You might be surprised how little wine it takes to damage your brain

 

At INDY Neurofeedback, we hate to be the bearer of bad news, especially this time of year, but – contrary to what you may have heard, even one glass of wine a night is not a good thing – at least as far as your brain is concerned.

Many adults drink a glass of red wine a night with the understanding that it is good for the heart. And yes, studies have been telling us that moderate wine consumption may be better for your health than heavy drinking or abstaining from alcohol completely. But what does your brain have to say about it?

It turns out that even moderate alcohol intake (defined by researchers as seven to fourteen glasses of alcohol per week) may damage the brain over time. To reach this conclusion, researchers in the UK followed 550 people over 30 years, tracking:

  • weekly alcohol intake
  • cognitive, or thinking abilities, periodically
  • MRI brain scans at the end of the study

The results? A bit frightening, frankly. The more people drank, the more atrophy, or shrinking, was found in their brain’s hippocampal region. Since the hippocampus is an area involved in memory, this was significant. Even moderate drinkers were three times more likely to have hippocampus atrophy than people who abstained.

What about light drinkers? Those who drank less than seven ounces per week (about three-and-a-half glasses of wine,) didn’t have significant brain changes. But, importantly — and contrary to what we thought we knew — they didn’t experience any health benefits.

The most severe damage, not surprisingly, was found among heavy drinkers, or those who had over 30 ounces (more than about 15 glasses of wine) per week.

How to put this in perspective? Previous studies linking health benefits to moderate drinking may not have provided a complete picture. It is difficult to sort out – was it the alcohol is providing those benefits or were the people who drank only moderately simply healthier?

But, with researchers having tracked so very many people, over the course of so many years, revealing at least some evidence of physical and cognitive changes, at INDY Neurofeedback, we’re recommending that these study results should be taken (ahem) – soberly.

What does this mean for you? If you drink one drink per day during the week, and two drinks a day on the weekend, you have a higher risk of hippocampal atrophy, according to this study.

These findings contradict popular knowledge, previous studies, and the national recommendations on safe alcohol consumption. The study’s authors conclude that it “calls into question the current US guidelines.”

The bottom line: If you’re going to drink, limit yourself to one serving daily or less. Your brain will benefit from this discipline.

Just one season of football adversely affects a child’s brain development

Football and its relationship to brain health is still very much in the news. In fact, a new study found youth and high school football players who were hit in the head frequently showed signs of damage to their brain development after just one season of playing the sport!

“Football,” said Leanne O’Neil, “is absolutely dangerous to the brain – more so if you are a growing child. We see many football-related injuries here at INDY Neurofeedfack. It’s very troubling.”

In the new study presented at the Radiological Society of North America’s (RSNA) annual meeting, researchers observed 60 youth and high school football players over a single football season. None had prior concussions or histories of developmental, neurological or psychiatric problems.

Twenty-four players were determined to be high-impact players while 36 were placed in a low-impact group (based on each player’s risk of cumulative head impact exposure) according to the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS), which helps collect data through sensors on the players’ helmets. Most impacts to the head occurred during practice, rather than at actual football games.

Those who experienced a high number of head impacts showed changes in brain pruning, a decrease in gray matter, which controls actions like motor, sensory movements and speech.

“A noticeable disruption in normal pruning means weaker connections between different parts of the brain,” says Leanne O’Neil. “This study found a significant decrease in gray matter pruning in the frontal default mode network of the brain. That’s the area involved in higher cognitive functions, such as planning and controlling social behaviors.”

In related research, the American Medical Association found that 177 former football players, ranging from high school to the NFL, showed some degree of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a degenerative brain disease that has been linked to frequent head trauma.

Another study by Scientific American looked at the long-term risks of playing football. The study found more than 40 percent of former NFL players showed signs of traumatic brain injury.

Still another study, reported by TIME magazine, predicted that children who played tackle football before the age of 12 and continued to play in high school would have trouble managing behavior later in life.

Schools, institutions, parents, and coaches are taking notice, and some amendments to football practice, such as reducing the number of contact drills and the National Football League’s recommendation of the elimination of the “running start,” could help decrease the chances of injury. That said, “No child should be at risk of getting hit in the head at full speed,” says O’Neil. “It’s simply too dangerous.”

Currently, the National Institute of Health (NIH) is in the process of requesting more funding to follow up with these players longitudinally, to see if there are any longterm effects.

Chris Nowinski, Ph.D and the CEO and co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, went on record to caution parents not to allow their children to play tackle football before high school. “The risks to brain development are simply not worth the perceived benefits,” Nowinski said.

