mine. I’m happy to report that not only is Henry Marsh a well-regarded neurosurgeon and fantastic author (whose book Do No Harm I reviewed here back in 2015), but he is also a brilliant speaker!

    My brief was to open the event with a quick overview of what the brain is, how its building blocks are arranged to accomplish all the marvelous things our brains can do and then offer a handful of tips and tricks that everyone can use to get their brains firing on all cylinders. When I give these talks there is always hard science behind whatever I share with the audience. It occurred to me that flashing up the relevant references on screen is probably not sufficient if people wanted to go back to the original science papers at a later date. In this month’s blog I thought I’d provide a few links to research articles summarising some of the research that motivates me to recommend three brain hacks to help people keep their grey and white matter in tip-top condition.

    SLEEP

    Many people consider it a nuisance to spend 1/3 of life unconscious. In our increasingly busy lives, spare time tends to get squeezed mercilessly and the time we spend sound asleep in bed usually suffers as a result. This is a travesty because it is when we are asleep that the brain does all its running repairs and maintenance work. It is when temporary memories reverberating around the brains neural highways are re-visited, the superfluous ones deleted and more important ones consolidated into long term memory by the laying down of proteins. According to a brilliant study published in the journal Science the metabolic waste materials that build up in the brain over the course of the day are also removed at a much faster rate when we are asleep compared to when we are awake.

    If these metabolic waste materials are allowed to accumulate in brain tissue it can have a negative impact on brain function and can potentially build up to levels that are neurotoxic, hence prolonged sleep deprivation being deadly for all animals. So a huge part of the reason it’s vitally important that we all try to get at least 7 and ideally 8 hours of sleep each night is to give the brain an opportunity to banish as much of these potentially toxic materials from the brain as possible. While the 2013 study was in mice, a paper published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science also demonstrated that sleep deprivation has a similar impact on the clearance of toxic substances from the human brain too.

    I’ll not go into further detail here as next month’s blog will be a review of Matt Walker’s book Why We Sleep, but I’ll conclude with one more sleep-related tip. It is perfectly normal to feel drowsy in the mid-afternoon. Acting on the urge to have a 15-20 min nap is not just restorative, enabling you to continue your daily activities with greater efficiency but, perhaps even more importantly, it also vastly improves memory retention and creative problem solving. Personally, I take a nap most days. In fact, I’m feeling the urge right now, so I’ll complete this blog once I’ve taken 40 winks (1 nap-wink = 30s ;-)…

    … that’s better! (I genuinely did). Not only do I practice what I preach but I regularly urge businesses to encourage their staff to take an afternoon nap every single time I speak at a business conference. On many levels it is flagrant false economy to allow the myth  that napping is tantamount to laziness to be perpetuated. It simply couldn’t be further from the truth.

    HYDRATION

    Every single morning we wake up dehydrated. That’s because we have to keep breathing 24/7 to stay alive. This is the only way we can keep our oxygen levels topped up (to maximise the release of energy from glucose to keep our vital biological processes ticking over) and to eliminate the carbon dioxide that is a key waste material of this process, which would otherwise increase the acidity of the blood with potentially catastrophic consequences. To keep these gases moving in and out of the bloodstream, the inner surface of the lungs must be kept moist, which means that every time you exhale you are blowing away a little bit of water vapour.

    Assuming we stay asleep for 7-8 hours, we will always wake up a little bit dehydrated, which knocks all sorts of biological mechanisms out of kilter. From the brain’s perspective the most important impact of this dehydration is that it has a negative impact on neural transmission – the capacity for each of your 86 billion neurons to efficiently send electrical messages along their wire-like axons and thereby influence other brain cells. People usually wake up a little bit grumpy because the first thing to go awry when people are dehydrated is mood. The cognitive impairment associated with dehydration also explains why you’re likely to find yourself prone to getting mixed up in the process of executing straightforward tasks. Accidentally putting coffee in the saucepan with the porridge instead of the cafetiere where it belongs is a personal favourite, as is the struggle to find everything needed for the day ahead in the daily rush to get out the door on time.

    Do yourself a favour: make drinking a glass of water (laying in wait on your bedside table) the first thing you do after switching off the alarm to help you minimise the amount of time you spend lacking a sense of humour and unable to perform the simplest of tasks effectively each morning due to a dehydrated brain. Having started the day well, monitor your mood and when you feel irritable, before you try and blame others for being so annoying, think to yourself – when was the last time I drank water? (NB not coffee, fizzy drinks or juice, but just plain, old-fashioned, H2O).

    COFFEE

    There is pretty good evidence to suggest that people who drink a moderate amount of coffee each day have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and also (in men at least) Parkinson’s disease. We still don’t know what exactly it is about the magic bean that confers these neuroprotective effects – the most popular hypothesis is that the benefits arise as a result of all the antioxidants contained in the coffee bean helping to soak up all the free radicals that would otherwise interfere with our DNA.

    Despite these benefits, there are drawbacks to a voracious appetite for coffee. One broadly overlooked peril of the coffee habit is that caffeine has a very long half-life. It takes 6 whole hours to reduce the concentration of caffeine in the bloodstream by half (NB this takes much longer if you’re pregnant or on the contraceptive pill, but less time if you’re a smoker). This means that if you have the equivalent of 4 cups of coffee’s worth of caffeine in your bloodstream at midday, then it will take until 6pm before this has been reduced to 2 cups-worth and 6 hours after that – at midnight – this will finally have been halved again: down to 1 cup of coffee’s-worth of caffeine. Clearly anyone who is in the habit of drinking coffee throughout the afternoon is going to have so much stimulant swimming around their system come night time that it will inevitably interfere with their sleep. We’ve already covered the reason’s why this is bad news for brain health.

    The upshot is this: to avail yourself of the neuroprotective benefits of coffee, without suffering negative impacts on sleep in terms of onset, duration and/or quality, then get all your coffee drinking out of the way in the morning and if you absolutely must take caffeine onboard in the afternoon, then at the very least try to switch to green tea instead (15% of the caffeine in a cup of coffee). The next time a waiter or waitress offers you an after-dinner coffee, feel free to inform them that they are effectively tempting all their customers to play roulette with the health of their brain.

    NEXT UP

    I’m giving another talk at the end of this month – at 1pm on Sat 28th April – at the Leeds International Festival on the topic of how technology impacts our brains. If this is of interest, then tickets are available here – it’s free!

    In addition to these monthly brain blogs, I regularly tweet about brain-related research that hits the lay press (@drjacklewis), I do a fortnightly podcast about the more unusual scientific breakthroughs (Geek Chic’s Weird Science) and in July 2018 my new book Science of Sin will hit the shelves in the UK (11th Sept in the USA).

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  • Booze, Weed and the Human Brain

    A study by Rachel Thayer and colleagues from the Universities of Boulder, Colorado and Portland, Oregon, published recently in the journal Addiction revealed some fascinating differences between the impact of recreational alcohol and cannabis use on the structure of the human brain.

    It was known from previous research that the more alcohol an adult regularly drinks the greater the degree of shrinkage of the brain’s grey matter. The grey matter is the folded outer surface of the brain that makes it look a bit like a walnut. This is where neurons interface with each other by means of synaptic connections at which one neuron can exert an influence on another. It is the networks of neurons bringing information together within the grey matter that allows computations to be performed so that we can perceive the world via the senses, feel emotions based on our interactions with other people and execute purposeful behaviours like decision making, problem solving and voluntary movements. So, as a rule of thumb, the lower the volume of space occupied by a person’s grey matter, the greater the reduction in computational power.

    This new study looked at not just the link between boozing and grey matter but also investigated whether it had any impact on the white matter too. White matter is the neuronal cabling along which electrical messages are ferried to and from different patches of grey matter in different parts of the brain’s cortex. Grey matter in the occipital lobe at the back of the brain, which crunches sensory information coming in through our eyes, can send messages to the prefrontal cortex via white matter pathways, and vice versa. Grey matter in the left side of the brain can send information to and receive information from right hemisphere cortical areas via white matter connections that run through the corpus callosum (this is a thick bundle of white matter connecting the left and right halves of the brain).

    These white matter pathways contain the neuronal axons, which is the cabling through which electrical pulses (called action potentials) are passed between neurons. These axons are wrapped in electrically insulating myelin fibre which speeds up the transmission of action potentials. Damage to this insulating layer can be detected with a certain type of MRI scan and is formally described as ‘reduced white matter integrity’. Thayer and colleagues’ findings showed that the more alcohol people routinely drank the greater the impact on grey and white matter. High alcohol consumption is associated with reduced grey matter volume AND white matter integrity.

    That’s not all. They also looked at the differences between adult brains (20-55 years old) and adolescent brains (14-19). While high alcohol intake way associated with reduced grey matter volume in the adolescent brains, they didn’t find any evidence of reductions in white matter integrity. Presumably if those teens carried on their high alcohol intake, they would end up damaging their white matter like their older counterparts.

