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Brain teaser games to increase aptitude and speed of thought!

There are many brain teaser games available in the market today. Research has shown an active approach to playing games such as Nintendo’s DS Brain games or Lumosity Brain course can be highly beneficial. Research also shows that if you wait until a brain disease such as Alzheimer’s to set in you will probably be to late to enjoy the benefits the games can provide. I think brain teasers are very important to add to your arsenal to push away the effects of brain aging. I’ve added a couple links that can get you started today. Some great Nintendo DS Brain Teasers

Try the scientific brain training program by Lumosity. It’s fun and it improves memory and attention. Get started for free.


The Many Benefits of Matcha Tea

Matcha tea is similar to green tea, but unlike green tea where you drink the water from the brewed tips of the green tea leaves, matcha tea requires that you ingest all of the leaf.

The health benefits of matcha tea are numerous, but most notable are the extra high anti-oxidant levels found in this particular type of tea. Matcha tea has more than 10 times the levels of antioxidants than that of green tea, and is therefore more superior in its protective capabilities.

Antioxidants help counteract cell damage within the body which are caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules which are released in the body due to a poor diet or other external influences. These free radicals damage and destroy healthy cells in the body, including brain cells which are needed for healthy brain function.

Cell damage within the brain can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and other memory problems as well as causing compromised brain function. It is important to note that drinking matcha tea helps to prevent damage to the brain cells and helps to preserve brain health and cognitive abilities.

The antioxidants in matcha tea are far superior to the antioxidants found in the most potent fruits and vegetables. In particular, matcha tea contains catechins – highly potent antioxidants unique from green tea and has extraordinary cancer-fighting properties.

The other great quality about matcha tea is that it is low GI and does not raise blood sugar levels in the way that some drinks can. And because matcha tea helps to boost your mood, it gives you a natural lift at any time of the day.

Matcha tea is also unparalleled as a super food which helps to prevent aging, and this includes brain aging. A regular matcha tea habit will slow down the aging process keeping you looking and feeling youthful for years to come.

Another property about matcha tea is that it helps to cleanse the body of unwanted toxins due to its rich content of chlorophyll – the green pigment found in all plants. Chlorophyll is an excellent detoxifying agent and helps to rid the body of all the waste products that your body does not need such as chemicals and heavy metals.

Matcha tea contains specific mood enhancing amino acids which help to increase concentration and improve your moods. Buddhist Monks are renowned for drinking matcha tea before meditating to enhance the meditation process. Japanese Zen monks also used matcha in their famous tea ceremonies, most notably for its calming effect on the mind as well as the body.

To get the best from matcha tea, it should be a regular part of your healthy diet program and is excellent when you feel stressed and anxious as it really helps to calm the body down.

Matcha tea is far superior to your average cup of herbal tea, and is perfect for increasing concentration as well as helping to protect the brain from damage. For those seeking an improvement in their cognitive function, drinking matcha tea coupled with regular brain training exercises will help to achieve a perfect brain.

DoMatcha Green Tea, Organic Matcha, 1.06-Ounce Tin

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Walking helps keep body and brain young

NEW YORK (Reuters 9/13/10) – Everyone knows that walking limbers the aging body, but did you know it keeps the mind supple as well?

Research shows that walking can actually boost the connectivity within brain circuits, which tends to diminish as the grey hairs multiply.

“Patterns of connectivity decrease as we get older,” said Dr. Arthur F. Kramer, who led the study team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Networks aren’t as well connected to support the things we do, such as driving,” he said. “But we found as a function of aerobic fitness, the networks became more coherent.”

Kramer’s walking study, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, tracked 70 adults from 60 to 80 years old over the course of a year. A toning, stretching, strengthening group served as a control against which to evaluate the previously sedentary walkers.

“Individuals in the walking group, the aerobics training group, got by far the largest benefits,” he said, and not just physically.

“We also measured brain function,” said Kramer, whose team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain networks. A group of 20-to-30-year olds were tested for comparison.

“The aerobic group also improved in memory, attention and a variety of other cognitive processes,” Kramer said. “As the older people in the walking group became more fit, the coherence among different regions in the networks increased and became similar to those of the 20-yr olds,” Kramer explained.

But the results did not happen overnight. Effects in the walking group were observed only after they trained for 12 months. Six-month tests yielded no significant trends.

The findings come as no surprise to Dr. Lynn Millar, an expert with the American College of Sports Medicine. She said while walking might seem like a simple activity, the brain is actually working to integrate information from many different sources.

