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
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.
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.
We shall have to find a contact point with biology.’ Freud
Freud’s assertion strikes a chord with many of us who accept the premise that we are no more than our biology and yet also embrace everything else that we are, our memories, thoughts, contradictions, and emotions; our creative streaks, our habits and unconscious motivations and our tendencies to anger or to tears. But how does everything we are, the richness, depth and wonderful complexity of us arise out of 1.4kg of rather wet, grey substrate?
Over 100 years ago Freud began his Project for a Scientific Psychology and tried to link his knowledge about the brain with the observations he made in psychology. The immeasurable gulf between these levels of explanation led him to abandon his Project in favour of psychoanalysis, the task of observing and explaining psychological phenomena. Despite distancing himself from the neuro-scientific theories of the time in order to preserve impartiality for psychoanalysis, Freud believed that psychoanalysis was a science that would someday be reconciled with basic neuroscience. That day is almost upon us and “The Neuropsychotherapist” brings you the very latest neuroscientific research that is relevant to the endeavours of psychotherapy and counselling.
Mechanisms of Change: We are at an exciting place in the evolution of psychotherapy where we are beginning to see scientific evidence for neural changes mediated through talking therapy alone. Psychotherapists witness and their clients experience, profound change as a result of the psychotherapeutic endeavour suggesting that psychotherapy can bring about actual changes in the brain. The nature of these changes has been long been mysterious but advances in neuroscience are now demonstrating that the brain is much more dynamically adaptive and malleable than was previously believed. From the level of the genes to the degree of functional connectivity between brain regions, scientists are discovering that our brains are incredibly plastic and adaptively responsive to environments, relationships and even odours! The Mechanisms of Change department is interested in the adaptive, malleable nature of our neurobiology and what implications the latest research has for the way we practice and evaluate psychotherapy.
Adaptive changes within the brain occur at many levels, from the molecular where the influence of chemical groups on DNA alters gene expression, through neural and glial plasticity which allow us to learn and remember, to changes in functional connectivity between regions of the brain which help us to articulate and moderate our emotional and stress responses. Mechanisms of Change spans the breadth of adaptive changes that occur in the brain and body, covering epigenetics, neurogenesis, synaptic and white matter plasticity and changes in functional connectivity between brain regions.
Epigenetics involves the addition of small chemical groups, such as methylations, either directly to the DNA or to the histone proteins that the DNA wraps around. These ‘epigenetic marks’ may be transient but can also be inherited by our children and even by their children. These tiny molecular modifications act like volume controls over the transcription of particular genes. What makes epigenetics a hot topic is that our experiences in the world, our food, the care we receive as infants and the variety of opportunities we have to socialise or learn or to participate in new activities, all leave their marks on our genes. Science has demonstrated that our genes learn through our experiences. Is psychotherapy an experience that makes an epigenetic mark?
Neurogenesisis a multi-stage process of generating and integrating new neurons into the existing network of the dentate gyrus. Neurogenesis occurs in the hippocampus which is a region associated with learning, memory and emotion and in rodents the rate and success of neurogenesis is intricately linked with hippocampal dependent learning. Adult neurogenesis recapitulates the developmental trajectory of embryonic neurogenesis with the new neurons going through a period of hyper-excitability where they also have enhanced plasticity. This enhanced neural plasticity contributes to ‘pattern separation’ which is thought to underlie our ability to separate closely spaced memories. Exposure to extreme stress, such as the stress that causes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder reduces neurogenesis and consequently impairs pattern separation perhaps leading to the integration and over-generalisation of fear memories that is a characteristic feature of PTSD. Depression is also associated with reduced neurogenesis and this finding spawned the neurogenic theory of depression and consistent with this is the finding that most anti-depressant treatments from medication to electroconvulsive therapy enhance neurogenesis. Exercise and the experience of an enriched environment also stimulate neurogenesis. If psychotherapy can be thought of as a type of environmental enrichment, perhaps one which offers novel emotional experiences, it may enhance neurogenesis or alternatively psychotherapy may require neurogenesis so that new therapeutic experiences can be integrated into the existing neural network.
Synaptic plasticity:The human brain is thought to be made up of 100 billion neurons each of which may make 7-10000 synaptic connections to other neurons, meaning that there is a truly awesomely huge number of synapses in the human brain! Synapses are dynamic neural connections that transmit a one way de-polarising signal from a pre-synaptic to a post-synaptic neuron. The synapse strength is highly regulated and can be strengthened or weakened to make it more or less likely that the post-synaptic neuron is depolarised. In addition synapses can be gained through synaptogenesis or lost through regulated processes such as synaptic pruning or through neurodegeneration. The number, pattern and strength of these dynamically changing synaptic connections has been termed ‘our connectome’ by Sebastian Seung who in his TED talk ‘I am my connectome’, popularised the idea that our thoughts, feelings and memories, our identities, are held as activation patterns within the neural network of the brain.
