How Silence Rewires Your Brain to Make You More Intelligent

How Silence Rewires Your Brain to Make You More Intelligent

In 2011, the Finish tourism board decided to run a campaign promoting the “silence” you can get by visiting the beautiful country. Along with photos of awe-inspiring landscapes, they used the slogan “Silence, Please”.

Eva Kiviranta, manager of social media for VisitFinland.com, said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something. More and more people are living in big cities that are becoming increasingly cluttered, loud and distracting. Yet, according to research, getting an adequate amount of silence each day is important for our brains.

This is what silence does for your brain.

A 2013 study found that when mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day, they developed new brain cells in the hippocampus. This is a region of a brain associated with learning, emotion and memory. In other words, silence could quite literally grow your brain.

As Chaim Potok said, silence could be the ultimate time to learn:

“I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own.”

Your brain is analyzing during silence.

A 2001 study showed that when the brain was resting, it was constantly internalizing and evaluating information. The study found that when the brain rests it is almost like “a conscious workspace.”

When we’re not distracted by noise or business, it helps our brain relax and think about profound things in an imaginative way.

As Herman Melville once wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

Silence reduces stress.

A study found that noisy environments can lead to chronically elevated levels of stress hormones. However, silence may have the opposite effect.

While noise can cause stress and tension, silence releases tension in the brain and the body. A study found that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music.

Silence is a true friend who never betrays. – Confucius

Silence can restore our cognitive resources.

According to the attention restoration theory, when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities.

As Francis Baco once said, “Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.” 

Conclusion.

If you live in a big city, your brain might be craving silence. Finland might just be the best place for you to visit!

Here are some articles you may want to check out:

Originally published on The Power of Ideas.

What Alcohol Really Does To Your Brain

What Alcohol Really Does To Your Brain

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Everybody likes a good alcoholic beverage every now and again, but you may want to rethink your nightly cocktail. Alcohol might do more harm than it does anything, specifically to your brain.

Study after study suggests that alcohol in moderation may promote heart health and even ward off diabetes and dementia. The evidence is so plentiful that some experts consider moderate drinking about one drink a day for women, about two for men saying it’s a central component of a healthy lifestyle.

But what if it’s all a big mistake?

For some scientists, the question will not go away. No study, these critics say, has ever proved a causal relationship between moderate drinking and lower risk of death only that the two often go together. It may be that moderate drinking is just something healthy people tend to do, not something that makes people healthy.

“The moderate drinkers tend to do everything right — they exercise, they don’t smoke, they eat right and they drink moderately,” said Kaye Middleton Fillmore, a retired sociologist from the University of California, San Francisco, who has criticized the research. “It’s very hard to disentangle all of that, and that’s a real problem.”

How alcohol damages your brain?

In one study, eight men and seven women drank alcohol through a straw while lying in an MRI scanner, presumably not all together, to see what would happen. It went to their heads. Quickly, the researchers say.

Only 6 minutes after consuming an amount of alcohol equivalent to three beers leading to a blood alcohol level of 0.05 to 0.06 percent, which impairs driving ability changes had already taken place in the brain cells.

For one thing, the brain begins to run on the sugar in alcohol instead of using glucose, the normal brain food.

“Our study provides evidence for alternative energy utilization upon alcohol ingestion,” said researcher Armin Biller at Heidelberg University Hospital “The brain uses an alcohol breakdown product instead of glucose for energy demands.”

The concentration of substances such as creatine (energy metabolism), which protect brain cells, decreases as the concentration of alcohol increases. Choline, a component of cell membranes, was also reduced.

 

“That probably indicates that alcohol triggers changes in the composition of cell membranes,” Biller said.

How to REALLY Boost Your Brain Health

1. Exercise

Exercise encourages your brain to work at optimum capacity by causing nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage. During exercise nerve cells release proteins known as neurotrophic factors. One in particular, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health, and directly benefits cognitive functions, including learning. Further, exercise provides protective effects to your brain through:

– The production of nerve-protecting compounds

– Greater blood flow to your brain

– Improved development and survival of neurons

– Decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke

A 2010 study on primates published in Neurosciencei also revealed that regular exercise not only improved blood flow to the brain, but also helped the monkeys learn new tasks twice as quickly as non-exercising monkeys, a benefit the researchers believe would hold true for people as well.

Still more research has shown that exercise boosts mitochondria, organelles that produce energy within every cell of your body, which suggests exercise may help your brain work faster and more efficiently.

2. Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats

Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, an omega-3 fat, is an essential structural component of both your brain and retina. Approximately 60 percent of your brain is composed of fats—25 percent of which is DHA. DHA is also an essential structural ingredient of breast milk, which is believed to be a major reason why breastfed babies consistently score higher on IQ tests than formula-fed babies.

Omega-3 fats such as DHA are considered essential because your body cannot produce it, and must get it from your daily diet. DHA-rich foods include fish, liver, and brain—all of which are no longer consumed in great amounts by most Americans.

DHA is found in high levels in your neurons — the cells of your central nervous system, where it provides structural support. When your omega-3 intake is inadequate, your nerve cells become stiff and more prone to inflammation as the missing omega-3 fats are substituted with cholesterol and omega-6 instead. Once your nerve cells become rigid and inflamed, proper neurotransmission from cell to cell and within cells become compromised.

The influence of omega-3 fat on physical and mental health has been the subject of intense research over the last four decades, and there’s compelling evidence that animal-based omega-3 fats can help reduce the symptoms of a variety of psychiatric illnesses and degenerative brain disorders. For example, low DHA levels have been linked to memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.

Even more exciting is research showing that degenerative conditions can not only be prevented but also potentially reversed. For example, in one study, 485 elderly volunteers suffering from memory deficits saw significant improvement after taking 900 mg of DHA per day for 24 weeks, compared with controls.

Another study found significant improvement in verbal fluency scores after taking 800 mg of DHA per day for four months compared with placebo. Furthermore, memory and rate of learning were significantly improved when DHA was combined with 12 mg of lutein per day.

Interestingly, research suggests that the unsaturated fatty acid composition of normal brain tissue is age-specific, which could imply that the older you get, the greater your need for animal-based omega-3 fat to prevent mental decline and brain degeneration.

To compensate for our inherently low omega-3 diet, a high quality animal-based omega-3 supplement is something that I recommend for virtually everyone, especially if you’re pregnant. I prefer krill oil compared to all other animal-based omega-3′s, because while the metabolic effects of krill oil and fish oil are “essentially similar,” krill oil is as effective as fish oil despite the fact that it contains less EPA and DHA.v This is because krill oil is absorbed up to 10-15 times as well as fish oil, due to its molecular composition, and is less prone to oxidation (rancidity) because it is naturally complexed with the potent fat-soluble antioxidant astaxanthin.

3. Sleep

Sleep is not only essential for regenerating your physical body, but it is imperative for reaching new mental insights and being able to see new creative solutions to old problems. Sleep removes the blinders and helps “reset” your brain to look at problems from a different perspective, which is crucial to creativity.

Research from Harvard indicates that people are 33 percent more likely to infer connections among distantly related ideas after sleeping, but few realize that their performance has actually improved. Sleep is also known to enhance your memories and help you “practice” and improve your performance of challenging skills. In fact, a single night of sleeping only four to six hours can impact your ability to think clearly the next day.

The process of growth, known as plasticity, is believed to underlie the brain’s capacity to control behavior, including learning and memory. Plasticity occurs when neurons are stimulated by events, or information, from the environment. However, sleep and sleep loss modify the expression of several genes and gene products that may be important for synaptic plasticity. Furthermore, certain forms of long-term potentiation, a neural process associated with the laying down of learning and memory, can be elicited in sleep, suggesting synaptic connections are strengthened while you slumber.

As you might suspect, this holds true for infants too, and research shows that naps can give a boost to babies’ brainpower. Specifically, infants who slept in between learning and testing sessions had a better ability to recognize patterns in new information, which signals an important change in memory that plays an essential role in cognitive development. Even among adults, a mid-day nap was found to dramatically boost and restore brainpower.

4. Coconut Oil

One of the primary fuels your brain needs is glucose, which is converted into energy. Your brain actually manufactures its own insulin to convert glucose in your bloodstream into the food it needs to survive.

If your brain’s production of insulin decreases, your brain literally begins to starve, as it’s deprived of the glucose-converted energy it needs to function normally. This is what happens to Alzheimer’s patients — portions of their brain start to atrophy, or starve, leading to impaired functioning and eventual loss of memory, speech, movement and personality.

In effect, your brain can begin to atrophy from starvation if it becomes insulin resistant and loses its ability to convert glucose into energy. Fortunately, your brain is able to run on more than one type of energy supply, and this is where coconut oil enters the picture.

There’s another substance that can feed your brain and prevent brain atrophy. It may even restore and renewneuron and nerve function in your brain after damage has set in.