    Perhaps the most surprising thing about this study is that, across over 400 teens and more than 800 adults, they found no evidence of any link between the amount of cannabis consumed in the 30 days prior to brain scanning and the grey matter volume or white matter integrity. This suggests that despite alcohol being legal in the UK and cannabis being illegal, from the perspective of the impact of these commonly used recreational drugs on two different important aspects of brain structure, the relevant laws may well be working in direct opposition to the degree of harm caused, both to the individual and society as a whole.

    If you enjoy these blogs then you’ll love my 2 series of Secrets of the Brain in Ultra High Definition (www.insight.tv / Sky Channel 564). This story was covered on episode 90 of my fortnightly Geek Chic’s Weird Science podcast available on iTunes, Acast, Libsyn and Podbay. I dig around on the internet on a daily basis for articles on the very latest breakthroughs in neuroscience research and, when I find something interesting, well-written and relevant, I post it on Twitter (@drjacklewis). Most excitingly of all, from the 12th July 2018, my new book – The Science of Sin: Why We Do The Things We Know We Shouldn’t – will be available in all good bookshops.

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  • Next Time You See Your Parents Make Sure They Eat Their Greens

    How often were you urged to eat up your greens as a child? In my childhood this was a mantra uttered on a weekly basis. At least. I don’t know where my mum and dad got the idea that leafy green vegetables might be good for the health but, according to a recently published study, it turns out they may have been bang on the money. It never ceases to amaze me how often conventional wisdom ends up being proven true.

    A study conducted by Martha Morris and colleagues at Tufts University in Boston and Rush University in Chicago, published in January of this year in the journal Neurology detailed a prospective study of nearly a thousand participants who were followed across a period of ~5 years during which they periodically filled questionnaires about the food they ate and took a cognitive assessment. These individuals were aged 58 and upwards, all the way up to 99 years old. Analysis of the data suggested that: the more often leafy green vegetables were consumed, the slower the rate of cognitive decline.

    Those who ate at least one serving of greens per day achieved scores on the cognitive assessments equivalent to those 11 years younger. So it seems that greens don’t just help youngsters grow up into strong and healthy adults, but they can even help us hold onto our marbles during the post-retirement years.

    This study also tried to establish which of the many ingredients in the leafy greens might be responsible for these impressive cognitive benefits. Greens rich in folate, phylloquinone (aka vitamin K), lutein and kaempferol all seemed to make a big difference, as did alpha-tocopherol, albeit to a lesser degree. Let’s dig a little deeper into which vegetables contain these various goodies so you can start incorporating them into your diet pronto.

    Folate is found not just in dark leafy greens like spinach, collard greens and romaine lettuce, but also asparagus, avocado, broccoli, beans, peas, lentils, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, beetroot, berries (strawberries > rasberries) and citrus fruits.

    Similarly, Vitamin K is found in plentiful quantities in leafy greens like spinach and kale, but also in basil (get your pesto on), spring onions, cabbage, pak choi, chili (hooray!), leeks, pickled cucumber, olive oil and okra (aka ladies’ fingers).

    There’s plenty of lutein in egg yolk, sweetcorn, kiwi fruit, grapes, orange juice and courgette, as well as greens like spinach, kale and lettuce.

    As for kampferol, there’s a huge quantity in capers per 100g relative to that found in kale, and a good dose in dill, cress, chives and broccoli. That said most people will find it an easier and more appetising experience to eat 100g of kale or broccoli, than the same mass of capers, dill, cress or chives.

    The take away message here is that there’s nothing magical about the leafy greens in terms of the chemical ingredients that, once absorbed into the body and brain, lead to cognitive benefits. They do, however, serve to simplify matters. Rather than struggling to recall which of these nutritional goodies are found in which fruits, vegetables and pulses, by making sure you get a good dose of greens on a daily basis, you can be pretty sure that you’re getting most of the vitamins and minerals that will keep your brain ticking over nicely.

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  • Channeling Teen Rage into Healthy Eating

    Do you remember what being a teenager felt like? All that angst, doubt and self-consciousness? When I think back it seems nothing short of a miracle that we usually manage to get through those acne-plagued, self-esteem rollercoastering years of adolescence relatively unscathed.

    These days, in many respects, it’s harder than ever. The average 13-19 year old has to do battle not just with the usual growing pains, hormonal tampering with mood, body shape and appetite for risk, and the perpetual social jousting that takes place in classroom, playground and neighbourhood. The 21st century has brought with it new battlegrounds on which war must be waged on a daily basis during those tumultuous teenage years.

    One of these is the newfangled phenomenon of cyberbullying, another is the global fight against obesity. The former topic will be covered in a blog later on this year (to whet your appetite for this, a recent Geek Chic Weird Science podcast special comprised a two-part Social Media special that touched on this subject – part 1, part 2 – with London School of Economics assistant professor Ellen Helsper). Here, we’ll be focusing on the struggle with food, glorious food.

    When I were a lad…

    …there was always the odd fat kid or two in any given school year. These days the rate of childhood obesity has got truly out of hand. It has reached the point in the UK where one in five 14-year-olds is clinically obese. Who is feeding these children? And what exactly are they eating that makes them pack on so much subcutaneous fat? Most importantly, how might we turn back the tide of this waistline explosion?

    While our seal, dolphin and whale cousins need a thick layer of fat under their skin to help them retain body heat (to prevent it radiating away into the surrounding water) we humans have no such need for all that blubber. Back in the days where our ancestors lived under the shadow of the mortal threat posed by food scarcity, any subcutaneous fat could make the difference between life and death. In most parts of the developed world, the environmental constraints have shifted to produce problems associated with ubiquitous food availability resulting in extra body weight that provides no benefit whatsoever.

    Not only do we not need it, but all that excess body fat is actually extremely damaging. Firstly, wherever you see visible rolls of fat on the surface, fatty deposits deep within the body are usually causing havoc with the functionality of various vital organs. The visceral fat which throttles a person’s internal organs is particularly worrisome. Fatty deposits coating the inside of blood vessels leads to an increased threat of heart problems and strokes. Another direct consequence of a diet high in sugar is insulin resistance, leading to yet further health problems. And if all of that was not bad enough, excess body fat also raises levels of inflammation throughout body and brain, reducing obese people’s cognitive abilities compared to those of a healthier weight. Something needs to be done to help our children evade these various threats to their longevity and quality of life, before the future envisaged by the Pixar movie Wall-E becomes a reality…

    How did we get so overweight? One important factor is the advertising we are exposed to, which warps our attitudes toward food and tempts us to indulge in delicious yet unhealthy foods on a daily basis. Bad dietary choices are usually made primarily due to the powerful lure of immediate gratification, in the interests of saving money, or both. Sadly, the heavily-processed, yet tasty foods containing the most added salt, sugar and/or fat are often those that are the most affordable. Tasty and affordable maybe, but certainly not nutritious.

    In recent years advertising that specifically targets the adolescent market has gradually wangled its way into our midst. The financially lucrative, yet ethically dubious, strategy employed here is to entrain the daily habit of fast food, confectionery and fizzy pop early on in life. That way, the chances are that such eating habits will probably endure (generating huge profits for the companies that peddle such products) over the person’s entire lifetime. Great news for those in the business of selling these high fat, sugar loaded products, but devastating for the overall health of those who succumb. Not only that but there is evidence to suggest that the brains of overweight adolescents respond to the lure of high calorie drinks with all the hallmarks of addiction.

    What, if anything, can we do about this sorry state of affairs?

    A recent study demonstrated that simply revealing these cynical marketing tactics can be just the ticket to altering adolescents’ responses to fast food and sugary drink advertising. Not only that, but evidence was also presented in this paper to suggest that such an approach can influence their real life food and drink decisions. This study was published in the journal PNAS and suggests that one of our best weapons against childhood obesity is the natural proclivity for teenagers to feel outraged by social injustice. If you are worried about the waistline of the children in your life, you could do worse than reading Michael Moss’s book: Salt, Sugar, Fat – How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Sharing the shocking stories detailed within this book, and others like it, that revealing the boardroom level decisions that aim to increase profit margins by fattening up as many of us as possible, should be sufficient to light to touchpaper to their adolescent kegs of moral gunpowder. And in a manner that could well lead to them expressing their discontent with the status quo by opting, willingly, for healthier food and drinks.

    Surprising as it may seem, the oodles of money huge government-backed corporations make in the process of fattening us up with cheap and delicious foods and nutritionally empty foods, really can make teens want to eat less rubbish and more healthier options. By aligning the natural teenage desire for autonomy and social justice with healthy eating the test subjects reduced their preference towards unhealthy food and drinks by 7% and increased the rate of healthy choices by 11%. A modest difference, admittedly, but certainly a step in the right direction. Not only that but the participating anger level towards fizzy drink advertising increased significantly as a result of this intervention, suggesting that it may be an effective way of inoculating young people against the seductive impact of fast food advertising.