“When we walk we integrate visual input, auditory input, as well as input that’s coming from joints and muscles regarding where the foot is, how much force, and things like that ” said Millar, a professor of Physical Therapy at Andrews University, in Berrien Springs, Michigan.

“It’s that old concept: if you don’t use it you lose it,” she said. “In order for something to be beneficial we need to do it repetitively, and walking is a repetitive activity.”

Millar, author of “Action Plan for Arthritis,” said while some changes are inevitable with age, they don’t have to happen as quickly as they do in some people.

“We know reaction time gets slower as we age, but activity is a big modifier,” she said, “so if we do trip we’ll be able to get that leg out and catch ourselves.”

Kramer, who also works with the military and people with disabilities, continues to work on mediating the negative effects of aging with lifestyle choices.

“We’re interested in understanding brain plasticity but we’re also interested in doing something about it,” he said. “We can wait for that wonder drug or we can do something today.”

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Can Brain Training Remove the Need for Anti-psychotics?

Anti-psychotics are used to treat patients suffering from any number of mental health problems such as depression, bipolar disorder and other mental health disorders. These drugs have undesirable side effects such as weight gain, lowered life expectancy, low white cell count and many other problems.

The other problem with anti-psychotic drugs is that they can occasionally cause the initial problem to become worse. Aside from the mentioned problems, anti-psychotics can cause patients to feel ‘spaced out’, weak and robotic. There is also the teething phase of starting any new medication, since prescribing anti-psychotics that work for a patient can be a case of trial and error.

Because of this, psychiatrists prefer to use alternative treatments such as cognitive behavior therapy and hypnosis among other treatments. These treatments are often used alongside anti-psychotics to help control and manage symptoms to the point where patients feel they are able to cope.

Unfortunately, because the anti-psychotics affect the brain and nervous system directly (in particular mood patterns, behavior and sleep), they become reliant on them and find it near impossible to manage without them.

Psychologists are now looking at using brain training to help patients to manage their condition better. This type of brain training is known as neurofeedback training. Studies on over 40 unstable bipolar patients at the Pisgah Institute in North Carolina found that neurofeedback had had a significant impact on their overall well-being.

Patients were reported to have fewer mood swings, were able to sleep and concentrate better, and most of all, their tendency to be hospitalized due to outbursts was remarkably reduced. The other positive side effects that were observed over the course of a year included the ability to think more clearly and rationally, become calmer and less aggressive and in general patients were able to function much better.

Most astonishing though, was the fact that some patients that had been on medications for over 20 years were now able to go drug-free thanks to the remarkable power of brain training. Of those patients that were not able to completely go drug free, they reported needing only lower doses – something that they would never have considered before.

How does brain training work so effectively? The answer lies in the brain’s ability to become stronger and more stable due to the training exercises it undergoes. Learning to self-regulate gives a patient more control over their current situation. This can be a lifesaver for those with mental health disorders who commonly feel ‘out of control’ and out of their depth in certain situations.

Although brain training cannot cure mental health problems, it can certainly help patients exercise more control and calm into their lives. It can allow patients the chance to recover on reduced medication doses (or in some cases, no medication at all) and feel better about themselves.

Neurofeedback cannot replace a good doctor, nor can it replace medication altogether. Along with brain training, patients need to eat nutritious foods and get lots of rest and support from family and friends. These measures can go a long way in helping patients feel more ‘normal’.

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What is a Savant? Why are they Physically and Mentally Challenged?

By definition, a Savant is regarded as someone who has remarkable brilliance in one area of their life, despite having other emotional and physical limitations such as autism. Medically speaking, Savantism is not recognized by the medical authorities, and is instead seen as a psychological and developmental issue.

About half of all people described as Savants have autism, while the other half have developmental disorders including brain injury, retardation and other types of brain diseases which affect development. It is important to note that being autistic does not mean you have Savantism, but rather the two seem to have a link (unproven medically).

Savants are notably slow in many areas of their lives, but display brilliance in a select area such as mathematics. They tend to have a ‘super memory’ which is seen as narrow because they find it hard to put information to use practically, even though their recall ability is second to none.

As a general rule, Savant males outnumber female Savants 6:1 and 10% of autistic people show Savant abilities. The skills that Savants have verge on genius and even surpass the skills of ‘normal’ people. Examples of skills that savants have include a photographic memory, exceptional mathematical ability, musical genius, speed reading, art and prolific writing ability.

