Tag Archives: Brain fitness

Olympic athletes use transcranial direct current stimulation

19 Aug

According to IEEE Spectrum:

“A handful of athletes competing at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio next week will arrive having tried to boost their performance using an unconventional (and not-yet-banned) technology: brain stimulation. The technique, called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), involves channeling a tiny current through specific regions of the brain, making neurons in that area more likely to fire.”

The athletes are using the Halo tDCS device. Here is the promotional video:

Before you run out and buy one of these devices, I suggest you read “An open letter concerning do-it-yourself users of transcranial direct current stimulation” published in The Annals of Neurology.


Brain training increases grey matter volume

15 Aug

On Friday, I reported on a meta-analysis that presented evidence that working memory brain training does not transfer to other cognitive skills. The most recent issue of Personality and Individual Differences carries a paper titled:  “Gray matter volumetric changes with a challenging adaptive cognitive training program based on the dual n-back task.” The n-back task is the most widely used procedure for working memory training in academic research.

Surprisingly, these results do not, necessarily, contradict each other. As noted in the abstract:

“Changes in the gray matter volume of these clusters were correlated with a) behavioral changes across the training program and b) changes in four psychological factors assessed before and after training (fluid and crystallized intelligence, working memory capacity, and attention control). None of these correlations were statistically significant, and therefore, psychological and biological changes were seen as independent.”

Since there working memory training does improve performance on the trained task, we would expect there to be some kind of measurable physical change in the brain. But this does not mean that the training effects are transferable to other cognitive domains.

Is brain training a placebo?

25 Jul

The word “placebo” comes from the Latin and means  “I shall please.” A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that claims about the benefits of brain training may simply be placebo effects:

“Placebo effects pose problems for some intervention studies, particularly those with no clearly identified mechanism. Cognitive training falls into that category, and yet the role of placebos in cognitive interventions has not yet been critically evaluated. Here, we show clear evidence of placebo effects after a brief cognitive training routine that led to significant fluid intelligence gains. Our goal is to emphasize the importance of ruling out alternative explanations before attributing the effect to interventions. Based on our findings, we recommend that researchers account for placebo effects before claiming treatment effects.”

(Hat tip to Deric’s MindBlog).



Tobacco and Parkinson’s Disease

22 Apr

Two videos from Dr. Greger lay out the relationship between Parkinson’s and Tobacco.



The effect of tea on brain waves

30 Apr


Here is the abstract from the relevant paper:

Tea has been associated with many mental benefits, such as attention enhancement, clarity of mind, and relaxation. These psychosomatic states can be measured in terms of brain activity using an electroencephalogram (EEG). Brain activity can be assessed either during a state of passive activity or when performing attention tasks and it can provide useful information about the brain’s state. This study investigated the effects of green and black consumption on brain activity as measured by a simplified EEG, during passive activity.
Eight healthy volunteers participated in the study. The EEG measurements were performed using a two channel EEG brain mapping instrument – HeadCoach™. Fast Fourier transform algorithm and EEGLAB toolbox using the Matlab software were used for data processing and analysis.
Alpha, theta, and beta wave activities were all found to increase after 1 hour of green and black tea consumption, albeit, with very considerable inter-individual variations.
Our findings provide further evidence for the putative beneficial effects of tea. The highly significant increase in theta waves (P < 0.004) between 30 minutes and 1 hour post-consumption of green tea may be an indication of its putative role in cognitive function, specifically alertness and attention. There were considerable inter-individual variations in response to the two teas which may be due genetic polymorphisms in metabolism and/or influence of variety/blend, dose and content of the selected products whose chemistry and therefore efficacy will have been influenced by ‘from field to shelf practices’.”

Multifaceted intervention reduces cognitive decline in the at-risk elderly

8 Apr

Published in the most recent Lancet: “A 2 year multidomain intervention of diet, exercise, cognitive training, and vascular risk monitoring versus control to prevent cognitive decline in at-risk elderly people (FINGER): a randomised controlled trial”

This was a strong randomized prospective control study that involved diet, exercise, and cognitive training. You can read the abstract here.