    This research raises the point that it could make sense to ditch the usual approaches to educating kids about the importance of a healthy diet in favour of lessons that reveal the sinister advertising tactics specifically targeted at getting the lowest socioeconomic status individuals hooked on fatty, sugary processed foods as early as possible. Such interventions seem to actively steer young adolescents clear of the high-fat/high-carbohydrate options on the basis that multinational companies profit hugely from brain-washing billions across the world to accept 9 spoonfuls of sugar in every “full fat” can of fizzy pop as normal and acceptable. While this study recruited just 536 different 13-14 year olds, who were randomly designated to one of three different groups: 1 group who received the exposé treatment, another received the traditional health messages and the final group who did nothing, it certainly suggests that if such an approach could be rolled out across the UK, it could well prove to be more effective than the old fashioned approaches to promoting health messages. Portraying healthy eating as a way to “stick it to the man” – and thus appealing to the typical adolescent’s soft spot for rebellion – seems a clever way of harnessing these instincts in a way that might just help teens keep their body weight in check.

    In addition to these monthly brain blogs, I tweet about brain-related research that hits the press on a daily basis (@drjacklewis) and do a fortnightly podcast about recent quirky science stories called Geek Chic’s Weird Science.

    Read more »
  • Tweet Year in Review

    Each year I review 12 months-worth of articles I’ve tweeted about to get a handle on what’s been hot and what’s not in the world of brain science. My daily scouring of the latest brain news usually results in around 10 to 20 articles per week that I feel merit making a link and posting it on Twitter (@drjacklewis). For an article to be deemed tweet-worthy it has to be real science, usually brain-related and written in an accessible, compelling way so that anyone can get something out of it.

    This year the top three categories of brain-related articles I’ve been tweeting about were on the topics of strategies for improving brain health, brain scanning studies and experiments relevant to understanding how young brains differ from adult brains.

    I’ve pulled out 15 of my favourites from 2017 and beneath these you’ll find the whole year’s worth:

    1. The mere presence of your smartphone reduces brain power, study shows bit.ly/2u8Vxym
    2. Brain training to help people avoid the need for reading glasses in middle age nyti.ms/2nstfhN
    3. To help comprehend just how much complexity is contained within a single cubic millimetre of brain tissue bit.ly/DrJ1CubBrMm
    4. The pen is mightier than the keyboard bit.ly/DrJMightyPen
    5. Influential tech investor slams Silicon Valley for adopting techniques that encourage compulsive media consumption bit.ly/DrJscncmplsv
    6. Neuroscientist Molly Crockett explains Brexit debacle in terms of our aversion to disadvantageous inequality bit.ly/DrJCrockBrex
    7. Fantastic article by Tali Sharot explaining why brains continue to believe info even after it’s revealed to be false bit.ly/DrJFakeNews
    8. Read for 30mins every single day and you’ll (probably) live for two years longer than if you don’t bit.ly/drJReadDaily
    9. Firm body, firm brain: magnetic resonance elastography shows positive correlation between memory & hippocampal firmness! bit.ly/DrJFitBdFitBrn
    10. Two large studies find that heavy coffee consumption predicts reduced mortality ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28693038 & ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28693036
    11. Vagus nerve stimulation implant zaps man back into consciousness after 15 years in post-car crash vegetative state bit.ly/2wPJax6
    12. Using high frequency magnetic stimulation to zap the voices generated by schizophrenic brains: bit.ly/DrJzapthevoices
    13. Fresh human brain, anyone? [don’t watch this if you’re eating, if not -behold the wonderous mass betwixt thine ears] bit.ly/2giJZaL
    14. AI based on organisation of visual brain thwarts CAPCHA “Are you a robot?” security measures bit.ly/DrJCAPCHAbash
    15. An essay on a neuroscience-informed approach to improving the prison service bit.ly/DrJNformedPrisn

    Below is every brain-related article I posted between 1st Dec 2016 and 30th Nov 2017 with clickable links so you can navigate straight to anything you find interesting:

    November 2017

    Opt in or out of old-aged infirmity – the choice is yours bit.ly/DrJ70new50

    Dog ownership makes middle aged people less likely to die or suffer cardiovascular problems according to study of over 3 million swedes bit.ly/DrJDogLifeExt

    Dolphin and killer whale brains reflect their intensely social nature bit.ly/DrJSocialCet

    The man behind Kernel’s efforts to crack the Brain Computer Interface challenge bit.ly/2z7rqhQ

    Monkey amputees trained to use a robotic arm via electrodes implanted into their brains give new insight into the mechanisms of neuroplasticity bit.ly/DrJMnkRobArm

    From American football to football football – study sets out to discover whether all those headers cause long term brain trouble bit.ly/DrJFootyBran

    If you never got around to reading about how avatar therapy can reduce schizophrenic hallucinations bit.ly/DrJSchAvTher you’ll be happy to hear we cover it in the latest episode of our @GCweirdscience podcast! bit.ly/DrJGeekChicPod

    I cannot wait until the longitudinal data on the impacts of allowing technology to constantly interrupt whatever we’re doing is finally published. In the meantime we have articles like this (which at least make people stop and think) bit.ly/DrJCyberSlack

    The record company exec’s dream come true: how much people like a song can be influenced by applying magnetic fields to a listener’s brain (Zatorre lab) bit.ly/DrJMagMusLik

    Do your brain training at the gym, the benefits may well be multiplicative bit.ly/DrJBrTrGym

    Actually, New Scientist covers the story much better… bit.ly/DrJAdHiStakes Brain imaging study highlights difficulties younger adolescents have compared to older adolescents when making (relatively) high stakes decisions

    Neuroscience study compares impact of after-school music lessons versus sports on brain structure and cognitive flexibility in kids from disadvantaged communities bit.ly/DrJMusicBrain

    Brain imaging study highlights difficulties younger adolescents have compared to older adolescents when making (relatively) high stakes decisions bit.ly/DrJAdolStakes

    Being a loner not always associated with bad outcomes. When freely chosen rather than compelled by socially-induced anxiety it predicts superior creativity bit.ly/DrJIsolCreat

    Cognitive training improves innovative thinking, along with corresponding positive brain changes, in healthy adults over the age of 55 bit.ly/DrJCogTrn55pl

    Couples may..have more opportunities for social engagement than single people-a factor that has been linked to better health and lower dementia risk bit.ly/DrJMarryDem

    The Society for Neuroscience conference is always full of surprises – love the study where they taught rhesus monkeys to play chicken and cooperate to maximise their earnings bit.ly/DrJRhesChickn

    Head and/or face pain tends to induce more emotional suffering, new study suggests it’s because neurons from these body parts plug directly into the parabrachial nucleus – others are indirectly connected bit.ly/DrJHdFcPn

    60% of people are pro-socials, meaning they prefer resources to be distributed equally among everyone, but these pro-socials – according to a new study – are more prone to depression bit.ly/DrJProsocDep

    Stress experienced by fathers may alter gene expression in their sperm, potentially leading to less resilient offspring bit.ly/DrJStressSperm

    Where neuroscience meets Virtual Reality, beautiful things can happen bit.ly/DrJNeuroXvr

    Interested in building games in virtual reality? Here’s a great lesson in what NOT to do if you want to create a sense of satisfaction when the player finally cracks the puzzle bit.ly/DrJVRescFAIL [if you don’t like swearing, DO NOT click the link]

    Turns out that smartphone addiction might be a thing after all – Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy study suggests it leads to neurotransmitter imbalance (GABA/glutamate) bit.ly/DrJPhoneAdict

    Head and/or face pain tends to induce more emotional suffering, new study suggests it’s because neurons from these body parts plug directly into the parabrachial nucleus – others are indirectly connected bit.ly/DrJHdFcPn

    “Stress experienced by fathers may alter gene expression in their sperm, potentially leading to less resilient offspring” bit.ly/DrJStressSperm

    Neuroscience study compares impact of after-school music lessons versus sports on brain structure and cognitive flexibility in kids from disadvantaged communities bit.ly/DrJMusicBrain

    Taste of what’s being talked about at the Society for Neuroscience conference today bit.ly/DrJTasteSfN17

    Study tests whether people recall images they were briefly shown (but not asked to memorise) 10 years previously bit.ly/DrJ10yrsLater

    Going beyond opioids in pain management to avoid the potential for addiction brings us to… snail venom bit.ly/DrJByndOpio

    The more you exercise the less your telomeres shorten, helping you to stay (biologically) young: bit.ly/DrJ70new50

    New brain probe has 1,000 recording sites per millimetre and is likely to be a “game-changer” for neuroscience research bit.ly/DrJBrainProbe

    Tales of a brain detective nyti.ms/2zqhDTj

    Mind-typing is on the horizon bit.ly/DrJMindType

    How the presence of irrelevant alternatives on a menu affect decision-making Decoy effect examined in fMRI-TMS study bit.ly/DrJMktgTrx

    Sleep deprivation makes your brain cells sluggish – literally – according to measurements from human neurons bit.ly/DrJSlpDepSlug

    Don’t spank your kids. What did and didn’t happen in your own childhood is irrelevant, we know better now… bit.ly/DrJDontSpank