The substance in question is called ketone bodies or ketoacids. Ketones are what your body produces when it converts fat (as opposed to glucose) into energy, and a primary source of ketone bodies are the medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) found in coconut oil! Coconut oil contains about 66 percent MCTs. Therapeutic levels of MCTs have been studied at 20 grams per day. According to research by Dr. Mary Newport, just over two tablespoons of coconut oil (about 35 ml or 7 level teaspoons) would supply you with the equivalent of 20 grams of MCT, which is indicated as either a preventative measure against degenerative neurological diseases, or as a treatment for an already established case.

Everyone tolerates coconut oil differently, so you may have to start slowly and build up to these therapeutic levels. My recommendation is to start with one teaspoon, taken with food in the mornings. Gradually add more coconut oil every few days until you can tolerate four tablespoons. Coconut oil is best taken with food, to avoid upsetting your stomach.

5. Vitamin D

Activated vitamin D receptors increase nerve growth in your brain, and researchers have also located metabolic pathways for vitamin D in the hippocampus and cerebellum of the brain, areas that are involved in planning, processing of information, and the formation of new memories.

The National Institutes of Mental Health recently concluded that it is vital that the mother get enough vitamin D while pregnant in order for the baby’s brain to develop properly. The child must also get enough vitamin D after birth for “normal” brain functioning. In older adults, too, research has shown that low vitamin D levels are associated with poorer brain function, and increasing levels may help keep older adults mentally fit.

Appropriate sun exposure would take care of these issues, as the sun is irreplaceable when it comes to the body’s ability to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D.

Appropriate sun exposure is all it takes to keep your levels where they need to be for healthy brain function. If this is not an option, a safe tanning bed is the next best alternative, followed by a vitamin D3 supplement. It now appears as though most adults need about 8,000 IU’s of vitamin D a day in order to get their serum levels above 40 ng/ml, which is the lowest they should be. Ideally, your serum levels should be between 50-70 ng/ml, and up to 100 ng/ml to treat cancer and heart disease. However, it’s important to realize that there’s no magic dosage when it comes to vitamin D. What’s important is your serum level, so you need to get your vitamin D levels tested to make sure you’re staying within the optimal and therapeutic ranges as indicated below.

6. Optimize Your Gut Flora

Your gut is your “second brain,” and your gut bacteria transmits information to your brain via the vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that runs from your brain stem into your enteric nervous system (the nervous system of your gastrointestinal tract). There is a close connection between abnormal gut flora and abnormal brain development, and just as you have neurons in your brain, you also have neurons in your gut — including neurons that produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is also found in your brain and is linked to mood.

Quite simply, your gut health can impact your brain function, psyche, and behavior, as they are interconnected and interdependent in a number of different ways.

Your gut bacteria are an active and integrated part of your body, and as such are heavily dependent on your diet and vulnerable to your lifestyle. If you consume a lot of processed foods and sweetened drinks, for instance, your gut bacteria are likely going to be severely compromised because processed foods in general will destroy healthy microflora and sugars of all kinds feed bad bacteria and yeast. Limiting sugar and processed foods, while eating traditionally fermented foods (rich in naturally occurring good bacteria), taking a probiotic supplement and breastfeeding your baby are among the best ways to optimize gut flora and subsequently support brain health.

7. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12, or rather a lack thereof, has been called the “canary in the coalmine” for your future brain health, and recent research has bolstered the importance of this vitamin in keeping your mind sharp as you age. According to the latest research, people with high levels of markers for vitamin B12 deficiency were more likely to score lower on cognitive tests, as well as have a smaller total brain volume,ix which suggests a lack of the vitamin may contribute to brain shrinkage.

Mental fogginess and problems with memory are two of the top warning signs that you have vitamin B12 deficiency, and this is indicative of its importance for your brain health.

In addition, a Finnish study found that people who consume foods rich in B12 may reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s in their later years.x For each unit increase in the marker of vitamin B12 (holotranscobalamin) the risk of developing Alzheimer’s was reduced by 2 percent. Research also shows that supplementing with B vitamins, including B12, helps to slow brain atrophy in elderly people with mild cognitive impairment (brain atrophy is a well-established characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease).

Vitamin B12 deficiency is widespread and many have trouble absorbing this nutrient properly from food sources. Blood tests for vitamin B12 are not always a reliable indicator of B12 status, so watching for symptoms of deficiency and increasing your dietary and supplemental intake is a practical alternative to blood testing.

B12 is available in its natural form only in animal food sources. These include seafood, beef, chicken, pork, milk, and eggs. If you don’t consume enough of these animal products (and I don’t recommend consuming seafood unless you know it is from a pure water source) to get an adequate supply of B12, or if your body’s ability to absorb the vitamin from food is compromised, vitamin B12 supplementation is completely non-toxic and inexpensive, especially when compared to the cost of laboratory testing. I recommend an under-the-tongue fine mist spray, as this technology helps you absorb the vitamin into the fine capillaries under your tongue.

