Using Your Brain To Improve Your Own Mental Health #WorldMentalHealthDay

The key to a happy life

The key to a happy life is the ability to transcend personal suffering, find a balance, and recognise that the world has problems. This requires mental effort and those of us who strive to better understand ourselves in the world come out the other side as a new person, with some peace of mind and a way to live.

Fundamental or accidental?

A limit to understanding ourselves in the world is the fact that we do not know that some of the things we perceive to be truly fundamental today may actually be just accidental. For instance, the brain uses systematic patterns of thought to produce philosophy including science, mathematics, literature, ideas, and beliefs including a belief in a deity to guide us towards new insights. What we need to understand is that none of these may be fundamental in themselves. They are just tools that our ancestors used to probe the unknown and to see what is possible – knowing that what is common for us is just a tiny sliver of what actually exists.

Accidental fundamentalism is often mistaken for truth

In the West, we have made the truth our highest value. This motivation while important is weak compared to the actual power of belief. We are born into a culture that often insists on a particular religious or ideological philosophy as fact and the only way to understand ourselves in the world, but adhering to this belief may cause personal suffering by impeding insights necessary to achieve peace of mind. Resisting enculturation is the highest expression of human psychological development and is a hallmark of what is called in psychology the fully self-actualised person.

Recasting reality

Self-actualisers reject accepted cultural ‘truths’ and see beyond the confines of an era to achieve a clearer perception of reality. A further subtle difference sets these people apart. Most of us see life as striving to get this or that – whether it be material things or having a family or doing well career-wise. Self-actualizers in contrast do not strive as much as develop. They are only ambitious to the extent of being able to express themselves more fully and perfectly, delighting in what they are able to do. Another general point is their profound freedom of mind. In contrast to the conforming pressures around them, self-actualizers are a walking example of free will.

Mental health requires courage

In this way, happiness can be described as personal autonomy. The independence of mind to explore and choose the best skills and tools needed to achieve personal insight. Where you are no longer beholden to culture, creed, or religion and without any attendant guilt or fear in abandoning old ways in order to try new ones as you evolve to become the master of your own fate.

What to believe?

Mental health is two things:(i) being in touch with reality and (ii) being open to new experiences. But here’s the thing – there is no reality only perception. Understand that the world is not necessarily as you perceive it. Everyone has filters and only by acknowledging them can you begin to get a clearer picture. Even in a close relationship, the same simple act can be viewed differently. A man will see paying all the bills as his duty while his wife will see it as an act of love. Appreciate that your views might be prejudices. Most importantly make sure that the perceptions you do retain or adopt are grounded in verifiable facts and can be tested. Otherwise, any actions you take based on your beliefs will be on shaky ground.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Exercise can improve your cognitive and mental health — but not all forms and intensities of exercise affect the brain equally. The effects of exercise are much more nuanced, as specific intensities of exercise over a long period of time are associated with different aspects of memory and mental health, according to a new study.

A research team has shown for the first time that non-invasive stimulation of the vagus nerve at the ear can strengthen the communication between stomach and brain within minutes.

A mutation in a newly discovered small protein is connected to a significant increase in the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, expanding the known gene targets for the disease and presenting a new potential avenue for treatment, according to a new study.

A new report highlights the advances and challenges in prevention, clinical care, and research in traumatic brain injury, a leading cause of injury-related death and disability worldwide.

Neurons in an area of the brain responsible for memory (known as the entorhinal cortex) are significantly larger in SuperAgers compared to cognitively average peers, individuals with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, and even individuals 20 to 30 years younger than SuperAgers — who are aged 80 years and older, reports a new study.

Children who were infected with COVID-19 show a substantially higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes (T1D), according to new research.

Researchers have discovered a biological mechanism that increases the strength with which fear memories are stored in the brain. The study provides new knowledge on the mechanisms behind anxiety-related disorders, and identifies shared mechanisms behind anxiety and alcohol dependence.

Finally this week, a new study demonstrates how an AI algorithm can estimate biological age with high accuracy based on brain scan images.