    Brains severely damaged by heart attack more likely to recover if brain scans show that core connectivity is intact bit.ly/DrJPostHAbrnscn

    If GABA (in hippo) can reduce neg thoughts & high fat diet reduces GABA,then do high fat diets promote neg thoughts? bit.ly/DrJHiFatHiAnx

    An essay on a neuroscience-informed approach to improving the prison service bit.ly/DrJNformedPrisn

    Re-defining the phrase “Spaced Out” – what happens to an astronaut’s brain over the course of a long trip bit.ly/DrJSpacedOut

    The trouble with clinical trials involving brain implants… bit.ly/2zoOrg7

    Sweet dreams… make those zzzzz’s count bbc.in/2lCppnF

    OCT 2017

    If you’ve heard people moaning about the clocks going back, you may wish to take them out with this bit.ly/DrJBrBenClkBk

    New study demonstrates 40% faster learning with tDCS in non-human primates bit.ly/DrJfstrlrng

    Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) therapy for depression and OCD may trigger transient episodes of rage bit.ly/DrJtDCSrage

    AI based on organisation of visual brain thwarts CAPCHA “Are you a robot?” security measures bit.ly/DrJCAPCHAbash

    All hail the king of brain training, Dual n-back, freely available from brainworkshop.sourceforge.net for almost a decade! bit.ly/DrJDualNking

    I love that dolphins gossip about each other when the subject of the gossip isn’t around bit.ly/2yOjvFA

    Science of the female orgasm revisited bit.ly/DrJFemOrgasm

    Resetting the Circadian Clock Might Boost Metabolic Health ja.ma/2xGe4Z6

    Psilocybin therapy described as feeling like reset button had been pressed for many depressed people in neuro study bbc.in/2ymbV24

    Fresh human brain, anyone? [don’t watch this if you’re eating, if not -behold the wonderous mass betwixt thine ears] bit.ly/2giJZaL

    Activity-dependent plasticity can re-establish voluntary control of movement..after complete paralysis in humans bit.ly/DrJRecovParal

    Plans are afoot to grow a little-known cannabinoid (cannabidivarin) in GM yeast as a therapy to treat epilepsy bit.ly/DrJCBDV

    Cybernetics in action: a robot that can swim… & fly bit.ly/DrJCybernetics

    Feeling connected to others is vital for health so audio brain training for hard-of-hearing could be a real boon bit.ly/DrJAudioTrng

    If the body has to choose between fuelling the brain or the skeletal muscles, brains win every time bit.ly/2yvZjIe

    Waste not want not – how offcuts from human surgery are helping to unravel the #SecretsOfTheBrain bit.ly/DrJHmnBrnRes

    More hope means less anxiety bit.ly/DrJHopeProtects

    A window into the brain’s autopilot mode bit.ly/DrJBrAutoplt

    How to do lucid dreaming more effectively bit.ly/DrJLucidDrms

    Feeling connected to others is vital for health so audio brain training for hard-of-hearing could be a real boon bit.ly/DrJAudioTrng

    If the body has to choose between fueling the brain or the skeletal muscles, brains win every time bit.ly/2yvZjIe

    New GDF15 drugs progressing through pre-clinical testing show good prospects in fight against the obesity pandemic bit.ly/DrJGDF15wtls

    New theory suggests migraines occur when brains sensitive to oxidative stress take steps to protect against damage bit.ly/DrJMigrProt

    Power of touch in soothing social pain bit.ly/DrJTouchSocPn

    Re: artificial retinas…it may actually take less work to enhance human vision than to restore normal vision: bit.ly/DrJEasya2Enh

    non-REM sleep is especially important in clearing plaques involved in Alzheimer’s disease from the brainî bit.ly/DrJNonREMdplq

    Great article to start trying to comprehend how much complexity is contained within1cubic millimetre of brain tissue bit.ly/DrJ1CubBrMm

    If you want to know how people are really feeling, close your eyes bit.ly/DrJHearEmot

    Neuroscientist Molly Crockett explains Brexit debacle in terms of our aversion to disadvantageous inequality bit.ly/DrJCrockBrex

    Phase II clinical trial of FDA-approved antihistamine restores function in patients with chronic multiple sclerosis bit.ly/DrJAntihstMS

    While perception tends to extract simple components and build up to complex features, recall appears to flip this bit.ly/DrJRecallBtoF

    Female brain’s attach more value to prosocial choices than men, whether due to nature or nurture uncertain bit.ly/DrJGendProS

    Who’d have thought there’s a genetic component to propensity to get divorced?!! bit.ly/DrJDivGenes

    Bad news for my high school which has a major A-road running between the 2playgrounds. Pollution & brain development bit.ly/DrJYngBrnPln

    Here’s a cracking (hyperbole-free) article describing where we’ve got to in the epic journey of merging mind&machine bit.ly/DrJBrnCmpInt

    Why do smart people do foolish things? Intelligence is not the same as critical thinking and the difference matters bit.ly/2y6vAUZ

    34,000 Norwegians followed over 11 years suggest exercise reduces incidence of depression -what are you waiting for? bit.ly/DrJExerBrain

    Experiencing traumatic brain injury – from the perspective of a science journalist knocked off her bike by a car bit.ly/DrJTrmBrnInj

    Mindfulness meditation influences different brain areas to compassion-based meditation bit.ly/DrJMedtnBrn

    Google’s DeepMind postulates that hippocampus doesn’t just contain memories of the past, but also visions of future bit.ly/DrJHipoFutr

    Geek Chic Weird Science podcast Ep81 is out now: this week we discuss living in lava tubes, the IgNobels & more… bit.ly/DrJGCWeirdSci

    Experimental transcranial Direct Current Stimulation significantly reduced fatigue in people with multiple sclerosis bit.ly/DrJtcDCS4MS

    Nobel prize for three researchers who unpicked the brain mechanisms of circadian rhythm bit.ly/DrJNobl17Circ

    Pregnancy fundamentally alters female brains, find a summary of the findings of this groundbreaking research here bit.ly/DrJPregBrain

    2,500 pickled human brains harvested from psychiatric patients in Essex now being studied in Belgium bit.ly/DrJBoxedBrains

     

    SEP 2017

    Being busy ruins creativity http://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/creativity-and-distraction

    MRI study indicates that gamers deal better with uncertainty than those who don’t regularly play action video games bit.ly/DrJGmrsUncrt

    Vagus nerve stimulation implant zaps man back into consciousness after 15 years in post-car crash vegetative state bit.ly/2wPJax6

    A Beginner’s Guide to Machine Learning for Humans chw.ag/2fhexZW

    Fantastic article by Tali Sharot explaining why brains continue to believe info even after it’s revealed to be false bit.ly/DrJFakeNews

    Introducing… The International Brain Laboratory bit.ly/2xcEVZl

    Worrying takes up cognitive resources..get these worries out of your head through expressive writing..become more efficient bit.ly/2wu3BKP

    Researchers uncover mechanism behind calorie restriction and lengthened lifespan bit.ly/2jsCRJr

    Wow – the symptoms of anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis sound out of this world – imagine thinking you’re a T-Rex?! bit.ly/2h1rg3m

    I wrote a blog about the potential for deep brain stimulation without needing to put electrodes inside the brain… bit.ly/DrJFutureDBS

    Using high frequency magnetic stimulation to zap the voices generated by schizophrenic brains: bit.ly/DrJzapthevoices

    Move over stem cells, we can make motoneurons from people’s skin now… bit.ly/DrJmotoNfrmSKN

    MRI study reveals the vast majority of dogs love us “at least as much as food” nyti.ms/2gSbS9h

    Brains using photons for communication using neurons like optical fibres? Now i’ve heard it all… bit.ly/2wJ41ii

    Understand your child’s changing brain as the years go by ind.pn/2iW8pXQ

    All aboard who’s going aboard – wondering whether or not to get on the Brain Train? bit.ly/2x2kRf1

    Healthy glucose levels the key to a healthy ageing brain bit.ly/2x9vYCb

     

    AUG 2017

    Most of us alive today carry at least some DNA from a species that last lived tens of thousands of years ago bit.ly/2gc5Yzr

    Natural High? Finnish PET scanning study suggests High Intensity Interval Training boosts brain endorphins bit.ly/2ivpVlC

    Artificial Intelligence algorithm can predict dementia two years before onset on basis of single amyloid PET scan: bit.ly/2g5YWfC

    Here we go again: Aussie firm plans to target eSports gamers with their electrical brain stimulation headsets ab.co/2vWpDYk

    Scientists: There IS something you can do to save the world trib.al/n7zvDcl

    Struggle with insomnia? Try the Body Scan meditation shortly before bedtime bit.ly/2uIQ0i1

    In a nutshell: Walnuts activate brain region involved in appetite control bit.ly/2w61nVU

    Apparently cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help procrastinators, personally i’d never get round to it.. bit.ly/2vP2pmO

    Eating walnuts makes brain area activated by unpleasant feelings(eg disgust) light up when people see junk food pics bit.ly/2wTMkfC