8. Listen to Music

It’s long been theorized that listening to music may boost your brainpower; you’ve probably heard of this with the “Mozart Effect,” which suggests listening to classical music can make you smarter. Indeed, research has shown that listening to music while exercising boosted cognitive levels and verbal fluency skills in people diagnosed with coronary artery disease (coronary artery disease has been linked to a decline in cognitive abilities). In this study, signs of improvement in the verbal fluency areas more than doubled after listening to music compared to that of the non-music session.

Listening to music has also been associated with enhanced cognitive functioning and improved mental focus among healthy adults, so take advantage of this simple pleasure whenever you can.

9. Challenge Your Mind

One of the simplest methods to boost your brain function is to keep on learning. The size and structure of neurons and the connections between them actually change as you learn. This can take on many forms above and beyond book learning to include activities like traveling, learning to play a musical instrument or speak a foreign language, or participating in social and community activities.

Another important method? Brain aerobics. As with learning, challenging your brain with mind-training exercises can keep your brain fit as you age. This can be something as simple as thinking of famous people whose first names begin with the letter A, doing crossword puzzles or playing board games that get you thinking. Research has even shown that surfing the Web activates regions in your brain related to decision-making and complex reasoning. So unlike passively watching TV, using the Internet is an engaging task that may actually help to improve your brainpower.

Sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?orig_db=PubMed&cmd=Search&term=%22Journal+of+cerebral+blood+flow+and+metabolism+%3A+official+journal+of+the+International+Society+of+Cerebral+Blood+Flow+and+Metabolism%22%5BJour%5D+AND+891%5Bpage%5D+AND+2009%2F05%5Bpdat%5D

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/16/health/16alco.html?_r=3&ref=health

http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm

http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-2/125-133.pdf

Editors note: With special recognition to the Mind Unleashed.

Original article can be found here. 

Science Says Mindfulness Can Literally Help You Turn Off Negative Thoughts

Science Says Mindfulness Can Literally Help You Turn Off Negative Thoughts

Mindfulness has become an all too popular buzzword among CEO’s, self-help gurus and religious figureheads. It has become synonymous with something akin to a mental stress ball.

Although the terminology is sometimes regurgitated with blatant disregard for the actual practice, mindfulness can be much more than this and possibly the ultimate key to a good life.

Mindfulness relieves ordinary stress and anxiety and can even help with more extreme disorders of depression or obsessive compulsive disorder.

A Quick Experiment Shows The Necessity of Mindfulness

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Stop thinking for five seconds. Just try it right now. Some will see the futility right away, while others can be so lost in thought they actually believe they had stopped thinking.

It is easy to think “Hey, I’m doing this” only to realize that is a thought in itself. Monitoring this incessant stream that cannot be controlled is what gives mindfulness its power.

Just like the old saying “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”; problematic thoughts we do not analyze will continue to cause issues.

Most human actions have an extreme dedication to the law of inertia. We tend to repeat patterns of behavior despite the good or bad outcomes that tend to follow.

The Problematic Brain Function That Mindfulness Erodes

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Sam Harris does a masterful job explaining true mindfulness and effective methods in his book and lecture series titled Waking Up.

The opposite of mindfulness, he says, can be explained as being constantly lost in though.

“Being lost in thought, is to be thinking without knowing that you’re thinking”, a state that is sure to bring out much confusion.

Simply observing your thoughts rather than acting on them for a few moments each day often gives clarity on the root causes of the stress in your life.

Is there a thought that keeps cropping up? Time to put that issue to the top of the priority list.

One of the most important takeaways from Harris’s thoughts on mindfulness is that although it is frequently touted in religious circles, it requires no compulsion of any religious belief for it to be effective.

Since no inherent belief is required, everyone can benefit from mindfulness.

Once you have truly began to be mindful you will notice that thoughts continue to rise and fall out of consciousness effortlessly, in reality without any control (as shown in the thought stopping experiment above).

Consciousness is Like a Back Seat Driver

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David Eagleman goes as far as to claim that consciousness is closer to a stow away on a cruise ship than the captain of said ship.

In the co-pilot analogy, consciousness can be in charge of the turn by turn directions, inform the driver of the speed limit and where to make stops just like a backseat driver. However if his attention drifts for just a matter of moments the car could miss an exit and run off course.

The same is true in brain activity. Slight changes in thoughts or attention can run you way off course.

A simple wrong turn in thought can lead people to a snowball of anxiety and other problems.

