Archive for January, 2011

Vitamin A is essential to long-term potentiation

Thursday, January 20th, 2011 by admin

Vitamin A is generally associated with low-light vision and color vision.  Salk Institute researchers also found that Vitamin A is essential to learning and memory.  When researchers removed Vitamin A from mice’s diets, they found that the mice experienced “diminished chemical changes in the brain considered the hallmarks of learning and memory” (Salk Institute).  When researchers added Vitamin A back to the mice’s diets, the mice’s cognitive impairment was reversed.

On researcher, Sharoni Jacobs, stated, “These data indicate that vitamin A is necessary for optimal function in the hippocampus, which we know to be a main seat of learning.”

Another researchers, Ronald M. Evans, added, “The study indicates that the detrimental effects of vitamin A deprivation are remarkably reversible, which offers hope to the millions of children worldwide with vitamin A-deficient diets.”

Genetically identical litter mates were given either normal diets or ones lacking Vitamin A.  Researchers evaluated the hippocampus regions of the brains for long-term potentiation (LTP) and long-term depression (LTD) in both groups of mice.  Both LTP and LTD have long been correlated with learning ability.  LTP is a long-lasting enhancement in signal transmission between two neurons that results from stimulating these neurons synchronously.

Vitamin A Rich Foods List Micrograms (mcg) Portion
Liver (pigs stewed) 23000 100g (3.5oz)
Cod liver oil 18000 100g
Liver Pate 7000 100g
Liver Sausage 2600 100g
Butter (fortified with A) 800 100g
Margarine (fortified with A) 750 100g
Ghee 700 100g
Faggots 450 100g
Cheese (hard) 330 100g
Fresh creams (pasteurised) > 200 100g
Eggs 200 100g
Carrots (raw) 8000 100g
Sweet potato 4000 100g
Capsicum pepper (red) 3800 100g
Spinach 3500 100g
Curly Kale (boiled) 3200 100g
Watercress (too little portion size!) 2500 100g
Mangoes 1400 100g
Apricots 1200 100g
Herbs & Spices High Vitamin A Sources but very low portion size! mcg per gram
Paprika 360 1g
Chili powder 210 1g

** Carotene – not as rich as Retinol as a source of vitamin A.

Jacobs reported, “At 15 weeks of age, the responses of vitamin A-deprived mice are reduced to about 50 percent normal. At longer time points, LTP is stable at 50 percent, but LTD drops to almost undetectable levels.”

After restoring Vitamin A to the deficient mice’s diets for as little as two days, these mice’s brain responses returned to normal levels, as demonstrated by the mice receiving Vitamin A.

The mice also exhibited normal function when isolated areas of hippocampus tissue from the Vitamin A deficient mice’s brains were bathed in Vitamin A, “indicating that the nutrient functions in the hippocampus directly, not in other parts of the brain that might influence the important learning region.”

Experiencing Vitamin A deficiency impairs individuals’ ability to learn and retain information. This study overturned a previous study, which found that “mice born without receptors for vitamin A in the hippocampus lacked LTP ability and performed under par in standardized learning tests. Receptors are molecules within brain cells that detect and respond to the vitamin.”  The previous study failed to answer the question of whether or not Vitamin A activity was necessary during embryonic development; the current study proves that removing Vitamin A even from “fully-developed animals impairs learning pathways, and equally important, the effects are reversible.”

Brainjogging works because it activates various brain regions and neurons synchronously.  Vitamin A is essential to activating neurons synchronously.  Brainjogging trains the brain to activate neurons synchronously.  Brainjogging can activate these neurons synchronously even in Vitamin A deficient individuals, but Vitamin A better facilitates individuals’ ability to synchronize neural communication.  Vitamin A deficiency’s effects can be reversed.  Brainjogging encourages individuals to eat foods rich in Vitamin A to enhance one’s LTP and reduce one’s LTD.