Inside The Addicted Brain

Addiction is now understood to be a brain disease. Whether it’s alcohol, prescription pain pills, nicotine, gambling, or something else, overcoming an addiction isn’t as simple as just stopping or exercising greater control over impulses.

That’s because addiction develops when the pleasure circuits in the brain get overwhelmed, in a way that can become chronic and sometimes even permanent. This is what’s at play when you hear about reward “systems” or “pathways” and the role of dopamine when it comes to addiction.

But what does any of that really mean?

This video explainer from Yale Medicine shows how addiction takes hold of the brain.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Researchers have presented new findings which found after one session of aerobic exercise people showed reduced cravings for alcohol, lower levels of stress, and improvements in mood.

When our eyes move during REM sleep, we’re gazing at things in the dream world our brains have created, according to a new study. The findings shed light not only into how we dream, but also into how our imaginations work.

Measuring how the eyes’ pupils change in response to light—known as the pupillary light reflex—could potentially be used to screen for autism in young children, according to a new study.

Researchers have made an important discovery about the way our brains process the sensations of sound and touch. They found that sensory systems in the brain are closely interconnected, with regions that respond to touch also involved when we listen to specific sounds connected to touching certain objects.

A study into the effect of surprise on our memory has inadvertently discovered a method that might help us to perform better in exams.

Scientists have uncovered how dopamine connects subregions of the striatum essential for habit formation, findings that may change the overall understanding of how habits are formed—and could be broken.

New research finds the brains of people playing online video games synchronize, even when there is a physical distance between the players.

By estimating people’s brain age from MRI scans using machine learning, a team of researchers has identified multiple risk factors for a prematurely aging brain. They found that worse cardiovascular health at age 36 predicted a higher brain age later in life, while men also tended to have older brains than women of the same age, as they report in The Lancet Healthy Longevity.

Young people with 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome have distinct and marked EEG differences in brain activity during sleep, which could influence psychiatric symptoms.

Tight control of blood sugar in teens with Type 1 diabetes may help reduce the disease’s damaging effects on the brain, effects which have been shown even in younger children, according to a study published in Nature Communications.

Tests of the brain’s electrical activity have revealed fentanyl’s effects over time and indicated that the drug stops people’s breathing before other noticeable changes and before they lose consciousness.

A newly developed artificial intelligence model can detect Parkinson’s disease by reading a person’s breathing patterns. The algorithm can also discern the severity of Parkinson’s disease and track progression over time.

A new study reveals how a molecule produced by astrocytes interferes with normal neuron development in a range of neurodevelopmental disorders.

People with an obsessive urge to constantly check the news are more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety, as well as physical ill health, finds a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Health Communication.

Finally this week, the impact of breathing diesel exhaust fumes may be more severe for females than males, according to new research.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

For the first time, a team of international scientists has studied the development of the main immune cell population residing in the human brain, called microglia, on human tissue.

Scientists have uncovered a molecular pathway that distills threatening sights, sounds and smells into a single message: Be afraid. A molecule called CGRP enables neurons in two separate areas of the brain to bundle threatening sensory cues into a unified signal, tag it as negative and convey it to the amygdala, which translates the signal into fear. The research, published in Cell Reports on August 16, 2022, may lead to new therapies for fear-related disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or hypersensitivity disorders such as autism, migraines and fibromyalgia.

Researchers have identified a new type of retinal ganglion cell, the neurons in the retina that encode the visual environment and transmit information back to the brain.

Children who sleep less than 9 hours per night have significant differences in brain regions associated with memory, intelligence, and well-being compared to their peers who sleep 9 or more hours per night. Less sleep in children was also associated with increased risks of depression, anxiety, and impulsive behaviors.

A new study finds that Alzheimer’s disease disrupts at least one form of visual memory by degrading a newly identified circuit that connects the vision processing centers of each brain hemisphere.

Leisure activities, such as reading a book, doing yoga and spending time with family and friends may help lower the risk of dementia, according to a new meta-analysis published in the August 10, 2022, online issue of Neurology.

Finally this week, a novel study reports the dynamics of consciousness may be understood by a newly developed conceptual and mathematical framework.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

New research shows that moderate physical activity was linked to increased volume in brain areas associated with memory, especially in older adults.