    Read for 30 mins every single day and you’ll (probably) live for two years longer than if you don’t bit.ly/drJReadDaily

    Firm body, firm brain: magnetic resonance elastography shows +’ve correlation between memory & hippocampal firmness! bit.ly/DrJFitBdFitBrn

    Thinking of a career change? Why not figure out how to accommodate extra 70k elderly who’ll need care by 2025 bit.ly/drJCare4Eld

    The robots are coming (and this are the places where you’ll see them first) bit.ly/2vwf53g

    Going on holiday soon? Lucky you. Please read this and then as soon as you get to your destination UNPLUG bit.ly/DrJUnplug

    Will the future involve supercomputers made out of networked “brain balls” in vast underground server rooms? bit.ly/DrJBrainBlls

    A brief glimpse into the future of the neurotechnology industry bit.ly/DrJNuroTech

    Memory like a sieve? Imagining the irritating consequences of an action sequence makes memories stickier bit.ly/DrJMemTrix1

    Just when you think you’re getting your head around how complicated brains are..turns out they’re more complex still bit.ly/DrJEvnMreCplx

    Calm down dear the mighty @Neuro_Skeptic provides much needed perspective on male/female brain difference headlines bit.ly/DrJGndBrnSPCT

    Learning in your sleep, very specific phases of sleep, mind bit.ly/DrJSlpLrn

    Are energy drinks the new gateway drug to the hard stuff? Probably not but this makes interesting reading bit.ly/DrJrBllGtwy

    Influential tech investor slams Silicon Valley for adopting techniques that encourage compulsive media consumption bit.ly/DrJscncmplsv

    Cash incentive-based neurofeedback goals enable control over functional connectivity. Could lead to brain therapies! bit.ly/DrJNfdbkConX

    Litmus test for the brain? bit.ly/DrJBrainpH

    Anyone for a brain-controlled Virtual Reality experience? The future will be here next year engt.co/2vfpGOA

    Coming Soon: sub-micron sized Nanoswimmer rockets to ferry drugs across the blood brain barrier bit.ly/2vblYXy

    Hot yoga reduces comfort eating in the mildly depressed bit.ly/DrJHotYog

    Finally someone’s figured out how to remove BPAs from drinking water safely, simply and, it seems, very thoroughly bit.ly/DrJBPAremov

    Specially engineered ceramic skull implant should improve future delivery of ultrasound/laser-based brain therapies bit.ly/DrJUSimplnt

    Who’d have thought: moderate alcohol intake is associated with lower rates of cognitive decline in elderly…cheers! bit.ly/DrJModBooz

    Slowly but surely we’re starting to uncover the biological mechanisms involved obesity bit.ly/DrJObesAdip

    Major breakthrough in our understanding of how brains perceive faces bit.ly/DrJFacePerc

    Neurofeedback can increase the incidence of alpha brainwave spindles but not their duration or amplitude bit.ly/DrJNeuroFdbk

    Aussies invest twice as much in bodily health than in their brain’s wellbeing. What would the figures be for you? bit.ly/2w0R42B

    Virus-restored plasticity – would you? bit.ly/DrJVrsRestPlst

     

    JUL 2017

    The pen is mightier than the keyboard bit.ly/DrJMightyPen

    Sugar linked to depression & memory problems in men @ERWatkins2 tinyurl.com/y7kvs27x

    A vital step closer to cheating death? Will we all be replenishing our hypothalamic stem cells come 2030? ind.pn/2eO8BqD

    In future schools will have to balance cognitive training with PE & brain stimulation, If this is anything to go by bit.ly/DrJCogXTrain

    Want to have your brain in a jar? And live to tell the tale? Believe it or not, this is now technically possible bit.ly/DrJBrainInJar

    Freeing up time by paying others to do your dirty work makes you happy bit.ly/DrJDechoreJoy

    I’d love to know what brain area this young lady’s therapists are pointing the TMS at – temporal pole? bit.ly/DrJ_TMStreat

    Here are some visual illusions to start the week and to remind you that your brain has no direct access to reality bit.ly/DrJIllusions

    How physical exercise prevents dementia bit.ly/2ukXISk

    I can’t quite believe how many of those born in the 21st century can reasonably expect to see their 100th birthday.. bit.ly/DrJ100isnew80

    Given heart delivers blood2brain 24/7 perhaps unsurprising that healthier heart in 20’s means healthy brain in 40’s bit.ly/DrJHeartHead

    Omega oils can be converted into cannabinoids that target the immune system to reduce inflammation bit.ly/DrJOm3Cann

    Human foetuses can tell the difference between spoken English and Japanese from inside the womb a month before birth bit.ly/DrJFoetLang

    These ravens have better planning skills than some people I know. ow.ly/qjyx30dJbE7

    Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never… oh wait, hang on, that’s not actually true nyti.ms/2u8b8Q0

    Let your kids play in the dirt. Immune systems, like brains, adapt to the local environment through exposure bit.ly/2u983km

    Composition of gut bacteria aged 1 seems to predict cognitive development aged 2. Whether or not this is causal is tbc bit.ly/2vxQ1pX

    WE NOW GO LIVE TO BREXIT pic.twitter.com/edf48mbqmj

    O2 and hyperbaric oxygen therapy reverses brain damage in drowned toddler bit.ly/2u1Bhjz

    Give us this day our daily crossword, forgive us our grammatic inaccuracies, deliver us from tongue-tiedness… bit.ly/2vwXV2I

    Fascinated by the brain? Here are some apps that explain how brains work. In sickness and in health bit.ly/2txqM5N

    A blast of light to spark dmPFC neurons and the previously subordinate mouse’s sumo skills went through the roof bit.ly/DrJSumoMice

    Flatcam: small enough to sit between skull/cortex to sense & deliver signals from ~millions of neurons to a computer bit.ly/DrJ_FlatCam

    Two large studies find that heavy coffee consumption predicts reduced mortality ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28693038 & ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28693036

    Immune cells pass dopamine molecules between them? (T cells -> B cells) Now I’ve heard it all bit.ly/DrJDopImmT2B

    Being generous to others makes us happy and brand new study published in Nature Comms helps to explain why bit.ly/DrJGive2BHap

    Video games and your brains bit.ly/DrJ_GameBrain

    Will we ever manage to simultaneously record activity from 1million neurons? $65M from DARPA says it CAN be done… bit.ly/DrJ_1MilNeur

    Look into my eyes, look into my eyes, your eyelids are starting to feel veeeeery heavy bit.ly/DrJ_Hypno

    I bought BEHAVE on a whim yesterday – now, having read this NYT review, I really can’t wait to get started nyti.ms/2uNCJVQ

    Psychopath brains overvalue immediate gratification over long term consequences even more than the rest of us bit.ly/2sHhuIA

    Brain wiring mapped in unprecedented detail using latest MRI technology bbc.in/2sHC7zC

    Brain training can work after all: 40% improvement in amnesic mild cognitive impairment after a bit of “Game Show” bit.ly/2t7SHfs

     

    JUN 2017

    Brain plasticity can occur in a “blastic” or a “clastic” direction. You have the power of controlling the switch -Dr. Merzenich In other words brain plasticity can have positive and negative consequences depending on what you do with your lifestyle choices

    Cockatoo drumming film bitly.com/gcwsDrumming

    High fat diet causes weight gain by increasing microglial cells and inflammation in the mouse hypothalamus bit.ly/2sNfVEj

    For those teaching pre-school kids to read, beware picture overload.. no more than one illustration per page is best bit.ly/2tLL7IT

    Higher IQ aged 11 predicts better chances of making it to 80 bit.ly/2tpqxxc

    Gambling on the Dark Side of Nudges: bit.ly/2tTpm72

    Why our brains need us to keep moving bit.ly/2scBind

    Regular moderately-intense exercise helps to delay onset of Alz, even in genetically-prone people ti.me/2sUbQ2O

    By many accounts, we’re experiencing an epidemic of anxiety, and several experts pin the blame on our smartphones bit.ly/2tku8tR

    The mere presence of your smartphone reduces brain power, study shows bit.ly/2u8Vxym

    Overstated evidence for short-term effects of violent games on aggression ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28639810

    What is cognitive reserve? How we can protect our brains from memory loss and dementia bit.ly/2tWLCvH

    PET study indicates 6 brain areas implicated in OCD exhibit signs of greater inflammation than in non-OCD brains bit.ly/DrJ_OCD_Inflam

    Multitasking reduces efficiency by 40% in the vast majority of humans.. now we know (part of) the reason why bit.ly/2sDPm66

    Now THIS is brain art bit.ly/2rRm9av

    Food for thought bit.ly/DrJFood4Thought

    Short blog on research studying how playing Tetris directly after traumatising experiences can reduce flashbacks bit.ly/DrJTetTerTher

    Brain circuitry of hunger regulation involves intimate relationship between hypothalamus & insula: bit.ly/DrJHungerHypIns

    Great article explaining why development of brain computer interfaces must proceed hand in hand with ethics, or else bit.ly/2sA8J2f