What is characteristic of all of these Savants is their mesmerizing ability to outperform average or skilled people in their chosen ability. For example, some mathematical Savants are able to complete complex and lengthy calculations at an unbelievable speed with no calculator.

The first recorded Savant was Thomas Fuller, who despite being severely mentally handicapped was able to perform a lengthy and complicated calculation concerning time in about 90 seconds. He even made a correction in his own reasoning. Despite his amazing gift, Fuller was unable to comprehend virtually anything.

Some Savants display what is known as Calendar memory where they are able to tell you the day of a particular date for any given year – and often within seconds. The cause of Savantism is not fully known, although it is speculated that it is caused by injury to the left brain and that the right brain compensates for it. This theory is further backed by individuals displaying Savant abilities after they have received an injury to the left side of their brain.

The left brain theory of Savantism has been researched and tested by using healthy volunteers to have parts of their left brain temporarily immobilized in a procedure known as Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. The findings only showed some improvement in Savant type abilities, but nothing that was considered close to genius. In fact, some participants experienced some short term memory loss. The findings suggest that the damage to the left brain would have to be considerable to evoke Savantism.

Whatever the cause of Savantism, it is clear that the subject area arouses much interest and fascination in scientists and researchers alike.

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New Mechanism for Berries’ Potential Brain Benefits Uncovered

From Medscape Medical News

Megan Brooks

August 31, 2010 — US scientists say they have uncovered a new mechanism by which berries may protect the aging brain.

In cultured mouse hippocampal cells, they found that extracts of blueberries, strawberries, and acai berries induce autophagy, a mechanism by which toxic debris are sequestered in the brain. Studies have shown that this “housekeeping” function in the brain declines considerably with age, which can lead to the buildup of proteins linked to age-related mental decline and memory loss.

Shibu Poulose, PhD, from the US Department of Agriculture–Agricultural Research Service Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, presented the preliminary findings at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.

Dr. Poulose did the research with James Joseph, PhD, who died June 1.

Berries and Walnuts

Natural polyphenols in berries and other fruits, vegetables, and nuts are known to enhance brain health via their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. “There are many publications using animal models both from our lab and elsewhere reporting effects of berries and walnuts on memory, motor skills, and other behavior,” Dr. Poulose noted in an email to Medscape Medical News.

For example, in a prior study, Dr. Poulose and Dr. Joseph showed that aging laboratory rats maintained for 2 months on diets containing 2% high-antioxidant strawberry, blueberry, or blackberry extract showed a reversal of age-related deficits in nerve function and behavior involving learning and memory.

“We have reported berries and walnuts exert powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the brain cells as well as regions of the brain in rats,” Dr. Poulose noted.

The new research suggests that the benefits of berries on the aging brain extend beyond the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects to cellular toxic clearance through induction of autophagy in the brain.

They found that a blueberry, strawberry, and acai berry extract added to cultured HT22 hippocampal neuronal cells and BV2 microglial cells inhibited mammalian target of rapamycin, a protein that negatively regulates autophagy, and increased levels of proteins that facilitate the autophagic process to clear toxic proteins.

“Our research suggests that the polyphenolics in berries have a rescuing effect,” Dr. Poulose noted in a written statement from the meeting. “They seem to restore the normal housekeeping function. These findings are the first to show these effects of berries.”

A New Mechanism

Reached for outside comment, Joseph A. Vinson, PhD, professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the study, noted that this is “a mechanistic study and it uncovers a new mechanism.”

The study, he said, provides “a hint as to how berries can be good for you,” but much more study is needed. “It’s possible that this mechanism operates when you consume berries but until such a mechanism is found in vivo, I wouldn’t get too excited,” Dr. Vinson noted in a telephone interview with Medscape Medical News.

On the other hand, Dr. Vinson added, “I do think that berries have a biological effect.” He cautioned, however, that the concentration used in the study is “incredibly high, so the question is: if the concentration were diluted a lot, would it have an effect?”

The study was funded in part by the Wild Blueberry Association of North America, US Highbush Blueberry Council, California Strawberry Commission, California Walnut Commission, and American Institute for Biosocial and Medical Research Life Sciences Inc. The study authors and Dr. Vinson have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society. Presented August 23, 2010

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What are Neurons and How are They Formed?

A neuron is a nerve cell that sends and receives chemical and electrical information to and from other neurons. Neurons are the backbone of the central nervous system which is responsible for your every thought and movement.