The Brain, Alzheimer’s and Music

When you’re listening intently to a piece of music, a unique part of your brain responds with something called the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR). This response has been equated to feeling like a tingling in your brain, or a type of natural high.

“It turns out that ASMR is pretty special,” says Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback. “The part of our brains that is responsible for ASMR also assesses and catalogs music, forms emotional responses to it, and – surprisingly — appears to be a natural defense against Alzheimer’s and dementia.”

Caretakers of those with Alzheimer’s and dementia have frequently reported that music seems to lift people out of the confusion and fog of the disease and bring them back (albeit temporarily) to normality. This phenomenon has been observed numerous times but is only recently being studied.

How does Alzheimer’s disease affect the brain? We asked Leanne O’Neil. As Alzheimer’s progresses, brain tissue begins to harden, forming an insoluble plaque called Amyloid between brain neurons. As the disease continues, more and more brain tissue hardens and shrinks. This is why memories, faces, and even a basic sense of self can be lost or forgotten.”

However, according to The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, the part of your brain responsible for ASMR is not damaged by Alzheimer’s.

Jeff Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor in Radiology at the University of Utah Health and contributing author on the study, says these physical results surprised him. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia attacks the entire brain, little by little, but not this specific area. More research is needed to find out why. In the meantime, his information is already being used by those who care for dementia patients.

“No one says playing music will be a cure for Alzheimer’s disease,” cautions Dr. Anderson, “but it might make the symptoms more manageable, decrease the cost of care and improve a patient’s quality of life.”

Music may also be beneficial to mood and sleep patterns for those with Alzheimer’s. A study published in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine was conducted with male residents with Alzheimer’s at a nursing home. The men participated in music therapy five times a week for four weeks. Following the four weeks, their melatonin levels (the hormone that helps regulate sleep cycles) were tested and had significantly increased—and remained elevated even six weeks after the music therapy was over.

Therapists also noted that the men demonstrated an improved ability to learn new songs and lyrics, increased their social interaction, and appeared to be more relaxed and calm.

In the later stages of Alzheimer’s, music is often used as a way to connect with family members and evoke a response – especially when a patient has stopped communicating. Familiar music may be able to calm a restless Alzheimer’s patient in the end stages of life. Some people with severe Alzheimer’s will mouth the words of a familiar song upon hearing it, and visibly relax and rest with the music. Our daughter witnessed this while playing the piano at a care center.

“The brain is an amazingly complicated organ and full of surprises, remarks O’Neil. “I am definitely in the right field of work, as I find myself endlessly fascinated by all the new brain research and technology available.” 

The incredibly fascinating Heart Math program at INDY Neurofeedback

Here at INDY Neurofeedback, all clients benefit from Heart Math emWave Pro heart rate variability training. Heart Math is an internationally recognized program that has been researched for decades and successfully benefited tens of thousands of people in over 85 countries.

What the Heart Math system does is collect the rhythms of your body’s pulse and send them through specialized software that translates your heart rhythms into graphics displayed on our computer monitor. These “heart brain” displays allow you to watch in real time how thoughts and emotions affect your heart rhythms.

What Heart Math can show you is amazing. Because your heart and your brain have a continuous two-way dialogue, each influences the other’s functioning. For instance, the signals your heart sends to your brain can influence your perception, emotional processing and higher cognitive functions.

Benefits of Heart Math:

Studies conducted with over 11,500 people have shown improvements in mental and emotional well-being in just six to nine weeks using Heart Math training and technology including:

  • 24% increase in the ability to focus
  • 30% improvement in sleep
  • 38% elevation of overall calmness
  • 46% reduction in anxiety
  • 48% drop in fatigue
  • 56% lowering of depression symptoms

Here is a short video about that Heart Math heart-brain connection to help illustrate this fascinating program.

At INDY Neurofeedback, we use Heart Math as an important adjunct therapy to our neurofeedback therapy. With proper training in our clinic, clients using Heart Math can learn to:

  • Be less reactive, making better decisions under pressure.
  • Increase mental clarity and memory.
  • Re-balance mind, body and emotions, reducing stress.
  • Build resilience through improved health, stamina and wellbeing.
  • Avoid burnout in chaotic and changing environments.
  • Maximize performance, creativity and/or innovation.

Heart Math is just one of the biofeedback techniques that we utilize at INDY Neuofeedback. It is a client favorite as the benefit of this technique is usually noticed after a few sessions.

If you have a question about INDY Neurofeedback offerings such as Heart Math, give us a call or leave us a message. We are happy to help!

What constant distraction does to your brain

How often do you check your phone?