Your child’s brain on lead…

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011 by admin

In 2008, Dr. Kim Cecil and colleagues at the University of Cincinnati studied the relationship between lead exposure in childhood and reduced brain volume in adulthood.  Researchers discovered that “exposure to lead as a child was linked with brain volume loss in adulthood, especially in men,” and that there was a “dose response effect” (Science Daily).  Dose-response effect states that “the greatest brain volume loss was seen in participants with the greatest lead exposure in childhood.”  The specific brain regions that are affected by lead exposure are those involved in “organizing actions, decisions and behaviors (know as ‘executive functions’), regulating behavior and coordinating fine movements (known as ‘fine motor control’).”Consider NPR reporter April Fulton’s recent report on Katie Dail, a six year old girl with autism and dangerously high lead levels.  [Listen to Fulton’s story here.] Katie is receiving chelation therapy, which reduces lead levels by introducing to the body chemicals that bind to lead and other heavy metals and brings them out of the bone into the blood, where the body can then flush it out.  Lead poisoning can cause serious behavioral problems in children and lower their IQ levels.

Nurse practitioner Barbara Moore, who works with Katie, stated that it is

“especially hard to keep an eye on the symptoms of kids with learning disabilities” (Fulton).  These children already display atypical behaviors, which may or may not be attributed to their root disability and often seem to be exacerbated by lead exposure.  Conversely, however, exposure to lead may make the symptoms of the core disability only seem more extreme; the more extreme behaviors may be caused by lead exposure.  The symptoms of developmental and learning disabilities in children that have been exposed to lead often become inextricably entwined with the effects of lead poisoning.

The Learning Disabilities Association of America’s Healthy Children project, last discussed here, exists in the interest of educating parents on the dangers of lead exposure and ways in which one can diminish the chance of one’s children encountering and being affected by lead exposure.  Lead exposure can cause and exacerbate learning disabilities.  Protect your child by educating yourself on ways in which you can protect your child’s developing mind from lead exposure.

Running stimulates the growth of new brain cells

Monday, January 17th, 2011 by admin

Running helps individuals stay physically healthy and improves many individuals’ state of mental health by reducing stress. Research from the Salk Institute proves that running can also enable individuals to grow more new brain cells, when compared to sedentary counterparts.

Researchers divided mice into groups and, for twelve days, gave them a chemical that labels dividing cells.  After the study, “the mice on the move had the most new brain cells, twice as many as mice housed in standard cages,” which did not contain exercise wheels or other physically stimulating toys (Salk Institute).

Salk Professor Fred H. Gage, the study’s senior author, remarked, “The difference was striking. And because we know now that human brains also make new cells, it just might be that running or other vigorous exercise stimulates brain cell production in people as well.”

Gage’s research recently disproved the long-standing neuroscience belief that humans do not gain new brain cells after birth.  His laboratory has shown that “mice raised in what they term ‘enriched environments’ grow more new cells than litter mates housed in standard laboratory cages.”  These enriched environments included numerous variables, including toys, exercise wheels, increased opportunities for social interaction and varied diets.

One postdoctoral fellow in Gage’s laboratory, Henriette van Praag, said, “The present study is an attempt to tease out which type of stimulation is most important.”

The study included a sedentary control group of mice, there were “runners” groups and “swimmers” groups.  The “swimmers” were placed in a shallow pool each day for a brief period.  Additionally, “one of the groups had a learning task to accomplish, which the investigators thought might boost brain cell growth, and the other group simply had ‘free swim’ time.”  Astonishingly, neither group of “swimmers” displayed brain cell numbers comparable to the “runners.”

“We don’t know if it’s the voluntary factor that’s key – that is, the running mice were free to jump on or off the wheel as they liked – or if it’s because the swimmers simply got less exercise,” said Gage.

Gage also noted that learning and completing a specific task may stimulate changes in existing brain cells rather than boosting the development of new ones.  The new cell growth took place in the brain’s hippocampus, which has been linked to learning and memory by many studies.  The mice in the “enriched environments” performed better on learning tests than did their sedentary and swimming counterparts.