The biological changes that occur as a result of aging could be a mechanism behind why older adults with depression do not have a full resolution of symptoms following taking antidepressants. The persistence of depressive symptoms becomes a source of depleted psychological well-being, increased disability, accelerated cognitive decline, and premature aging in older adults.

Researchers have identified a pathway that begins in the gut and ends with a pro-inflammatory protein in the brain that appears to contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study looks at the brains of black women who reported having experiences with racial discrimination. The goal of the study was to determine whether racial discrimination could affect the brain. After doing MRI scans on the women’s brains, the researchers found changes in their white matter.

The smell of fresh cut grass or blooming flowers appears to have a positive effect on a person’s overall well-being, a new study reveals.

A new study proposes a new learning method for people with autism that may accelerate the learning process and even significantly improve capabilities in terms of visual perception. According to the researchers, improving the perceptual capacity of people with autism is often a challenge, which usually requires long and tedious training alongside additional learning challenges that characterizes autism, such as the ability to generalize learning to new situations.

The unique features of an individual adolescent’s brain can help predict their risks of developing mental health problems later in life.

The effects of COVID-19 infection on neurological health are becoming more apparent. A new study reveals COVID-19 can predispose people to irreversible neurological conditions, accelerate brain aging, and increase the risk of stroke and brain bleeds.

Finally this week, researchers have found that transcranial brain stimulation can improve the age-related impairment in learning new motor skills.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

A new study explores the use of music-listening to relieve acute pain, finding that people who were given the impression that they had control over the music they heard experienced more pain relief than people who were not given such control.

Better diagnosis and treatment of the incurable eye disease age-related macular degeneration is a step closer, thanks to the discovery of new genetic signatures of the disease.

Research continues to demonstrate the many ways the gut microbiome can influence human health, and an active area within this field centres on its role in Alzheimer’s disease. A new study has furthered our knowledge of this relationship by demonstrating what’s described as a clear genetic link between the two, while also pointing to the potential for new treatments.

Neuroscientists have confirmed that the exact same network is activated in speakers of 45 different languages representing 12 distinct language families.   

Pollution is widely known to be a risk to individual’s physical health, but can it have adverse effects on mental health as well? A study published in Developmental Psychology suggests that exposure to ozone can be a risk factor for depression in adolescents.

Researchers have developed a comprehensive “toolbox” to establish that the mobility of receptors exists in intact brain tissue, and this mobility is critical for certain types of memory.

People challenged with chronic back pain have been given hope with a new treatment that focuses on retraining how the back and the brain communicate, a randomised controlled trial run by researchers at UNSW Sydney and Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and several other Australian and European universities has shown.

A group of hippocampal neurons show rhythmic activity at different frequencies in the desynchronized state, but can align their rhythmic frequency to produce a synchronized brain rhythm upon activation.

A new hypothesis suggests when people are awake during the biological circadian night there are neurophysiological changes in the brain that alters the way in which we interact with the world, especially when it comes to impulse control, information processing, and reward processing.

Finally this week, you’re fast asleep. But some regions of your brain tasked with hearing sound aren’t taking the night off, according to new research.

The Neurobiology of Human Intelligence

Understand (verb): to stand in the midst of, among, between. 

Intelligence (noun):  from the Latin words, inter (between), and legere (choose).

First things first – mushrooms

It was Charles Darwin who wrote that intelligence is based on how efficient a species becomes at doing the things it needs to survive.  If that is the case, then the 2.5 billion-year-old fungi are undoubtedly the most intelligent organisms on Earth. Most think that fungi just make mushrooms, but the unrelenting growth of fungal stems (hyphae) which are five times thinner than human hair, and the enzyme cocktail they excrete, is enough to shatter the hardest rock repeatedly, creating the first soils in a bare landscape. In addition, fungi hold that soil in place with their dense root-like net (mycelium).  

Fungi shaped and guided the force of life on Earth

It is fungi who helped pave the way for modern plants and animals to colonise virgin ground and it was likely fungi who help plants to make the leap from our lakes and seas onto land 470 Million years ago. Fungi have enabled, shaped and guided the force of life on Earth.