    Don’t Text While Parenting – It Will Make You Cranky dld.bz/eYRf7

    A nice, succinct explanation of the biological processes determining sex and gender bit.ly/DrJSexAndGender

    How to Stay Sharp in Later Life on.dana.org/2sUlOAE

    Blue Brain team discovers a multi-dimensional universe in brain networks bit.ly/2sf3GUx

    Could Einstein’s quirky habits be responsible for his genius? Maybe you have a few of them too…find out here! bbc.in/2rRABO1

    Implanting pig brain chemical manufacturing plant (choroid plexus) into Parkinson’s patients’ brains looks promising bit.ly/DrJPigPrksRmdy

    Temporal interference stimulation to target deep brain areas without opening the skull has HUUUGE potential bit.ly/2satP7D

    New study confirms performance boost in creative thinking task by reducing left frontal brain activation via tDCS bit.ly/DrJcreativeZap

    Seven beers per week increases chance of brain shrinkage and white matter degradation (over the course of decades) bit.ly/DrJ7beersPW

    Temporal interference seems like a much smarter form of brain stimulation than TMS or tDCS: nyti.ms/2rw4HqT

    This is an armadillo’s defense mechanism pic.twitter.com/gUUNaOmu4O

    Memory loss and other cognitive decline linked to blood vessel disease in the brain bit.ly/2rQzVcj

    Einstein’s first wife was a physicist too, who contributed to his work. ow.ly/3JBY30ck9TH

    New! Cassetteboy vs Theresa May – youtu.be/p7iUYWMD77w

    Typing by brain sounds great. Up to the point where,like Trump,every silly idle thought gets broadcast to the world bit.ly/DrJtypebybrain

    Human brain replays memories in fast-forward bit.ly/2rKrOho

    Human faces reconstructed from monkey brain data bit.ly/DrJBrainFaces

     

    No Tweets In May (Went into hiding to finish new book)

     

    APR 2017

    Tiny ancient skull has ridges suggesting possibility of Broca’s area therefore speech + self-evident burial instinct bit.ly/DrJ_Naledi

    The coconut octopus uses coconut shells as protection against predators! pic.twitter.com/wInVITqwaG

    Sugary drinks aren’t great for your brain health, neither are diet drinks, probably best to stick to juice and water bit.ly/DrJ_OneDietSoda

     

    Flying car costing more than $1 million goes on show in Monaco reut.rs/2p1FBPg

    Whether zapping brains improves or degrades memories depends on the timing and AI, it seems, can help with that.. nyti.ms/2pYpgbi

    A new study adds to the oft-controversial research on the apparent antiaging properties of “young blood”: scim.ag/2oW9Qab

    Contraceptive pill reduces quality of life bit.ly/2oraNU2

    ..arrest the progression–>change Alzheimer’s disease into something completely different so it becomes liveable.. bbc.in/2pF4v5h

    Relapse-prevention apps connect recovering addicts to support and use AI to predict when relapse is likely to occur bit.ly/DrJ_RelaPrevApp

    SuperAgers suggest that age-related cognitive decline is not inevitable bit.ly/DrJ_SuperAgers

    Aha! moments observed in eye tracking data bit.ly/DrJ_Aha

    Efficacy of ayahuasca – a hallucinogen usually used in shamanistic rituals – tested in clinical trial for depression bit.ly/DrJ_Ayahuasca

    A UK company is creating edible water blobs that it hopes will eradicate the world of plastic waste. pic.twitter.com/k2jHsYRNND

    Music-induced awakenings in Alzheimer’s patients… surely it’s worth a try?! bit.ly/2odwUxV

    Let your mind roam free bit.ly/DrJ_MindWander

    When people detect a moral conflict, zapping (tDCS) their brain (right dlPFC) helps to keep them honest bit.ly/2onTiaq

    An update on the differences between male and female brains on the basis of an even bigger brain imaging study bit.ly/2p28yIk

    Anti-Parkinson’s virus therapy bit.ly/2oj7b9R

    You can really identify a signature of the dreaming brain” bit.ly/2oj3bWU

    Born to love superheroes: Research into the roots of justice may contain hints for solving social ills bit.ly/2ofjVyb

    Are you a night owl? This could explain why bit.ly/DrJ_NightOwl

    Marmite – not just delicious – new study says a daily dose can significantly change how your brain works: bit.ly/2oB3T3d

    Nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep bit.ly/DrJ_SleepDeep

     

    MAR 2017

    Science may have got multiple sclerosis all wrong, now they’ve figured out it’s caused by B-cells not T-cells we may be able to nip it in the bud bit.ly/2ola0Fo

    Maturation of white matter connecting front of brain to back key to understanding others around age of 4 years okd bit.ly/2nzk8vP

    Understanding the role of cannabinoids in stress relief, bit by bit bit.ly/2nNKtH9

    tetraplegic man can move his arm again just by thinking about it with device that reads brain –> stimulates muscles bit.ly/2obLKIQ

    I’ve said it once,I’ll say it again: if you want you brain to age gracefully -it’s time to get your dancing shoes on nyti.ms/2njb8Zc

    holotropic breathwork..uses hyperventilation-induced fainting to achieve..an expansion of awareness bit.ly/2nuQLsS

    Without an intact anterior temporal lobe you’d never be able to keep up with all the gossip sciof.us/2ov2HKG

    3min film of Ed Boyden sharing his vision of how the merger between brain&machine will unfold in the coming years bit.ly/DrJ_BoydnCoPro

    Brain training to help people avoid the need for reading glasses in middle age? Now that would be pretty cool… nyti.ms/2nstfhN

    There is a journal called Religion, Brain and Behaviour bit.ly/2nVqV1d

    New Alzheimer’s test can predict age when disease will appear buff.ly/2ne7ySy

    Older mums can often be better mums according to Danish study bit.ly/DrJ_Oldermums

    Ditch the GPS, use your noggin bit.ly/2n4uBhe

    What do smartphones do to our brains? We still don’t know bit.ly/2nNQrW1

    Extract of funnel web spider venom can protect against stroke damage even when given after the event bit.ly/2mngQNd

    Sexual afterglow – still benefits couples 48hrs later bit.ly/2mIrGso

    Imaging neurons in vivo with a needle thin probe… bit.ly/2n6MP3f

    Tea please… any colour will do bit.ly/2nDyqtp

    Humpback whales are organizing in huge numbers, and no one knows why pops.ci/DEYPA6

    Clever fMRI drug smuggling study investigates differences between recklessness & knowingly committing a crime bit.ly/DrJ_DrugSmug

    Cognitive enhancing drugs can improve chess play, scientists show bit.ly/2mGhsfG

    Metacognitive therapy addresses thinking processes 2 help people reduce depressive symptoms by lessening rumination bit.ly/DrJ_MCT4Deprsn

    amateur scientists who like to experiment with their own mixes..aren’t afraid to use their own brains as lab rats bit.ly/DrJ_StackTwats

    HIV can get into brain & interfere with cognitive process by disrupting white matter,MRI can detect this fairly well bit.ly/DrJ_HIV_MRI

    If all the Ice melted: National Geographic’s Interactive map on Rising Seas – Geoawesomeness buff.ly/2mYYkKE

    Blueberry Brain bit.ly/DrJBlubryBrain

    Bigger brains aren’t always better, when you’re a sociable bird or insect, that is bit.ly/DrJSmSocBr

    2017 Winners of The Brain Prize: Peter Dayan, Ray Dolan and Wolfram Schultz for research on brain’s reward system bit.ly/2maRX4b

    Just bought my 1st robot! Although I can control it with my smartphone, sadly I can’t control it with my brain alone bit.ly/DrJBrainRobot

    OCD: Brain fails to send safety signals (vmPFC) as experience demonstrates perceived danger is no longer a threat bit.ly/DrJ_SafetySig

    Uncertainty is in the eye of the beholder (literally) bit.ly/DrJ_UncertEye

    Artificial Intelligence goes ALL IN;but will it wipe out online poker altogether? Would that be a good or bad thing? bit.ly/DrJ_AI_All_In

    Here’s something @mocost wrote about the possible role of the cerebellum in cognition and emotion bit.ly/2mDaM2O

     

    FEB 2017

    Stem cell transplants for human multiple sclerosis patients. Controversial yet encouraging. But does it last? bit.ly/DrJStemXplant4MS

    Dad’s who take cocaine around time of conception may be damaging their kids’ memory capacities bit.ly/DrJ_CokeDads

    Why parents seem to be blind to their kids’ extra pounds bit.ly/DrJ_PorkyKids

    Novel study investigates brain areas critical to the process of dreaming up funny captions bit.ly/DrJ_HumourGen #creativity

    Newborns can recognize the voices they’ve been hearing for the last trimester in the womb nyti.ms/2m3sgFv

    Digital reconstruction of a giant neuron that encircles the entire mouse brain go.nature.com/2lClhBV by @Sara_Reardon via @kenanmalik

    Never underestimate the power of bee brains. It’s amazing what a million neurons can be trained to do nyti.ms/2lAajNq