Brainjogging changes the brain and increases individuals’ long-term potentiation, or the ability of neurons to be activated synchronously.  Brainjogging also stimulates new neuron growth.  Running, too, as substantiated by the Salk Institute, enables individuals to grow new neurons.  The fact that new cell growth occurs after birth, as proved by Gage’s research, is significant in that individuals do not have to become stagnant in their cognitive development.  Running – and other forms of vigorous exercise – improves one’s cognitive condition.

Individuals with ASD keep up with vanishing ball

Friday, January 14th, 2011 by admin

Autism Spectrum Disorders are characterized by social deficits, among other things. Accurately reading and understanding facial expressions is difficult for individuals on the spectrum.  Reading and understanding facial expressions is key in social situations, but also required for magic tricks that require misdirection, or the magician’s encouraging audience members to watch his or her face while he or she completes the “magic” with his or her hands. Click here to see an example of an amateur magician demonstrating the vanishing ball trick.

Magicians rely heavily on misdirection, on drawing attention to one place to detract from the “magic” occurring elsewhere.  Audiences watch the magicians’ face and are either taken in by his expression or they aren’t, depending on the degree to which they attend to the magician’s face rather than his hands.  Researchers at Brunel University hypothesized that “people with autism should be less susceptible to such social manipulation,” as they are less susceptible to social cues, and be less likely to be taken by a magic trick (Science Daily).

For the purposes of this study, 15 teenagers with autism and 16 without autism watched a video of a magician performing a “vanishing-ball illusion,” in which a magician tosses a ball into the air a few times and, on the last throw, merely makes a tossing motion and looks upward, as though following the ball’s trajectory, while the ball is actually hidden safely in his hand.  Subjects were asked to watch the video of this trick and then mark where they last saw the ball on a frozen image of the magician.  The ball actually last appeared in the magician’s hand, as he never threw it into the air on the last “throw,” but many subjects, including those with autism, marked a position higher up on the screen, as though the ball were ascending or descending.

Gustav Kuhn, in the Visual Cognition Lab at Brunel, is a study author with Anastasia Kourkoulou and Susan R. Leekam.  Kuhn stated the group “strongly suspected that individuals with autism should be using the social cues less than typically developing individuals” and that these individuals with autism would be more likely to watch the ball rather than the magician’s face.  In actuality, the people with autism “were much more likely to think the magician had thrown the ball.”  Kuhn suggested that this may be because the test subjects with autism are all students at a special college for autism and may have been trained to rely on social cues.  However, when Kuhn inspected where the individuals with autism fixed their eyes, he realized that, “like normally-developing people, they looked first at the magician’s face – but their eyes took longer to fix there.”  Additionally, the individuals with autism “had more trouble fixing their eyes on the ball.”

Kuhn hopes to repeat the experiment with children on the spectrum, as they may have had less coaching in attending to social cues.

LDAA’s Healthy Children Project

Thursday, January 13th, 2011 by admin

As a parent, you are most likely committed to your child’s health and safety.  There are, unfortunately, myriad, accidental ways of endangering your child with toxic chemicals. The Learning Disabilities Association of America started The Healthy Children Project to do several things, among them

  • “Raise awareness of environmental factors, particularly toxic chemicals, that can harm brain development, contributing to learning disabilities and behavior disorders,
  • Prevent toxic chemical exposures,especially among pregnant women and children,
  • Build a nationwide network of LDA members working to protect children’s health and reduce the incidence of learning disabilities in future generations” (LDA).

Children are more threatened by toxic chemicals than adults.  Kids are not “‘little adults’ – their developing brains and bodies, their metabolism and behaviors make them uniquely vulnerable to harm from toxic chemicals” (LDA).  Parents must always be aware of the difference between their own development and their child’s.  The LDA shares the following points:

  • Exposure begins in the womb through the mother’s expsoure to toxic chemicals. Infants ingest chemicals through breast milk, formula and contact with their environment.
  • Rapid brain development in the fetus, infants and young children make them more susceptible to harm from chemicals that may impair brain function and development.
  • For their weight, children eat, drink and breathe more than adults – so pound for pound they take in a greater quantity of toxic contaminants. A small exposure translates into a big dose.
  • Children put things in their mouths and spend a lot of time on the floor and ground, so they may ingest chemicals from toys, containers, dirt and dust on a regular basis.

