Category Archives: Brain

Meditation may physically alter regions of the brain

Harvard researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital reported that the practice of mindfulness meditation can physically alter regions of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. 260291_10151674843907518_1073142538_n.png

The study, to be published in January 2015, in “Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging” indicates that the brain’s gray matter may change as a result of meditation.

“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” said Sara Lazar, the study’s senior author. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”

Researchers measured MR images of participants brains during the eight-week “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” program, conducted by the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. Participants spent an average of 27 minutes in meditation during the program. The program was delivered through recorded audios and guided meditations.

Compared to measurements on MR scans of a control group who did not participate in the program, the participants’ brains showed an increase in gray-matter density in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the region of the brain associated with learning, introspection, memory and awareness.There also was a decrease in gray-matter density in the amygdala, the region associated with anxiety and stress. However, the Insula, a region of the brain thought to be associated with self-awareness according to earlier research, remained unchanged, and the researchers hypothesize that participants may have to meditate for longer periods of time before any change is noticed in this region.

str.jpgIt has been noted that meditation can reduce stress but according to Britta Hölzel, one of the authors, “Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”

The researchers believe that these findings of physiological change can pave the wave for a better understanding and treatment of stress-related disorders. The study was supported by the BBC, National Institutes of Health and the Mind and Life Institute.

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Teen brain, brain injury, and addiction

These days, when there are news reports about traumatic brain injury (TBI), it’s almost always related to football. And while one of the effects of TBI is an increased risk of using drugs and alcohol (especially for teens), this post isn’t really about that (but this post is).

This post is about the turf TBIs and drugs share—the developing teen brain. healing-art-brain

The Developing Teen Brain—What Makes It Special Puts You at Risk

We’ve talked a lot about why drug use is so dangerous in your teen years—that it raises your risk for being addicted. (Here’s a great explanation.) The teen brain is still developing—growing. This makes it more flexible, more impressionable; so what you do now has a big impact on who you become as an adult. Like clay being molded before it hardens, like a computer being programmed, you are wiring your brain.

Read more HERE.

Glutamate levels in the brain may be linked to alcohol craving

Craving consists of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral elements related to a desire to drink alcohol, and can be experienced during intoxication, withdrawal, and/or prior to relapse. Different types of craving are hypothesized to be associated with different neurotransmitter systems. For example, reward craving may be mediated by dopamine and opioids, obsessive craving by serotonin, and relief craving by glutamate. This study used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) to examine the correlation between craving and glutamate levels in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (LDLPFC) of patients with alcohol use disorders (AUDs).emotions01

Fourteen participants (8 females, 6 males) underwent 1H-MRS to measure glutamate levels in the LDLPFC. Researchers also used the Pennsylvania Alcohol Craving Scale (PACS) and a research-validated interview method to quantify craving for alcohol and drinking patterns, respectively.

Although the study sample is small, these data suggest that glutamate levels in the LDLPFC are associated with alcohol-craving intensity in patients with AUDs. Glutamate spectroscopy may be able to help identify biological measures of alcohol-craving intensity and help with treatment interventions.

  1. Mark A. Frye, David J. Hinton, Victor M. Karpyak, Joanna M. Biernacka, Lee J. Gunderson, Jennifer Geske, Scott E. Feeder, Doo-Sup Choi, John D. Port. Elevated Glutamate Levels in the Left Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex Are Associated with Higher Cravings for Alcohol. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2016; DOI: 10.1111/acer.13131