Have transcendental fungi influenced human intelligence? 

Some psychoactive fungi otherwise known as magic mushrooms contain a chemical compound called psilocybin (pronounced silo-sigh-bin) that can produce hallucinations like that of LSD and ergot, which are produced by mushrooms, and there are many such mushrooms capable of producing similar experiences. Ancient cave art indicates a reverence for these ‘spiritual’ mushrooms.  In fact, some scholars suggest that the hallucinogenic effects of these mushrooms can explain the puzzling speed by which human culture, social structure; commerce, art and religion emerged about 70,000 years ago – by allowing our ancestors to expand their minds in the first place. Mushrooms may indeed be the architects of modern human intelligence.

Can we ever know truth?

In the West, we have made the truth our highest value. This motivation while important is weak compared to the actual power of belief. We are born into a culture, which often insists on a particular religious or ideological philosophy as fact and the only way to understand ourselves in the world. 

Why we cannot impose our beliefs on the universe

We humans are only as intelligent as the knowledge we have to work with. For centuries deep thinkers thought of earth, air, fire and water as the fundamental elements. It was a reductionist idea and nothing was more fundamental that those four elements and you could build everything up from them. Then, in the mid-1800’s we discovered the periodic table of the elements so while we continued to study Earth (geology), air (meteorology), fire (combustion) and water (hydrology) we became aware that for instance since the Earth is made from many elements, Earth itself was no longer fundamental. 

The atomic age

After the periodic table came the modern atomic age including the discovery of the smallest particles namely quarks, leptons and gluons – the basis of today’s standard model of physics. So today, we know that while the periodic table is good for chemistry it is no longer fundamental, and for the deep fundamentals, we have to go to quarks leptons and gluons, and so on – irreducible representations of matter in space-time.

Space, time and beyond

Today, most scientists assume that space-time is as fundamental as the tiny particles, which are embedded within it. In fact, the whole framework of human understanding of the natural world (reality) is based on this idea of space-time. While no one can state the future with any certainty, who is to say that patterns outside of space and time may be our next revelation, and our current framework will be proven no longer fundamental? 

Modes of human understanding

Science (natural philosophy) is the study of reality and is grounded on findings based on tests and experiments. The mantra of science is that we should never take anything on faith. Faith is the enemy of science. With science, you do not lose anything by losing faith; in fact, what you gain is reality. By its very nature, science is uncertain and it is this uncertainty that drives us forward to understand ourselves in the world including the things we need to survive. 

There be dragons

A second mode of human understanding is supernatural philosophy, which is grounded in faith in the existence of unobservable entities including Gods, messiahs, spirits, souls, angels, devils, and so on. Humans crave familiarity and find certainty intrinsically pleasing and these supernatural beliefs are for the most part benign, and they may be psychologically useful if they do not involve making sacrifices that are ultimately irrational or being manipulated by others. 

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the smartest of them all?

Aristotle (384-322 BC) argued that intelligence is an exclusive gift from God to mankind, and human intelligence has been defined in many ways: the capacity for logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, reasoning, planning, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving. However, as fungi have shown us, evolution’s blind design has struck on intelligent solutions across the whole of nature. 

A universal theory of intelligence?

Science reveals that intelligence may also exist in non-living systems, and it is very possible that artificial intelligence (AI) models don’t need to mimic the human brain at all. Airplanes fly despite bearing little resemblance to birds. Still, it is crucial to remember, as we catalogue the details of how intelligence is implemented in the brain, that all we may be doing is describing the emperor’s clothes in the absence of the emperor. What is emerging is a bigger framework of types of intelligences, and the key for humanity will be to recognise them in all their guises.

A rapid leap in human understanding is now necessary 

As we face the new challenges of climate change and mass extinction, we need to expand our awareness to quickly adapt, as our ancestors did 70,000 years ago. Just as an ant cannot appreciate the level of living that a human can enjoy, so most of us do not know what is possible if we never look beyond our little worlds. The key to our survival can be summarized in one sentence, and here it is. We should be able to live in the world and improve it, and not just be another product of it.