Battling toxic contaminants will always be a struggle; keeping children “clean” isn’t as simple as it sounds.  There are, however, several things that parents can do to encourage general health in their children.  Mothers and women attempting to get pregnant should “eat clean.”  Eating clean ideally entails eating unprocessed foods.  Mothers and women attempting to get pregnant should also avoid dangerous materials, like lead.  Feed your children clean foods, or those without unnecessarily processed ingredients.  Children are constantly growing and developing; their minds and bodies need real nutrients, not sugary substitutes masquerading as healthful choices.

Additionally, parents should strive for clean environments.  No, a child’s home environment doesn’t need to be antiseptically clean.  Some exposure to germs strengthens children’s immune systems.  Children’s environments should, however, be the subject of keen parental awareness.  Parental awareness and action translates into healthy children.

Cyber-bullying: student harassment capitalizes on social media

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011 by admin

A recent study conducted by the Research Fellow Tove Flack at the Centre for Behavioural Research (SAF) at the University of Stavanger looked into the extent to which cyber-bullying occurs and the mechanisms behind reducing cyber-bullying’s impact.  A 2008 Tenelnor survey in Norway found that “two out of three children have experienced bullying via the Internet or mobile phones” (Science Daily).  Twice as many girls as boys report having been bullied digitally, and bullied children cite social networking cites, such as Facebook, and SMS and instant messaging as the most widely-used bullying channels.  Children with learning disabilities are particularly vulnerable to bullies, especially because their disabilities often set them apart, to some degree, from peers.  Often, students with learning disabilities are not well-equipped, either cognitively or socially, to deflect bullies’ comments and actions.  Parents must become aware of the problem in order to protect their children.

Flack’s research has focused heavily on hidden bullying.  Bullying, she explains, “means experiencing harassment on a regular basis over time.”  Cyber-bullying is a “hidden” outlet for bullying, as it often occurs outside parents’ or other responsible parties’ sphere of influence.  Cyber-bullying occurs through image and text.  Children may learn that unflattering photographs have been disseminated, or unkind characterizations sent to myriad peers.  Once images and texts have been released online, they are impossible to recover.Flack contends, “When friends sit together, it may seem easy and non-committal to send off an anonymous message with a disrespectful message to another person … [but] children and young people are normally not aware of how strongly it will affect the receiver.”

Children’s lack of understanding about the irrevocable nature of disseminating unfavorable information online does not make the practice tolerable; it heightens the necessity for intervention by parents, teachers and administrators.  Cyber-bullying is an extension of an existing problem; cyber-bullying is rarely limited to media but rather often another means of isolating and belittling a child that is a target at school and in other situations.  Quite frequently, cyber-bullying means that a bullied child does not have any type of safe space; school isn’t safe and neither is the phone or Internet.  Social media, SMS and instant messages themselves are not the core problem, but rather a means of perpetuating the long-existent bullying issue.  Flack believes that “schools have a great responsibility to contribute to prevention, detection and the stopping of bullying [by] taking up the netiquette rules at an early stage and inform about the dangers.”

Facebook is enormously popular at the moment.  Children and parents alike log onto their accounts and enjoy Facebook’s many social networking functions; the chat and wall functions are particularly important to bullies.  These are places in which bullies can directly harass their intended targets.  Some children go so far as to initiate major “blocking campaigns” so many children within a group “block” a bullied individual’s profile, thereby effectively cutting that part out of the social network.