Recent surveys suggest that not only is this the first thing most of us do upon waking, but that we go on to check our phones every eight to 12 minutes throughout the day.

Assuming each distraction takes about five minutes, followed by another five minutes to get back on task, in the space of an eight-hour work day, we interrupt our brains from what we are doing for two hours of those eight. That’s a lot of distraction.

Researchers and mental health professionals are warning us that these persistent distractions have a downside; they have seriously eroded our ability to concentrate, and that’s a big problem.

A 2005 study by London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that persistent interruptions and distractions at work had a profound effect on individual productivity. And things have not improved in the 13 years since that study.

For instance:

  • Constant interruptions can have the same effect as the loss of a night’s sleep.
  • Those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ.
  • For every distraction (phone checking), it can take the brain three to five minutes to get back on track. That’s a lot of time lost from work.
  • Frequent distractions create a physiological hyper-alert state that activates adrenaline and cortisol production, which is a stress indicator.

According to psychiatrist Edward Bullmore, author of The Inflamed Mind, asking our brains to switch frequently and rapidly between different activities is harmful to our overall health.

“In the short term,” Bullmore says, “we adapt well to these demands. But in the long term, the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol create a physiological hyper-alert state that is always scanning for stimuli, provoking a sense of addiction that is temporarily assuaged by checking in.”

Our brains use adrenaline and cortisol constructively to support us through bursts of intense activity, but according to Bullmore, this backfires when it is over-used. Cortisol can knock out the calming, feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine, adversely affecting our sleep and heart rates and making us feel stressed and jittery.

What to do?

According to Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback, you can and should break this cycle of constant interruption. “Begin with awareness about what specifically you may be doing to sabotage personal concentration, and then implement steps towards changing your behavior. This means deliberately reducing distractions and being more self-disciplined about your use of social media.”

O’Neil encourages extending brain focus and concentration by finding things to do that engage you for a specified period of time with no distractions. “With practice,” she says, “this becomes easier to accomplish. You can also extend your focus when you want to check in with your phone by adding five more minutes to anything you are engaged in. Anyone can do something for five additional minutes, plus you are re-training your brain to stay on task.”

Brain re-training is what we do at INDY Neurofeedback. The goal of neurofeedback is to transform unhealthy dysregulated brainwave imbalances into normal, healthy, organized patterns. If you are interested in finding out more about how to improve impulsivity, hyper-activity, or poor concentration skills, give us a call.

The surprising brain-boosting power of gratitude

We’ve all heard about the power of gratitude and positive thinking. So what is this concept all about and more importantly, how does it affect your mood, your brain and your thinking?

The philosophy of positively visualizing the things you want in life and downplaying experiences and expectations that are negative is a concept that has been written about for at least 3,000 years. Great authors of all times have written about how our thoughts and how we choose to look at things condition the reality that we experience.

Epictetus, Greek Stoic philosopher, in the first century said that “The thing that upsets people is not so much what happens, but what they think about what happens”.

Today’s researchers are finding out how the concept actually works.

An article about brain imaging research in Psychology Today reports that research subjects who expressed gratitude on a regular basis had high levels of activity in the hypothalamus region of their brains and had higher concentrations of dopamine.

Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback says, “Because the hypothalamus controls a vast number of vital bodily functions such as eating, drinking and sleeping, this area of your brain has a significant influence on your metabolism and stress levels. Feelings of gratitude also directly activate brain regions associated with the ‘reward’ neurotransmitter called dopamine.”

Dopamine floods the brain with positive emotions, which is why it is generally considered to be the brain’s reward neurotransmitter. Importantly, dopamine is also responsible for initiating action. In essence, increases in dopamine encourage your brain to repeat what you just did, in order to get that wonderful feeling again.

According to Psychology Today, “Gratitude has a powerful impact on your life because it engages your brain in a virtuous cycle. Your brain only has so much power to focus its attention. It cannot easily focus on both positive and negative stimuli. It is like a small child: easily distracted. Your brain looks for things that prove what it already believes to be true and dopamine reinforces that. So once you start seeing things to be grateful for, your brain starts looking for more things to be grateful for. That’s how the virtuous cycle gets created.”

Leanne O’Neil has seen the power of gratitude in the brain time and time again in her work with INDY Neurofeedback clients. “Positive thinking brain activity can be tracked, showing that improvements in gratitude can have wide-ranging effects, from increases in exercise and improved sleep, to decreases in depression and aches and pains.”