In 1949 the neuropsychologist, Donald Hebb theorised that learning was a process of increasing the efficiency of impulse transmission or synaptic strength between two neurons that are active at the same time; the succinct and ubiquitously quoted version is, neurons that fire together wire together. In 1973 Bliss and Lomo realised Hebb’s prediction with the discovery of long-term potentiation (LTP), demonstrating a persistent increase in the strength of hippocampal synapses following high frequency stimulation. A compelling degree of correlation between drugs that block or enhance LTP and have the same effect on learning and memory has led to widespread acceptance of LTP and its complement LTD, (long-term depression) as being the cellular mechanisms of learning and memory.
As we learn throughout our lives and are constantly creating new memories and forgetting old ones the cellular mechanism of learning and memory must be similarly flexible. As the strength of the synapse between neurons dynamically changes in response to the pattern of their firing, this requirement is met, and the capacity of synapses to change in this way is referred to as synaptic plasticity. A simple metaphor, popularised by Seung, to illustrate synaptic plasticity is to think of the pattern of activation of particular neurons within a network like water trickling down a mountain. The more a pattern of neurons fire together, the stronger the synapses between them becomes, rather like the water wearing a deeper groove that eventually becomes a stream bed. In order to change the course of the water an alternative groove must be worn, and similarly with synaptic plasticity, we can strengthen the synapses between neurons in a different activation pattern following new experiences or new learning. Psychotherapy is a new experience of a relationship for a client and the repeated experiences within this benevolent relationship such as being empathised with, attuned to and valued enable new grooves to be worn, and a new representation of relationships to be formed and carried into the world as a more positive anticipation, and expectation of future relationships.
White matter plasticity can be thought of as being the next level of up from synaptic plasticity as the myelin sheathes around the neuron’s axon which form white matter are also dynamically regulated by neuronal activity, experience and learning. Myelin is generated by glial cells of the nervous system and forms an insulating multi-layered wrap around axons which increases the speed and efficiency of transmission of the electrical impulse down the axon. Myelination of axons and axonal tracts continues until humans reach their thirties and occurs latest in the brain regions that are highly neuro-plastic and consequently most modifiable by experience such as the pre-frontal cortex, a region associated with executive function, decision making and social competence. Myelin and changes in myelination can now be visualised allowing us to see how myelination changes with experiences, including playing the piano and learning to juggle as well as the practice of meditation. Intelligence quotients and working memory ability also correlate with the extent of myelination in the areas of the brain relevant for the particular task. Emotional and social experiences also affect myelination as in animal studies, social isolation reduces myelination in the frontal cortex accompanied by social and memory deficits whereas environmental enrichment paradigms lead to increased myelination and improved cognitive performance. These findings are consistent with findings in humans; neglected children have reduced myelination of their corpus callosum, whereas premature born babies that have an enriched program of individualised care have have increased myelination in their frontal lobes and at 9 months old perform better in behavioural tests. Interestingly, many people suffering with a variety of psychiatric disorders also have structural differences in their white brain matter.
Essentially myelination occurs in response to neural activity and increases the efficiency of impulse transmission down the most active neural pathways. If we were to continue with the water metaphor for synaptic plasticity, myelin would be a pipe to increase the flow and reduce the loss of the water. In order to change the way the water flows, not only does a competing groove, (neural pathway) have to be built, (activated) it has to be used over and over to make building the myelin ‘pipe’ biologically worthwhile. The effect of repeated experiences or practice can be seen readily in the brains of musicians, as the degree of myelination correlates with the number of hours of practice. Thus repeated positive relational experiences in psychotherapy may act as creating and then repeatedly ‘practising’ the activation of new neural pathways. It would be wonderful to be able visualise the psychotherapeutic change by imaging our plastic white matter if anyone has a spare research grant?
Functional connectivityDifferent regions of the brain are specialised for different tasks; the amygdala as part of the limbic system, is the seat of emotional processing, the hippocampus is important for memory formation and spatial navigation, and the pre-frontal cortex is considered vital for executive function and for driving socially acceptable behaviours. These regions are specialised within themselves but also connect with each other and these ‘between region’ connections can now be visualised using various imaging techniques. It is frequently, although not universally the case, that synchronously activated brain regions, considered to be functionally connected, are also structurally connected through bundles of myelinated axons called white matter tracts. Both structural and functional connections can be imaged using distinct magnetic resonance imaging methods. Imaging studies have demonstrated that the functional connectivity between various brain region changes throughout development, with age, and differs between males and females. Connections between the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortex of the brain are important in how we process our emotions and thus it is unsurprising that early life stressors such as abuse impact the connectivity between these brain regions, or that people who suffer with depression, PTSD or many other mental health problems also have altered connectivity between their amygdala and pre-frontal cortex. Allan Schore suggests that increased integration and connectivity between higher and lower right brain regions is the hallmark of a secure attachment and is also a predictor of infant mental health. This fortuitous state of an integrated right brain is achieved through myriad rewarding interactions between a mother and her ‘securely attached’ infant where their right brains are in harmony or ‘affective synchrony’. As adults, attachment patterns (described by Ainsworth and Bowlby) are modifiable through new experiences of relationship, including within the psychotherapeutic relationship. Fortunately, the orbitofrontal cortex which underlies many of our attachment related interpersonal skills, including our capacity to empathise and to reflect upon ours or other’s emotional states, remains plastic and is thus modifiable by new relationship experiences even in adulthood. Greater activity in the orbitofrontal cortex and increased connectivity to subcortical regions has already been linked to successful psychological treatments, so the prospect of visualising a psychotherapeutically mediated change in attachment pattern through a correlating change in functional connectivity between brain regions is almost within reach.