Technology should not be feared; it should be used respectfully.  It is vital that students be able to harness technology’s capabilities.  It is particularly vital that students with learning disabilities be introduced to the technological innovations available to them.  Many technological innovations, including Dragon Naturally Speaking, audiobooks and the myriad resources provided by Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, are immensely helpful to children with learning disabilities.  Parents should both facilitate their children’s understanding of these resources, and the Internet’s capabilities, while simultaneously being sensitive to the potential of cyber-bullying.

Helping students create efficient visual aids

Friday, January 7th, 2011 by admin

Brainjogging’s Wednesday post (found here) discussed recent research regarding practice tests and their effectiveness in improving cognition.  Kent State University researchers Dr. Katherine Rawson, associate professor in Kent State’s Department of Psychology, and Mary Pyc, a former Kent State graduate student recently published an article on the extent to which practice tests help individuals develop efficient encoding strategies for information (Science Daily).  More simply put, Rawson’s and Pyc’s research quantifies the extent to which taking practice tests, especially ones that compel test-takers to recall information from memory, can increase the likelihood of enhancing one’s memory and successfully recalling information at a later date.

Rawson and Pyc looked into the effectiveness of “mediators,” or keywords, that help test-takers recall information.  Brainjogging often invokes mediators to facilitate successful retention of information. The following is an example of the way one student and instructor recently developed visual equivalents of mediators for the student’s vocabulary unit.

The first word in the student’s vocabulary unit was “acme,” which is a noun that means “the highest point.”  Acme can refer to a physical high point, like the peak of a mountain, or a metaphorical high point, like receiving a promotion.

First, the student and instructor developed a visual picture for the physical definition of “acme.” This was initially inhibited by the student’s existing correlation between “acme” and the explosive devices often found in cartoons:

The instructor asked the student to incorporate his existing understanding of “acme” into his illustration.  He created the following visual aid:

The student was able to create a visual that incorporated both his existing understanding of “acme” and the actual definition of the word.  Unfortunately, the illustration of a mountain with fireworks being shot off from its peak illuminated only the physical meaning of “acme.”  The word can also refer to the high point in someone’s career, day, etc.  The instructor asked the student about the acme of his fall semester.  The student received an “A” on a World History exam for which he and the instructor had heavily prepared by creating visual aids like these and generating several subject-specific word lists.  The student modified his illustration as follows:

Trait markers, state markers and compensatory activity in ASD

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011 by admin

Autism is strongly genetic and highly prevalent.  Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by “impaired social interaction and communication, and can disrupt the brain’s ability to interpret the movements of other people, known as ‘biological motion'” (Science Daily).  Interpreting others’ motions feeds into the social impairment associated with ASD; if individuals cannot interpret motion or read into the significance of those motions, they cannot understand these motions’ implications.Researchers from the Yale School of Medicine conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify brain activity that “may characterize the genetic vulnerability to developing ASD.”  In order to identify this genetic vulnerability, and potential means of overcoming this vulnerability, researchers scanned the brains of children with autism and their unaffected siblings, in addition to typically developing children’s brains, as the groups “watched animations of biological movement.” The team identified three “‘neural signatures’: trait markers – brain regions with reduced activity in children with ASD and their unaffected siblings; state markers – brain areas with reduced activity found only in children with autism; and compensatory activity – enhanced activity seen only in unaffected siblings.” The enhanced activity exhibited by siblings of individuals with ASD may provide insight into the ways in which one sibling overcomes genetic vulnerability to the disorder.

Brainjogging increases brain activity by facilitating the growth of new neurons and more expedient communication between these neurons.  Individuals with ASD have atypical brain activity; Brainjogging increases these individuals’ brain activity, bringing it up to a more typical level.

Become a better test taker with Brainjogging

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011 by admin

Teachers give their students tests in order to evaluate the students’ understanding of the presented material, but Kent State University researchers Dr. Katherine Rawson and Mary Pyc studied whether or not taking tests might also boost retention.  Rawson and Pyc believe test taking does, in fact, facilitate enhanced retention and retrieval of information (Science Daily).Rawson states, “Taking practice tests – particularly ones that involve attempting to recall something from memory – can drastically increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to remember that information again later.”