Here are 3 simple ways you can use the power of gratitude to help transform your life, health and physical well-being:

  • Health and your happiness. Positive thinking has proven health benefits including minimizing stress, curbing depression, reducing both pain and the risk of heart disease.
  • A good attitude improves coping skills. Sometimes simply feeling gratitude about being alive in this vast world can help put problems into perspective and provide better coping skills – especially if you have physical pain. Use gratitude to provide perspective on what’s important and what you truly value.
  • Relationships thrive on gratitude. Gratitude reinforces bonds and provides proof of support for any difficult times in the future.

Positive focus can effect change to your health with a shift in perspective. INDY Neurofeedback can help you train your brain to actively respond to gratitude through proven non-medical biofeedback techniques. This not only works for you and your health but also helps those around you.

Gratitude is contagious!

How to help protect your brain from Alzheimer’s disease

Did you know that Alzheimer’s disease is among the fastest-growing epidemics in the world?

Over five and a half million Americans are living with the neurodegenerative disease today. According to the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org), medical researchers predict that by 2050, 14 million people in the U.S. will require full-time care for Alzheimer’s disease. That number is equal to the populations of New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago combined.

While no one has figured out for certain what causes Alzheimer’s disease, we do know that both genetic and lifestyle factors play a role. There is good news in that knowledge, because while we can’t yet change our genes, we can take proactive steps to alter lifestyle choices and minimize our risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University Medical Center have been researching how to optimize a healthy aging brain to protect it from the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Here is what they suggest you can do to protect your brain – the most active organ in your body — from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia:

  • Setting personal goals. Not only does setting personal goals and working steadily to achieve them strengthen neuron connections in the brain, it also decreases chronic worry that can pump the body full of cortisol and adrenaline. Purpose-driven stress can actually improve health by reducing inflammation.
  • Keep your brain active and learning. Solving puzzles and reading books are great ways to give your brain a workout, building and strengthening neuron connections.
  • Get more sleep. The brain consumes more than 25 percent of the body’s energy. A recent study found that the sleep-brain connection is so strong that people who suffer from sleep apnea have a 70 percent higher risk of contracting Alzheimer’s than those who breathe normally. Even one night of poor sleep can significantly increase disease-promoting inflammation in the body.
  • Exercise (especially the legs)! Muscle mass in the legs is associated with a larger hippocampus, the part of the brain that processes memories. The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program recommends strenuous leg exercise (such as power walking) for 20 to 30 minutes a day, four to five days a week.
  • Eat a balanced diet, especially one that reduces inflammation. Eat as few processed foods as possible. Instead choose natural, whole, fiber-rich foods such as greens, berries, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. These are the keys to building new nerve cells and neurons in your brain.
  • And of course, as discussed HERE, avoid anticholinergic drugs.

Aging does not necessarily mean succumbing to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Challenge your old ideas about aging and the brain by taking charge of your brain health — right now!

Traumatic Brain Injuries – by the numbers

Because of the way the brain is housed in the cranium, explains Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback, an impact from almost any direction can cause damage. Although the brain is incredibly resilient, is it also quite susceptible to injury.

Even relatively minor brain trauma can cause lasting damage, often manifesting in headaches, slurred speech, depression and/or anxiety, fatigue, dizziness, mood changes, or irritability. Sometimes after a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) symptoms may be harder to pinpoint and diagnose, and may include reduced concentration, difficulty with memory retrieval, and poor organization and planning.

Here are some fairly startling TBI statistics in the U.S., gathered and published by WebMD:

  • 47% of brain injuries are attributed to falls, the leading cause of TBI.
  • 8 million Traumatic Brain Injuries were recorded in 2013, according to the most recent Center for Disease Control (CDC) data.
  • 153 deaths per day occur from injuries that include a brain injury.
  • 53,000 deaths are attributed to TBIs annually (CDC).
  • $400,000 is the average lifetime cost (per case) for a severe brain injury.
  • An estimated 3.2 to 5.3 million Americans are living with a TBI-related disability.
  • 47% increase in ER visits from TBIs from 2007 to 2013.
  • 70% of all sports and recreation-related brain injuries are reported in people ages 19 and younger.
  • 5% of high school athletes have had a concussion.
  • 5% of all high school athletes have reported more than one concussion.
  • 26,212 non-fatal bicycling-related brain injuries are reported annually.
  • 99% of NFL players in an autopsy brain donation program were diagnosed with brain damage after death.

Unfortunately, Traumatic Brain Injuries are on the rise across the U.S. And frequently, these injuries can be difficult to detect.

That is why INDY Neurofeedback was established; to provide a non-medical way to help those suffering with brain injuries re-gain lost brain function. If you suspect your (or a family member’s) symptoms may be the result of a Traumatic Brain Injury, we are here to help.