The brain is the organ of adaption. At every level in our brains, from the molecular and epigenetic through neurogenesis and neuroplasticity to the connections between regions of our brain, adaptive changes occur. In the widest sense, the brain perceives our environment to anticipate it and adapts so that we may thrive, or at least survive, and reproduce. An important aspect of our environment are our relationships, which at the very beginning of our lives are crucial for our survival when we are babies depending entirely on the caring relationship we have with our mother or caregiver. Our brains are profoundly shaped by and adapt to, our relationships with our primary carer, creating representations of relationships and attachment patterns that will probably be maintained throughout our lives. If our relational experiences are positive and our brains are changed by that relationship in all and more than the ways described above, we may achieve right brain integration and benefit from having a secure attachment with our caregiver, but if our experiences are not so positive, neglectful, or even abusive, our brains will adapt to reflect and anticipate these experiences. For better or worse we carry the ways our brains have adapted and the experiences of our primary relationships out into the world where they linger as the anticipations and expectations, even in the creations, of the relationships we forge with our partners and our own children, often despite our conscious determination to break free of our pasts. Clearly, as babies, we cannot choose the relationship we will have with our primary caregiver, nor can we prevent our brains from adapting to the relational experiences we have had; however, armed with the information that experiences can change brains we can, as adults, make choices about what kinds of relational experiences we would like to have and actively seek out those experiences. The experience of psychotherapy offers our brains a positive relational world to experience and thus may ameliorate some of the effects of previous negative relational experiences. Through a multitude of new and repeated experiences of empathy, attunement and repair after ruptures in the psychotherapeutic relationship, our brains adapt to this new paradigm of relationship which may be taken out into the world as a healthier anticipation and therefore creation of future relationships. Although it is unlikely that psychotherapists will be able to scientifically validate their efforts through visualising the changes in their individual clients’ brains through the psychotherapeutic relationship it perhaps heartening to understand that the experience of relationship has the power to change the brain at every level from the expression of genes through to the connectivity between brain regions. The profound changes experienced by the client and witnessed by the psychotherapist are real even if they are still not easily measurable by neuroscience.
Department Editor: Haley Peckham
Haley has a degree in philosophy, and Masters degrees in Philosophy of Cognitive Science, and Molecular Neuroscience. Following training and working as a mental health nurse in the UK she is now studying for a PhD in Neuroscience at the Uni of Melbourne and training to be a psychotherapist.
Once thought to be restricted to early mammalian development or to nonmammalian vertebrates like reptiles, adult neurogenesis is now known to occur in mammals, including humans. This lecture will explain how researchers are trying to harness this remarkable neuroregenerative potential to repair the injured or diseased brain, and improve prediction, prevention, and treatment of brain disorders as diverse as Alzheimer’s disease, depression and even addiction.
Amelia Eisch is Associate Professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center where her laboratory studies the birth of new neurons in the postnatal and adult brain and their potential links to psychiatric disorders.
New research could change the way health professionals treat Alzheimer’s disease, which affects more than 35.6 million people worldwide, a figure set to treble by 2050.
Research published today in Nature Genetics detailed the discovery of new genes that may play a role in adding to the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in older people up to 20 years before clinical symptoms become apparent.
Associate Professor Velandai Srikanth from the Stroke and Ageing Research Group of Monash University’s Southern Clinical School led a team of Australian researchers from the Menzies Research Institute and the University of Queensland in collaboration with the Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology consortium, affiliated with Boston University. Australian researchers analysed data from the Tasmanian Study of Cognition and Gait.
The researchers looked at the genes that contribute to the size of the part of the brain known as the hippocampus, which is important for memory. This invariably shrinks during the course of ageing but the shrinkage is believed to become more pronounced during the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Associate Professor Srikanth said analysing data from more than 9000 people using advanced brain imaging and genetic analysis led to the breakthrough.
“Our study makes a major contribution to the body of knowledge available and will stimulate further work in identifying disease mechanisms and potentially new treatments for the widespread disease,” Associate Professor Srikanth said.
“We investigated what new genetic markers there might be to explain why the hippocampus shrinks and have discovered a set of new genes that are likely to be responsible.
“The functions related to these genes may indicate pathways that underlie the development of Alzheimer’s disease in people up to 20 years before symptoms actually surface.
“Results suggest that the effect of having one copy of these ‘risk’ genes was that the hippocampus, on average, was as small as that of a person four to five years older.”
Editor’s Note: Original news release can be found here.