Neurons are connected via special connections known as synapses which send chemical signals between the various neurons. Neurons which inter-connect form neural networks to relay information around the brain and the body.

Our nervous system would not be able to function without neurons and we would not be able to move and think or do anything without these amazing nerve cells. Our body contains different types of neurons, each responsible for different functions within the body.

Sensory neurons respond to touch, taste, sound and light as well as other sensory stimuli which we are exposed to. Motor neurons control muscular function throughout the body, and a problem with these neurons can cause paralysis and other debilitating conditions which restrict movement in the body.

Neurons all respond to electrical charge, regardless of their type. Their structures enable them to exchange specific salts and minerals in the body such as sodium and potassium. These salts and minerals cause various reactions within the body. For example, a deficiency in potassium affects the motor neurons and causes twitching, cramps and spasms in various muscles in the body.

Neurons are formed from stem cells within the body, and have a distinct shape made up of three parts – the soma, dendrites and axon. The soma contains all the genetic material which tells the cell what to do. The dendrites are responsible for sending and receiving the information between nerve cells. The axon carries signals away from the soma – it is what ‘fires’ a response or message to another cell.

Neurons are essential for brain development and control your ability to memorize information well. It is interesting to note that the human brain has over 100 billion neurons, and that each day, thousands of these brain cells die. As we age, diseases like Alzheimer’s set in because of the loss of brain cells which not only severely affect memory, but causes physical shrinkage of the brain.

It is typical to think of neurons being minute and indiscernible to the human eye – but in actual fact, some of these neurons can be over 3ft long. This is especially true of those neurons that run from the spinal cord to your toes.

It was once believed that once your nerve cells died, that was it. Recent research however has suggested that some cells (such as the brain cells) are able to re-connect with once defunct brain cells to improve memory. There is even evidence suggesting that these cells can regenerate, although much more research needs to be carried out on this in order to substantiate these claims.

Without our neurons, we simply would not be able to function. It is vital therefore to look after one’s health to ensure that we remain healthy so that our neurons do not suffer.

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How Do People Memorize a Whole Book or 500 Decimals of Pi?

We have all heard about individuals who have a super memory – you know the ones that are able to memorize an entire book or know Pi down to 500 decimals. These people are credited for having a super-charged memory and pride themselves on their ability to remember things quickly and efficiently.

Do these people have special memories or have they just mastered the art of remembrance? The truth is somewhere in between – although most people would say that it comes down to using special memory techniques which enable you to memorize with superb accuracy.

Chunking is a method that is employed by many people with super memories. In fact, Vaughn Seward from Canada used chunking to recall Pi down to 500 decimal places. He split the numbers into ‘chunks’ of smaller numbers which he claims have certain patterns such as rhyming and numbers which start or end with the same numbers.

Another technique used by Seward relied on creating a story with the numbers. This is a form of mnemonics and is a very effective way of memorizing information. A strange story will always stick in your mind – the more vivid your descriptions, the greater the ability to remember and recall information.

Memorizing books can be done in the same way, by using mnemonics and by chunking the information into more digestible bits. It is important to note though that the success of these methods rely on users doing them correctly and taking the time to go over them via repetition. Repetition is another way of remembering lots of information and requires the user to repeatedly go over and verbally repeat the information several times before it ‘sinks in.’

The success of repetition does rely on the user repeating the information several times so that it is processed correctly. But, here is the crucial crux of this method – it relies on taking a nap or going to sleep so that the mind can consolidate what it has learnt and help shift the information into the long term memory.

The more a user engages their senses when remembering information, the easier it is to recall. This is not to say that you will necessarily understand a particular topic you have spent ages learning. Learning itself is nothing without comprehension, so without this key aspect, there is little point in ‘rote learning’ something for the sake of it. Having the understanding behind something you learn is even more important than the information you have learnt.

An excellent example is that of memorizing a text book – when you get into an exam, there is little point of memorizing hundreds of pages of text when you have no idea of how to apply what you have learnt and adapt it for the question being asked. True memory skills come into play when a user not only memorizes and recalls with perfect clarity, but has the understanding and the comprehension behind it.

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Do We Really Only use 10% of Our Brains?

In recent years, there has been a fierce debate raging about the complexities of the human mind. Scientists in the past presented us with the sullying ‘truth’ that in actual fact, regardless of how clever we think we are, we are only using 10% of our brains.