A creative and conscious response to the world

Modern transcendentalism argues that insight and experience are more important than logic; that spirituality (one’s relationship with the self, others, nature, and whatever else one considers the ultimate connection) should come from the self, not from organized religion; that humanity can be corrupted by society and institutions, and that nature is beautiful and should be respected. This speaks to the very heart of our human condition, and to the ideas of fortune by which we live. Indeed, this idea may be the creative and conscious response to the world that we need today in order to survive.

Our mission should we decide to accept it

Our rapidly changing planet has created an urgent need for us to detach from old ways of thinking and doing – to protect our planet and the other animals that we share it with. A rapid leap in human understanding is now necessary for humanity to create a strong and healthy ecosystem – to coexist with all life on Earth in a way that was not possible before. A world where there are no excuses only opportunities.  Like our ancestors, we are quite capable of detachment or transcendence, and this may be why we will not just endure, but shape and guide the force of life across our galaxy and beyond.

May the force be with you

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Credit: Science Advances (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abo0171

New evidence that suggests the SARS-CoV-2 virus is able to enter the brain by using nose cells to make nanotube tunnels is published in the journal Science Advances.

Exploring the predictive properties of neuronal metabolism can contribute to our understanding of how humans learn and remember. This key finding from a consideration of molecular mechanisms of learning and memory conducted by scientists from Russia and the U.S. has been published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews

Older adults who suffer from hypothyroidism are at increased risk of developing dementia. The risk is even higher in those who require thyroid hormone replacement therapy to treat their condition.

Researchers have shown that the computational imaging technique, known as “ghost imaging”, can be combined with human vision to reconstruct the image of objects hidden from view by analyzing how the brain processes barely visible reflections on a wall.

Scientists have discovered that an injury to one part of the brain changes the connections between nerve cells across the entire brain. 

Researchers have discovered the molecule in the brain responsible for associating good or bad feelings with a memory. Their discovery, published in Nature paves the way for a better understanding of why some people are more likely to retain negative emotions than positive ones—as can occur with anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

New research has revealed some of the first detailed molecular clues associated with one of the leading causes of death and disability, a condition known as traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Pollution is widely known to be a risk to individual’s physical health, but can it have adverse effects on mental health as well? A study published in Developmental Psychology suggests that exposure to ozone can be a risk factor for depression in adolescents.

Finally this week, you’re fast asleep. But some regions of your brain tasked with hearing sound aren’t taking the night off, according to new research.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

While depression is a common problem for people who have had a stroke, some people may have symptoms of depression years before their stroke, according to a study published in Neurology.

New research shows visual scanpaths during memory retrieval tasks were associated with the quality of the memory. Researchers say the replay of a sequence of eye movements helps boost memory reconstruction.

A new neuroimaging study reveals every person has unique brain anatomy. The uniqueness is a result of a combination of genetic factors and life experiences, researchers report.

Adolescents are over three times more vulnerable to developing a cannabis addiction than adults, but may not be at increased risk of other mental health problems related to the drug, finds a new study led by UCL and King’s College London researchers.

Researchers have developed a chop stick-like device that uses a weak electrical current to stimulate the tongue and enhance the taste of salt. The device could help to reduce dietary sodium intake by up to 30%.

Socially anxious women exhibit heightened oxytocin reactivity to psychosocial stress, according to new research published in Psychoneuroendocrinology. The study provides evidence that the hormone plays a role in physiological reactions to socially stressful situations.

Delayed circadian rhythms and sleep disruptions may be a cause of teen depression, rather than a symptom that develops as a result of the mental health disorder.

Health researchers have contributed to an international study published in Nature Neuroscience that sheds light on the mechanism by which anti-anxiety drugs act on the brain which could lead to cognitive impairment in vulnerable individuals.

A new machine-learning algorithm is able to accurately detect cognitive impairment by analyzing voice recordings.

Protein buildups like those seen around neurons in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other brain diseases occur in all aging cells, a new study suggests. Learning their significance may reveal new strategies for treating age-related diseases.

Finally, this week, having positive social interactions is associated with older adults’ sense of purposefulness, which can fluctuate from day to day, according to recent research.