The paper itself is behind a pay wall, so I can not give you details about the intervention. Some more information can be found in the press release.


Treadmill Running Reverses Cognitive Declines

5 Feb

A paper from Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:

“Purpose: This study investigated the effect of treadmill running on cognitive declines in the early and advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in 3xTg-AD mice.

Methods: At 4 months of age, 3xTg-AD mice (N=24) were assigned to control (AD+CON, n=12) or exercise (AD+EX, n=12) group. At 24 months of age, 3xTg-AD mice (N=16) were assigned to AD+CON (n=8) or AD+EX (n=8) group. The AD+EX mice were subjected to treadmill running for 12-week. At each pathologic stage, the background strain mice were included as wild type control (WT+CON, n=8-12).

Results: At the early stage of AD, 3xTg-AD mice had impaired short- and long-term memory based on Morris water maze along with higher cortical A[beta] deposition, higher hippocampal and cortical tau pathology, and lower hippocampal and cortical PSD-95 and synaptophysin. A 12-week treadmill running reversed the impaired cognitive declines and significantly improved the tau pathology along with suppression of the decreased PSD-95 and synaptophysin in the hippocampus and cortex. At the advanced stage of AD, 3xTg-AD mice had impaired short- and long-term memory along with higher levels of A[beta] deposition, soluble A[beta]1-40 and A[beta]1-42, tau pathology, and lower levels of BDNF, PSD-95 and synaptophysin in the hippocampus and cortex. A 12-week treadmill running reversed the impaired cognitive declines and significantly improved the A[beta] and tau pathology along with suppression of the decreased synaptic proteins and BDNF in the hippocampus and cortex.

Conclusion: The current findings suggest that treadmill running provides a non-pharmacologic means to combat cognitive declines due to AD pathology.”



Gizmodo takes aim at Lumosity

28 Oct

Kate Knibbs at Gizmodo reports:

“Recently, a coalition of nearly 70 researchers spoke against brain games like Lumosity, signing a letter of consensus posted by the Stanford Longevity Center that lambasted the brain training community for promising a kind of mind power boost that just isn’t provable.”

The letter can be found here. This is the concluding paragraph:

“In summary: We object to the claim that brain games offer consumers a scientifically grounded avenue to reduce or reverse cognitive decline when there is no compelling scientific evidence to date that they do. The promise of a magic bullet detracts from the best evidence to date, which is that cognitive health in old age reflects the long-term effects of healthy, engaged lifestyles. In the judgment of the signatories, exaggerated and misleading claims exploit the anxiety of older adults about impending cognitive decline. We encourage continued careful research and validation in this field.”


Do it yourself transcranial direct current stimulation?

31 Oct

There is mounting evidence that transcranial direct current stimulation can improve memory. Transcranial direct current stimulation, is a procedure where electrodes are attached to the skull and very low voltages are conducted through brain. The hypothesis is that the current affects the excitability of brain neurons.

This week an article appeared in The New York Times reporting on the growing do it yourself efforts at transcranial direct current stimulation. Experts in the article cautioned that too little is known about the safety of the procedure to advocate widespread use at this time.

Here is an example of a home-brewed transcranial direct current stimulation experimenter:

Brain training software: A negative finding

11 Aug

A new randomized placebo controlled study  of brain training software raises questions about the effectiveness of this approach.

Many popular software products claim to to improve your general cognitive functioning by intensive practice on specific cognitive tasks such as the n-back task. Redick and his colleagues found that practice will improve your performance on that narrow task but the improvements did not transfer to other cognitive tasks.

According to the authors:

“Despite improvements on both the dual n-back and visual search tasks with practice, and despite a high level of statistical power, there was no positive transfer to any of the cognitive ability tests.”

Where does this leave us? This is only one study, but it was rigorously conducted, and it makes me less confident in usefulness of brain training software.

My advice is to avoid spending money on brain training software and instead adopt challenging learning projects and use scientifically verified spaced repetition software to improve your memory.


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