The theory goes that if we were able to tap into the other 90%, we would have telekinetic powers and become savants capable of remembering ridiculous amounts of information and being able to complete complicated sums at lightning speed.

Although no one scientist or researcher can be blamed for this 10% theory, recent evidence suggests that this is indeed a myth. Albert Einstein purportedly used this theory to explain his massive intellect.

So what is the reality then? While it is certainly true that we do not use all of our mental faculties, the reality is that we use more of our brains than we think we do. When we are resting and not really doing much, then the 10% myth holds true – but only because we are not engaged in anything that stimulates our minds. Some people use the 10% myth as an excuse for their inability (or in reality, their reluctance or aversion) to learn.

Almost every area of the brain is used at some point in our daily life. Different areas of our brain control different things – anything from our emotions and movement to our intellect. Each of these areas employs a different part of our brain and really means we use a lot more of our brains than we think we do.

Only three percent of our body weight is made up of grey matter, and uses a staggering 20% of our body’s energy. That’s a lot of energy! We require the use of our brains even for activities we are not aware of such as your heart beating, your breathing and metabolism.

Based on all this, we can safely assume that over a 24 hour period, we are tapping into at least 100% of our brain collectively. Obviously, it is unlikely that you would use 100% of your brain all at the same time or all the time. Rather, it is the activities we do on a daily basis that define how much of our mental faculties we really rely on.

Evidence shows that even while we sleep, different portions of the brain are being activated and engaged to control things like breathing, heart rate, dreaming and information processing.

When it comes down to it, it is not 10% of our brains that we use, but rather our understanding of the mind which is limited to 10% – we simply do not know enough about the 90% of the brains functioning or how it works. That’s the real mystery, and one that we hope will be solved sooner rather than later.

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Cell Phones and Brain Tumors

Cell phones are part and parcel of modern day life. We use them all the time, from ringing friends for social chats, to heavy users who rely on cell phones for business and work purposes. Although they are a fantastic way to communicate, the health dangers associated with cell phones is not so great.

In recent years, scientists have been conducting several studies into the use of cell phones and the possible impact that they can have on your health. Moreover, it is the rise in the incidences of brain tumors that seems to be the most worrying of all.

Cell phones work by emitting microwave radiation. Radiation is responsible for causing cell damage in your body by changing or ‘mutating’ the cells so that they are harmful in some way to the body. It is well documented that high levels of radiation causes deformities in babies and wildlife, while those whose jobs involve working in radiated areas such as power plants are more susceptible to cancer.

When cell phones were first introduced, they produced large amounts of radiation. As the years went on, advances in technology enabled cell phone manufacturers to produce phones that emitted fewer and fewer levels of radiation. However, because of the way that cell phones work, it is at present not possible to completely eradicate the release of radiation from the phones.

In the US, there are many strict regulations in place to protect the wireless giants, and because of this, relatively few independent studies have been completed about the risks of cell phones. In Europe though, the story is somewhat different. Some of Europe’s finest research centers have linked cell phone usage to a whole host of problems including: brain aging, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, memory problems, brain tumors, senility and even infertility in men (because men tend to carry cell phones in their jeans).

Worse still, studies at the International Agency for Research on Cancer at the Lyon Center in France conducted an international study on cell phone use and their impact on health. Thirteen countries took part in the study and the results from the study are worrying to say the least. The research concluded that after using a cell phone regularly over a period of ten years, your chances of getting a brain tumor increase by 40%.

Other worrying research has found that high cell phone use can cause a 300% increase in the risk of acoustic neuroma or cancer of the acoustic nerve. There was also found to be a 20% increase in the risk of developing cancer of the salivary glands within the cheeks.

The findings are also true for all institutions and businesses that rely on other forms of wireless technology such as Wi-Fi systems. This is of particular concern in places such as schools where children have thinner skulls and are more easily affected by radiation than their older counterparts. In Austria for example, they are lobbying for a complete ban on Wi-Fi systems in classrooms for this very reason.

The findings from various studies have shown a significant increase in the risk of developing brain tumors and other brain related problems. As humans in the developed and often fast paced world, we have to make a judgment call over the use of cell phones and the relative risks that they pose for us.

Going back to wired communication is one solution, but it is not ideal for those whose livelihoods depend on wireless technology. Manufacturers need to invest heavily into new technologies that are more human-friendly.

As for us mere mortals, we should concentrate on eating healthily, exercising and completing brain training exercises to help strengthen the brain and help slow down any potential brain aging and memory problems. Read more about this blog

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