This is why mindfulness can be so important. Just as the driver can turn around and adjust course once he is notified of the missed exit, paying close attention to your thoughts can stop you from going all the way down roads of negativity.

Research Is Showing Its Benefits

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Continuing practice of mindfulness shows endless benefits. Everything from lowering blood pressure to boosting memory is possible with mindfulness.

Other studies show significant pain reduction in individuals with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.

While all of these benefits show great promise for further health studies on the subject, the most important assistance I have found through mindfulness is its ability to give you a unique insight on YOU, who you really are, what drives you and what you want out of life.

Originally published on The Power of Ideas.

Neuroscience Learns What Buddhism Has Known For Ages: Consciousness is Everywhere

Neuroscience Learns What Buddhism Has Known For Ages: Consciousness is Everywhere

A new theory in neuroscience suggests consciousness is an intrinsic property of everything, just like gravity.

The theory, called Integrated Information Theory, states that consciousness appears in physical systems that contain many different and highly interconnected pieces of information. Based on that hypothesis, consciousness can be measured as a theoretical quantity, which the researchers call phi.

The theory treats consciousness as an intrinsic, fundamental property of reality.

Buddhists have a similar belief in what we in the West call ‘panpsychism’ — the belief that consciousness is everywhere and that we have to reduce the suffering of all conscious creatures.

The idea of universal consciousness

The idea of universal consciousness, is a prominent thought in Buddhism. And it has been largely dismissed by modern science — until recently.

There are already pressing and practical needs for a way to measure consciousness. Doctors could use phi to tell if a person in a vegetative state is effectively dead, how much awareness a person with dementia has, when a foetus develops consciousness, how much animals perceive, or even whether a computer can feel.

This is perhaps the more urgent task with the birth of computer intelligence. We need to be able to answer the question of whether a machine is conscious. Does it feel anything? If so, what rights does it have? What will be our ethical obligations towards it?

These may seem arcane questions, but as machine intelligence gets more sophisticated we’ll need to have a rigorous ethical framework to answer these questions. Integrated Information Theory may just offer us this approach.

For a perspective on how systems can acquire consciousness, see the idea on Ideapod, If Consciousness Emerges From Physical Systems, It Will Emerge From Artificial Systems Too. There’s a flourishing conversation happening around the post.

Originally published on The Power of Ideas.

Science Finds That Spending Time in Nature Makes You Kinder, Happier, and More Creative

Science Finds That Spending Time in Nature Makes You Kinder, Happier, and More Creative

We live in a world where we spend most of our lives indoors and online. Most people live in urban settings and natural views are rare to come across in daily life.

I personally have been a hiker for a long time and I have always known that nature had a soothing effect not only physically but also emotionally. Scientists have proven me right by showing that nature:

Reduces stress

A study carried out in Japan showed that people walking in a natural scene will be more relaxed than people walking in an urban scene.

Since these people walked through equal distance and with similar levels of difficulty, the scientists were able to conclude that there is something beyond the exercise that made being in nature more soothing.

Though there is no a scientific explanation yet, it seems that we evolved to find nature comfortable and soothing.

Enhances happiness and reduces brooding

In my hiking days, I have always noticed that the natural scenery made me happier. A similar study like the one in Japan was done and found that people who had walked in the woodlands were found to be happier and more focused. After the walk, they were able to do better on short term memory tests than those walking through the city street.

Reducing fatigue and enhancing creativity

Scientists have also found that people on a hiking trip are more likely to solve creative testing puzzles than people waiting for the same trip.
The beautiful nature scenes may be a cause of brain activation which in turn makes one more creative and reduces fatigue.

Makes you kind and generous

After my hiking trips, I always get home with a huge zeal to be more kind and generous. Scientists have proven this effect of nature by having people who have been in different levels of beautiful nature scenes play games that are meant for testing generosity and patience. Those who had been exposed to more beautiful scenes were found to be more kind and generous.

Nature can make us livelier

Research has it that nature keeps us psychologically healthy. What makes this even more appealing is the fact that everybody can access nature by just walking outside and without spending a penny. There exists something about nature that gives us a better feeling, gives us better thinking and makes us develop a better understanding of ourselves and our surrounding. All these benefits are found in nature, let’s all enjoy our real world.

Continue the conversation

Our parent site, Ideapod, is a social network for idea sharing. It’s a place for you to explore ideas, share your own and come up with new perspectives, meeting like minded idea sharers in the process.

Here are some conversations happening about how nature can make you kinder, more creative and happier.

Respect Nature

Infinity, Nature, Consciousness and Love

We’re Not Here to Conquer Nature

Originally published on The Power of Ideas.