    Hair fine electrodes that can send electrical, chemical and/or optical information to and from the brain bit.ly/2mbhM72

    The TRAPPIST-1 star & 7 Earth-sized planets orbiting it, are relatively close to us; located ~40 light-years away: go.nasa.gov/2lvVN7G

    Brains better at divergent thinking tasks (related to creativity) have denser connectivity between left & right side bit.ly/2lGeTKz

    Huge study of 3,242 brains aged 4-63 shows consistent structural differences of those with ADHD vs others without bit.ly/DrJ_ADHDbrains

    Build up of iron in the globus pallidus is positively correlated with duration of cocaine use bit.ly/DrJFeCokeHed

    Standord scientists enable paraplegic man to type,using brain computer interface,at speeds of up to 39characters/min bit.ly/2kIp1mJ

    Many different compartments and barriers in the brain create multiple unique immune environments bit.ly/2lbQr2M #brain

    Sleep is a powerful source of resilience in difficult times bit.ly/2lwV34K …so stop looking at screens late at night sleepyhead

    That dopamine is involved in human bonding is less surprising than dual scanners doing fMRI/PET at the same time!! bit.ly/2kYBlv8

    A computer to rival the human brain – what’s it gonna take? bit.ly/2lNRxmM

    Autism detected in “cerebral cortex” from age<2 (narrowing it down to virtually anywhere on brain’s outer surface!) bbc.in/2lLOdc5

    Neurons in the amygdala fired 120 milliseconds earlier than the hippocampus bit.ly/2laFY8p

    Laughter is important. This made me laugh: bit.ly/2kzOhHD

    Using genetics to personalize diet for effective weight loss & disease prevention @DrJackLewis @DrMichaelMosley tinyurl.com/hhm8d28

    New generation brain implants stimulate neurons with magnetism rather than electricity to get around sticky problem bit.ly/DrJMagBranImp

    If anyone needs me, I’ll be playing with this whale song synthesizer whalesynth.com

    Opioid release vital to process of deriving pleasure from your favourite songs (or any pleasure for that matter?!) bit.ly/DrJMuOpiMusic

    A retinal cell has been identified that might just explain why more and more kids are becoming short sighted bit.ly/DrJMyopiaCell

    Study confirms the assumption that E-Cigarettes are far less toxic than real cigarettes bit.ly/DrJeCigsSafe

    Studying the mysterious condition of mirror touch synaesthesia bit.ly/DrJMirrorTouch

    Sleeping patterns all over the place? Time to go camping! Couple of days in the wilderness resets melatonin cycle bit.ly/2jQ6lvL

    Mini brains spontaneously produce mini blood vessels. All they need now is a mini heart and some blood and we’re off bit.ly/2jZ4W6Y

    How time in space changes brains bit.ly/2jv9o1p

     

    JAN 2017

    Using psychedelics to treat addiction – how to get the reduction in cravings without the hallucinations? bit.ly/DrJ_Ibogaine

    Hanger – it’s the real deal bit.ly/DrJHanger

    Could problems with the brain’s blood flow gatekeepers be a key part of problems like Alzheimer’s, ALS etc? bit.ly/DrJGateKeep

    Wisdom of the crowd is not always on the money, MIT scientists have figured out how to extract it better bit.ly/DrJBetCwdWis

    Imagine a neuropeptide that can induce gut to burn fat without stimulating appetite (in C. elegans, not humans, yet) bit.ly/DrJFatBurnFLP7

    New angle for treating aggressive form of brain cancer (glioblastoma) suggests prior drug devel. = wild goose chase bit.ly/DrJGlioBlaster

    Metallic hydrogen – it could change the course of humanity across the cosmos if we could use it to fuel our space ships bit.ly/2jf0MeW

    Why an LSD trip lasts so much longer than a cannabis high or magic mushrooms bit.ly/2jei7Vf

    Dreaming (REM) sleep accelerates pruning of certain brain connections, a process vital to reshaping teenage brains bit.ly/2jZz2ul

    A study of 500 MRI scans reveals the links between personality traits and brain structure bit.ly/2khAZjj

    A cautionary tale about the promises of modern brain science econ.st/2jaKI9q

    I’ve often wondered why so many schizophrenic people smoke so fast and intensely; this suggests they might be self-medicating bit.ly/2knNHw8tv

    Peripheral neuropathy (a health complication seen in diabetes, chemo, HIV) could be helped by anti-muscarinic agents bit.ly/2jJ7Eho

    Resensitising brain cancer to chemotherapy using old school anti-malaria drug bit.ly/2k3sCeg

    No meaningful difference in amygdala sizes in male vs female brains across 30yrs of MRI studies bit.ly/2jxgmBC

    Antibody targeting protein in Blood Brain Barrier reduces signs of brain ageing bit.ly/2iDLtap

    ALL ROWS NOW COMPLETE. With 4 new elements discovered Asia enters the hall of fame and the USA jumps to 2nd place. pic.twitter.com/XE5X7un5e0

    Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for psychosis found to be associated with measurable changes in brain connectivity bit.ly/2jVE6fM

    Mixing up names of your nearest & dearest is probably due to them being stored in your “people I love” brain directory n.pr/2jvE417

    Facebook wants in on Brain Control Interfaces bit.ly/2iyPqgR

    Neuroscience in practice to enhance your star gazing experience bit.ly/2iDexCn

    Monkey metamemory bit.ly/2iyA4sD

    Genetically-speaking you are 10% retrovirus – deal with it! bit.ly/2jf5fgE

    Who better than Russ Poldrack to review a book about what MRI can and can’t do? go.nature.com/2jeuDn5

    Turning mice into killers at the flick of an (optogenetic) switch n.pr/2j53LTZ

    The orbits of the stars in the vicinity of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy buff.ly/2jffcrX

    Increased amygdala activity related to more heart disease (prob via elevated white blood cell-induced inflammation) bbc.in/2jmd1mt

    You can tell how old a person is from their brain’s glial cell health (if you chop their brain out for post-mortem) bit.ly/2icNCPb

    Just how smart is an octopus? Smarter than you think wapo.st/2ifbbW8

    Will nose-witnesses soon play a role in our courts of law? (“Eyewitnesses” are so 20th century) bit.ly/2i9qjG0

    Earth and the moon – as seen from Mars nyti.ms/2jqwQs8

    Mini-brains grown from stem cells taken from kids’ milk teeth can tell you a thing or two about their actual brains bit.ly/2icfvBT

    The mess that is tcDCS therapy 4 depression/addiction/fibromyalgia (good news) tinnitus/stroke (bad news) untangled bit.ly/2ival59

    Believe it or not foetal fMRI has arrived! Yes, that’s right, brain imaging in the womb… bit.ly/2i5LBUQ

    If learn (or revive) a 2nd language is one of your New Year’s resolutions for 2017, this might be motivating for you bit.ly/2iUkPfn

    16 year old’s ovarian tumour found to contain brain tissue that resembles a cerebellum and brainstem bit.ly/2iYwtW6

    Memory and cognition improvements in 65+ year old people if they take a regular 1-hour long siesta after lunch bit.ly/2iPwsqm

    Fusiform gyrus – containing region (FFA) for recognising faces – is ~13% larger in adults than kids bit.ly/2hXxvA6

    Interfering with vagal nerve function can help various health conditions – now it can be done with greater precision bit.ly/2iUpYDZ

    Carbon nanotube electrodes much better than conventional electrodes, but how to jam a “wet noodle” into the brain? bit.ly/2ifDcdq

    “It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.” Thomas sowell

    Finally FDA restrictions on antibiotic use in livestock. Can’t use the medically important ones anymore, at least. ow.ly/e7Za307Gqr2

    Some people (3-5%) simply get no joy from listening to music – now we know why bit.ly/2idYGHO

    Gaming that can help depressed people to feel better by helping them to focus bit.ly/2i9ICH2

    Prof Van der Meer (Norwegian University of Science&Tech) offers science-based tips for optimal ways to raise infants bit.ly/2iaftvq

    Reduced blood flow to Broca’s area (key area in speech production) in stutterers bit.ly/2iHtFPP

    Brain + Nature = Health bit.ly/2iI7iXX (NB that’s coming from someone who just finished a 1hr cross-country run in Richmond Pk – practise what I preach!)