 

From Facts and Stats on Trending Health Topics, Matt McMillen, WebMD.com, September 2018.  https://www.webmd.com/brain/ss/slideshow-concussions-brain-injuries

How becoming a mother re-wires the brain

New studies are shedding light on what goes on in the brains of women immediately after they become mothers of new babies. Giving birth is a major event for the brain with changes that are immediate, pronounced and foundational.

Both structural and functional brain changes were detected with the help of magnetic resonance imaging, relates INDY Neurofeedback owner Leanne O’Neil.

This brain research, begun over two decades ago, set out to document the makeover of the maternal brain. Jodi Pawluski, a researcher at University of Rennes France, calls these changes “Among the most significant biological events one can have in one’s life.”

Researchers scanned the brains of women who were not pregnant. They then followed up with more images shortly after these women had babies, and again two years later. They found that the volume of gray matter in the mothers’ brains changed dramatically, particularly in regions involved in social processes such as the ability to recognize emotions and mental states, key to raising a child.

The degree of change was significant enough that researchers could easily determine which women were mothers and which were not, purely by looking at their brain scans. The more brain change the mothers experienced, the higher they scored on measures of emotional attachment to their babies, a finding that echoed past studies. These changes in most brain regions were evident even two years later.

Why this physical change? Women experience a flood of hormones during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. These hormones prepare the brain for dramatic change in regions thought to make up the ‘maternal circuit.’ The maternal circuit of the brain includes areas that enable a mother to meet her baby’s basic needs, becoming hyper-vigilant to infant pain and emotions, and helping to regulate responses to positive stimuli as well as perceived threats.

Some effects of those brain changes may moderate over time. A new mom’s hyper-vigilance, for instance, generally peaks in the first month postpartum and then diminishes. But other effects of brain change linger, shaping mothers even well past their child-rearing years and influencing their relationships with future grandchildren.

This information helps explain why new moms can be fiercely protective, motivated caregivers, and completely focused on their baby’s wellbeing, says Leanne O’Neil. Our powerful, dynamic maternal brains are doing exactly what they have been designed to do.

ADHD just might be the most misdiagnosed issue of our time 

According to the National Institute of Health, childhood diagnoses of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) have climbed sharply in the last two decades. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that ADHD diagnoses jumped over 40% between 2003 and 2011. In 2016 alone more than 9% of children between the ages of 2 and 17, a total of more than 6 million children, were diagnosed with ADHD.

What is going on here?

According to Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback. “Because an anecdotal ADHD diagnosis can include numerous behaviors, many of which just about every child exhibits at one time or another, it becomes very easy to over-diagnose or misdiagnose this in children without the assistance of a qEEG brain map.”

Some of the many symptoms attributed to ADHD include:

  • Anger management problems
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty staying focused
  • Inability to sit still
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of organizational skills
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble listening

Doesn’t this sound like many young elementary and middle school-aged children? Absolutely!

How do you know if your child actually has ADHD?

A non-invasive brainwave test. In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first brainwave test to help diagnose attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children by measuring brainwaves.  Christy Foreman, a director at the FDA, said in a statement that the test will help healthcare providers more accurately determine whether ADHD is the cause of particular behavioral and learning problems.

Brainwave testing has been used by many healthcare providers all over the world for the past 30 years.  In addition to identifying ADHD, brainwave testing also provides the basis for neurofeedback training which is used to help alleviate many of the symptoms associated with ADHD.

Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback states that, “The brainwave test identifies unbalanced brainwave patterns that may be related to focus and attention issues and neurofeedback retrains the brain’s ability to self-regulate. Talk to us if your child’s teacher is discussing ADHD diagnosis,” says Leanne O’Neil. “We can help you better understand what is actually going on and work with your individual needs.

The conventional solution to ADHD is usually medication, and likely prescribed long-term. But all medications have side effects, which can be particularly problematic with your child’s developing brain.

“This doesn’t mean that medication is always a poor choice,” continues O’Neil. “It just means that it’s important to explore all of your options before jumping into a long-term regimen.”

Many parents have had success addressing their child’s hyperactivity by discovering and addressing food intolerances and nutrient deficiencies.

Food for thought:  Your child eats a breakfast that has no fat, little protein and a high glycemic index – let’s say a bagel with fat-free cream cheese.  Blood sugar goes up, but then soon crashes, which triggers the release of stress hormones like adrenaline. At around 10am, this child is jittery and fidgety and cannot pay attention. This can look like ADHD to a teacher.

If diet modifications fail, call us!  We can identify underlying problems that factor into your child’s behavior and help come up with a plan of care, often one that works without the aid of prescription drugs.