Tag Archive for brain

Meditation Affects Brain Growth

Meditation Affects Brain Growth

Practicing “Mindfulness” Can Teach Us to Pay Attention

Practicing “Mindfulness” Can Teach Us to Pay Attention

You don’t have to be a yogi to know that meditation is more than just sitting like a pretzel and chanting. Now scientists are finding that practicing meditation not only affects our psychological life: it physically alters the structure of the brain.

The findings support the growing hypothesis in the scientific community: that the brain is a far more pliable system than believed even a decade ago. In fact, the choices we make in the way we think and act affect the health and growth of our body’s most vital organ.

The study on brain growth, completed at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, had participants doing 30 minutes of “mindfulness meditation” for eight weeks.

The study participants were given MRI to measure changes in the grey matter growth during the study. Increased grey matter was found in the area of the brain the controls learning and memory with decreased grey matter in the brain where stress is controlled. The control group showed no changes in growth in these areas.

Adding meditation practice to your retirement plans might just lengthen your life and make you more healthy. In 2009, a study found that people who meditate may have lower blood pressure, a leading factor in heart disease Another study found links between meditation and ability to “pay attention” – a critical skill in a world where we are being exhausted by sensory inputs.

Meditation – along with its fraternal twin, yoga — has blossomed in Western culture in the last four decades and is now a fairly common practice in the United States.

Meditation is often connected to Eastern religions such as Buddhism or Hinduism, but the practice of meditation is not a religious act.  It is the practice of quieting the body and the mind from the many external stimuli, moving through concentration to a place of “unbroken attention.”

Those who meditate often say the goal is to achieve the same kind of “mindfulness” in their conscious lives as they do in their meditation practice.

Eating Mediterranean style to support the brain

Eating fish and veggies – the staples of the diet of the healthy and long-lived people living near the Mediterranean Sea – is now linked to slower decline in brain function as well as heart health.

A long-term study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition tested thousands of Chicago residents 65 and older, starting back in 1993. The study looked at the mental acuity, as it followed the seniors based on their adherence to a diet recognized as the “Mediterranean diet”: fish, vegetables, olive oil, and moderate amounts of wine.

Those who scores for adhering to the diet where higher were associated with slower rates of cognitive decline, even after controlling for smoking, education, obesity, hypertension and other factors. The study’s author said that the conclusions of the study showed a large difference in those who stuck to the diet.

The Mediterranean diet has long been recognized for its healthful qualities: It’s is the basis of recommendations by experts for a heart-healthy eating plan as well.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the key components of the diet are:

  • Getting plenty of exercise
  • Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
  • Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)


The diet also recognizes the importance of enjoying meals with family and friends.

The Mediterranean diet has long been recognized for its healthful qualities

Boost Vitamin B-12 in Diet to Protect Your Brain

Vitamin B12, a nutrient found in meat, fish and milk, may protect against brain volume loss in older people, according to a University of Oxford study.

In our diets, Vitamin B-12 is found most commonly in meats, fish, fortified cereals, and dairy. Experts from the Mayo Clinic note that elderly are most at risk of diseases as a side effect of B-12 deficiency.

The Oxford study found that people who had higher vitamin B12 levels were six times less likely to experience brain shrinkage compared with those who had lower levels of the vitamin in their blood. None of the people in the study had vitamin B12 deficiency. The study was conducted over five years and published in the journal of Neurology.

Studies found that deficiencies themselves can lead to anemia and abnormal neurological and psychiatric symptoms, with the elderly and strict vegetarians most at risk. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease have been found with abnormally low B12 levels, the Mayo Clinic reports.

It isn’t clear whether vitamin supplements are metabolized as successfully as the vitamin found naturally in food. Thus, recommendations are to increase intake of healthy foods where B12 is found: low-fat yogurt, low-fat milk, shellfish, chicken breast, turkey, hard-boiled eggs, salmon, and raisin bran.

The Oxford study’s author, Anna Vogiatzoglou, noted that vitamin B12 deficiencies are “a public health problem, especially among the elderly” and that consumption of the vitamin could help to reduce the risk of brain shrinkage.

“Many factors that affect brain health are thought to be out of our control,” she said, “but this study suggests that simply adjusting our diets to consume more vitamin B12 through eating meat, fish, fortified cereals or milk may be something we can easily adjust to prevent brain shrinkage and so perhaps save our memory.”

Overuse of GPS may deplete brain’s ability to navigate on its own

Know where to go...for now.

Who doesn’t love their GPS? It has saved countless marriages from bitter arguments over which exit to take. Sadly, research indicates, that the relationship-saving GPS may be degrading our brain power.

Findings presented at the 2010 meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego last month showed that relying too heavily on the GPS likely inhibits our ongoing brain development.

Montreal’s McGill University researchers reported that excessive GPS use can shrink your hippocampus, part of the brain that helps with spatial navigation. The hippocampus is one of the first brain areas to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease, causing problems with memory and spatial orientation.

Veronique Bohbot, neuroscientist and associate professor of psychiatry at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, completed research finding that use of spatial memory may help to reduce the risk of dementia. She noted that people who rely on GPS may have a higher risk of damaging their memory and spatial control, and may have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

This research further supports the “use it or lose it” hypothesis underlying much of the research on age-related mental decline.

Ron Doyle, blogger from Psychology Today, suggests two tips for keeping yourself from becoming a “GPS zombie” and avoiding full-on GPS brain drain:

  1. Mute the voice.  Tune out “Daniel” or “Lee” and use just the visual cues to guide you.
  2. GPS there. Brain home.  To better tune into the directions and use your own sense of direction to get yourself home.

Overall, brain experts aren’t saying “no” to GPS. They do suggest that the ultimate workout to avoid being zombie-fied is exercising the hippocampus with ongoing intellectual enrichment.

“We live in a society that’s so fast paced that it encourages us to feel bad if we get lost,” says Bohbot. “What I say to people is that we can use GPS to explore the environment, but don’t become dependent on it. (Developing) a cognitive map may take longer, but it’s worth the investment.”