Rawson and Pyc published the article “Why Testing Improves Memory: Mediator Effectiveness Hypothesis,” which indicates that one of the many reasons that testing enhances one’s memory is that testing promotes the development of more effective encoding strategies.  Brainjogging often encourages students to develop encoding strategies, especially for vocabulary words.

Rawson’s illustration is as follows:

“Suppose you were trying to learn foreign language vocabulary.  In our research, we typically use Swahili-English word pairs, such as ‘wingu – cloud.’ To learn this item, you could just repeat it over adn over to yourself each time you studied it, but it turns ou that’s not a particularly effective strategy for committing something to memory.  A more effective strategy is to develop a keyword that connects the foreign language word with the English word.  ‘Wingu’ sounds like ‘wing,’ birds have wings and fly in the ‘clouds.'”

Rawson admits that this encoding method is as good as the keywords, also called “mediators,” one develops, but good keywords lead to significant retention.  Brainjogging often takes vocabulary words and, rather than connecting them to other words, illustrates the words or comes up with short stories to help students remember words’ meaning.  The more involved the student in creating this picture or story, the more likely he or she is to remember the picture’s relationship to the appropriate word.  Again, these pictures and stories are only as good as one makes them, but their ability to increase children’s understanding and retention of words is exciting in that it facilitates learning.   Perhaps more significantly, these strategies are enormously helpful for students with learning disabilities, especially ones with visual strengths.

Rawson and Pyc showed that “practice tests lead learners to develop better keywords.”  Students tend to develop more effective mediators for information on which they know they will be tested, rather than those they are merely studying for the sake of reviewing information.

You can have kickin’ cognition – worry less and enjoy more social capital

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011 by admin

Fifty researchers from seven countries conducted an extensive soccer research project that studied “physiological, psychological and sociological aspects of recreational soccer and compared it with running” (Science Daily).  Professors Peter Krustrup and Jens Bangsbo from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Exercise and Sports Sciences oversaw the three year project.  The study followed men, women and children, all divided into soccer, running and control groups.

The study’s results were so startling that the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports published a special edition issue entitled “Football for Health,” containing 14 scientific articles from the soccer project.

Researchers studied the physical effects of soccer training on individuals from ages  9 – 77 that had no previous soccer experience.  Soccer provides “broad-spectred health and fitness effects that are at least as pronounced as for running, and in some cases even better.” As a team sport, soccer may contain positive motivational and social factors that “may facilitate compliance and contribute to the maintenance of a physically active lifestyle.” Studies showed that “soccer training for 2 – 3 hours per week causes significant cardiovascular, metabolic and musculoskeletal adaptations, independent on gender, age or lack of experience with soccer.”

Participants maintained these effects even with decreased training frequency of 1 – 2 hours per week.  The study researchers found that “recreational soccer … appears to be an effective type of training leading to performance improvements and significant beneficial effects to health, including a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular diseases, falls and fractures.”

Soccer provides physical benefits for nearly all who choose to participate in the sport.  It is an intensely healthy promoting activity.  Various benefits also manifest, although they are typically different in male and female groups.  Women experience a greater sense of social capital, as they are included in a group in which they consider themselves and important aspect.  Runners are more focused on their performance as individuals, but soccer players are able to evaluate their performance individually and in relation to teammates.  Men, however, experience less anxiety when playing soccer.  Male study participants “felt motivated, happy and involved to the point where they forgot time and fatigue.”

The significance of this study can hardly be overstated.  It clearly illustrates the necessity of exercising, and not only exercising but preferably exercising within a social framework of sorts.  Diminished anxiety removes unnecessary stress from individuals, which can suppress cognition, and an increased sense of connectivity to others increases one’s overall sense of well being.  Brainjogging encourages students to participate physical activities, especially ones with peers, who provide appropriate role models and build students’ sense of self.  Exercise generally heightens individuals’ quality of life, which allows them to commit themselves to other areas, including academic and social success.