    Nice synopsis of a few of the more notable achievements in neuroscience to arise over the course of 2016 n.pr/2irU5oA

     

    DEC 2016

    Vera Rubin, Who Confirmed Existence Of Dark Matter, Dies At 88 n.pr/2iwYGq9

    Hacks often write obituaries before celebs have died for quick release. Turns out brains do a similar thing with DNA bit.ly/2i2ndmj

    How genes can influence music’s impact on mood bit.ly/2hjT6XK

    When does brain development reach completion? nyti.ms/2hjNvB2

    The true hidden home of Christmas is in China bbc.in/1sDLrOC

    Could stoned drivers be more cautious? Maybe.. bit.ly/DrJStndDrivr

    How many different types of neurons there in the brain (even just the hypothalamus) blows my mind bit.ly/DrJHypothalNs

    ..a lesion in exactly the right place..can disrupt the brain’s familiarity detector&reality monitor simultaneously bit.ly/DrJImpstrLsn

    How to grow your own brain bit.ly/DrJGrwURownBrn

    New drug improving longevity & memory in animal studies of prion disease brings hope for fight against Alz. dementia bit.ly/DrJMuscAlzHope

    Schizophrenics more likely to try cannabis, but WHY would delusional people crave yet greater distance from reality? bit.ly/DrJSchizWeed

    Brain-inspired intelligent robotics: The intersection of robotics and neuroscience – a special booklet in @scienmag buff.ly/2i0kni6

    The truth behind baby brain bit.ly/DrJBabyBrain

    Brain Books of 2016 bit.ly/DrJBrainBooks16

    Talk about getting the wrong end of the stick… bit.ly/DrJOMG

    Dear Santa, If I’ve been good enough this year, please may I have a robotic arm controllable via 64 electrode EEG? bit.ly/DrJEEGcntlRobt

    If you want to hang onto your crystalline intelligence in later life don’t forget to eat your greens bit.ly/DrJEatURgreens

    Could thinning of the grey matter really account for risk aversion in older adults? bit.ly/DrJRskAvrsn

    Time passes fast, time passes slow and now neuroscience may finally have pinpointed brain areas that influence this bit.ly/DrJStpFstSloMo

    Could the impact of oxytocin on human behaviour boil down purely to synchrony bit.ly/DrJOxytosync

    Deep brain stimulation soon to use tiny coils (magnetrodes?!) to influence neurons w magnetism rather than electrons bit.ly/DrJMagnetrode

    Could increasing gamma band activity in the brain really help eliminate the beta amyloid plaques of Alzheimer’s? bit.ly/DrJGammaAlz

    Incredible to think that switching one pair of nucleotides in an ancient ancestor’s DNA trebled our brain volume bbc.in/2gZ4lDM

    If the way we breathe influences what we remember,I wonder if there are breathing techniques 2 help students revise? bit.ly/DrJBreathingMem

    Small double-blind trial shows that single dose of psilocybin can give 6 months relief from cancer-related anxiety bit.ly/DrJ_MushCancAnx

    I am Groot: Plants can do associative learning bit.ly/DrJ_IAmGroot

    Finally!! Potential for MDMA (ecstasy) as a therapeutic agent for PTSD to be investigated in a proper clinical trial bit.ly/DrJ_MDMA4PTSD

    Added sugar in our diet is bad, we know that, but I didn’t realise range of negative impacts, like reduced oxytocin! bit.ly/DrJExcessSugar

    Africa’s sunshine could eventually make the continent a supplier of energy to the rest of the world bbc.in/2fMxtwX

    @PainConcern Irene Tracey neuroscience of pain interview is now back up on YouTube. Sorry for the protracted wait! bit.ly/DrJPainStem

    @hugospiers et al have been doing a fantastic job of getting the globe involved in science research through gaming.. bit.ly/SeaHeroQst

    TMS reawakens access to latent memory (link to orig Science paper at end of article) bit.ly/2guWFc1

    Parkinson’s disease may start in gut & nose (ie neurons most exposed to environment) 10yrs before it hits the brain! bit.ly/2glBbOL

    Quite possibly the strangest sex study i’ve ever read about.. and there is a LOT of competition for that accolade bit.ly/2gGJt4v

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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  • Opting Out of Infirmity

    For most of the twentieth century, in the UK at least, as people progressed through their sixties their bodies generally started showing the typical signs of ageing. By the time they hit 70 they would typically find themselves frail, wrinkled and stooped. When my grandparents were in their sixties they looked very old, so I had assumed this process was an inexorable fact of life. Yet this has not happened as my parents have progressed through their sixties. Rather than the passage of the years stripping the youth from my parents bodies, if anything they seem only to get fitter and stronger; in body and mind. They are in their mid-sixties, yet my dad’s six pack is better than mine and my mum’s musculature is in better shape than when she was in her twenties. And she’s still razor sharp when it comes to correcting my mispronunciations and misspellings. This begs the question: what exactly have they been doing so right that previous generations seemed to get so wrong?

    I’ve been digging around in the science literature to find some clues as to whether people really are ageing better these days in terms of body as well as brain. If so, I wanted to know what lifestyle choices can make the difference between vigour and decrepitude. Is down to a better diet? My parents certainly eat very healthily. A meal at their place invariably involves lean meat or oily fish with plenty of veg ever since it emerged that a Mediterranean-style diet is associated with better health. Or could it simply be down to levels of air pollution? When my grandparents were middle-aged we were still happily pumping CFCs from every aerosol can out into the atmosphere in such large quantities that there was a huge hole in the ozone layer (happily since CFCs were banned this situation seems to have improved) and all the petrol we put into our cars contained lead that was then pumped out of exhaust pipes on every road across the nation (which is no longer the case). My parents also keep very active both physically and mentally, my grandparents did not, so another possibility is that their physical fitness and/or regular engagement with activities that keep them mentally sharp could play a role.

    A recent review paper by Luis Bettio and colleagues at the University of Victoria in Canada outlined the various factors known to accelerate cognitive decline. Cognitive decline involves problems with the ability to recall details of events, where things are in space, holding several pieces of information in mind simultaneously, maintaining focus and noticing relevant sensory cues (e.g. keeping track of other cars in peripheral vision while driving). All these functions rely heavily on the hippocampus. This structure, which has been mentioned in several previous blogs, is a seahorse-shaped hub of densely-packed neurons that create and retrieve memories, enable us to navigate our surroundings and – if Google’s DeepMind is to be believed – may even play a critical role in imagining what will happen in the future. Bettio et al highlight the roles of education, intelligence and mental stimulation in helping to build cognitive reserve and resilience, but a recent study by Tucker and colleagues, published earlier this year (2017) in the journal Preventative Medicine, suggests that regular physical exercise could be key.

    The Tucker study involved taking measurements from 5,823 randomly selected people and logging their physical activity levels. They showed that the telomeres – a string of DNA bases positioned at the end of each chromosome, in this study the chromosomes of their white blood cells – were significantly longer in those who exercise regularly. Not only that, the more active the people were, the longer their telomeres. The significance of this is that telomere shortening has long been associated with gradual deterioriation of our organs and tissues during aging. The exciting conclusion here is that keeping physically activity and taking more strenuous exercise on a regular basis actually seems to preserve telomere length. They even managed to put a figure on it. The High Activity group had reduced their biological aging by 9 years compared to the Sedentary group and by 8.8 years compared to the Low Activity group.

    These aren’t my parents (in case you wondered)

    As much as a healthy diet and reductions in air pollution probably helped in general, it seems that the key difference in the rate at which my parents aged in comparison to my grandparents is largely due to the telomere-preserving influence of their active lifestyle (regular walks and dancing classes) and biweekly visits to the gym (to do body pump and yoga). So, if you want to help your middle-aged people age more gracefully, then it’s time to get them down to the gym or out on long walks, on a regular basis.

    In addition to these monthly blogs, I regularly post brain news on my twitter account (@drjacklewis), do a fortnightly science podcast (Geek Chic’s Weird Science) and present a TV series called Secrets of the Brain on Insight TV (Sky channel 564).

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  • Geek Chic live at the Soho Theatre

    The fortnightly podcast I’ve been doing for the past three years, which explores the most bizarre, thought-provoking and unusual recent findings from the world of science, along with my delicious co-host Lliana Bird, went live over the course of summer 2017.

    We recorded Geek Chic’s Weird Science in front of live audiences at the Cheltenham Science Festival in June and in July at both Latitude Festival and WOMAD. These all seemed to go down so well (we had a 50 person long queue to get into the WOMAD Physics Pavillion!) that we decided to keep up the momentum with live events in and around London over the next few months. At the end of October this all kicked off with the Science of Vampires.

    So, on Monday 23rd Oct at 7:30pm we finally made our West End debut! We recorded a Halloween Vampire Special at the Soho Theatre with special guests – mortician Carla Valentine and “The Prof Of Goth” Professor Nick Groom. Towards the end of the show we even had a real-life vampire up on stage causing havoc. Vlad the Impaler – aka Noel Fielding – was a particular treat. It’s worth listening to just for the verbal jousting between vampire himself and our lovely mortician!

    In this 60 minute special (which you can listen to by clicking here) we explored where the idea of vampires came from, discussed why vampires trigger the fear circuitry of the brain so perfectly and considered some of the real-life medical conditions that might have been mistaken for vampires.

    We debated why vampires were able to penetrate so deeply into the heart of popular culture AND we’ll find out if fresh blood really can help to keep us young and virile?

    In addition to these monthly blogs, I regularly post brain news on my twitter account (@drjacklewis), do a fortnightly science podcast (Geek Chic’s Weird Science) and present a TV series called Secrets of the Brain on Insight TV (Sky channel 564).

    Read more »