Tag Archives: Research

Slim Down And Brain Up: How To Keep Your Mind And Body Running

by Peter Muller

Fact: cardiovascular exercise is integral to staying in-shape and healthy.  We all know this.  Whether it’s your doctor harping on the subject or just that reflection in the mirror serving as a constant reminder, without a steady regiment of cardio, our bodies just grow rounder and each flight of stairs gets tougher to scale.  Keeping a steady workout routine is tough, especially when work, school, recreation, and entertainment get thrown into the mix.

Struggling to put down that cheeseburger?  You’re in good company.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the obesity rate in America has seen a dramatic increase over the last twenty years.  Furthermore, it has more than doubled in the last 30 years!

No matter which group you belong to; those who eat, breathe, and sleep at the gym or those who just eat; we all think of exercise in the same terms: work out, stay healthy, look good, be confident.  Even recent research on cardiovascular exercise continues to reiterate these points.  Now, there’s a new reason to get on board with exercise:  According to a 2006 study at the University of Illinois – Urbana, cardiovascular aerobic exercise helps keep your brain healthy as you age, too.  Add that to the list of reasons to start a running regiment tomorrow.

In the study, researchers looked at the brain activity of fifty-nine adults aged 60-79 via MRI scans over the course of six months; with half the group participating in regular aerobic exercise and the other half not.  To their surprise, the group that participated in a regular aerobic routine had a significant increase in brain volume in only those six months!  Although this study concentrated on older adults, the message is clear: there is a direct connection between a cardiovascular workout and the health of your brain.

“Our results suggest that brain volume loss is not an inevitable effect of advancing age and that relatively minor interventions can go a long way in offsetting and minimizing brain volume loss.”

In an earlier study, researchers had found that the brains of adults active in cardiovascular exercise throughout their lives were better preserved than the brains of those who did not.  Although this fact may no longer seem significant given the newer research above, it’s important to know that the benefits associated with sudden increases in brain volume are still unknown.  So, in essence, it’s still better to start exercising early in life, ensuring you keep the brains you already have.

Loss in brain volume as you age is associated with many common disorders such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, dementia, long-term memory loss, and decrease in general intelligence and cognitive ability; all symptoms I’d prefer to do without.

In the end, your doctor and your reflection’s nagging urge to get rid of those few extra pounds have been correct; you’re better off making time for that workout in your daily schedule.  Except now, it’s your brain urging you to workout and save the gray matter in addition to your butt telling you to lose the “gravy matter.”  Bikini season may be over, but there’s never a season for muffin top.  Use whatever reasoning gets your ass in the gym.

“Aerobic Exercise Training Increases Brain Volume In Aging Humans”
by: Stanley J. Colcombe, Kirk I. Erickson, Paige E. Scalf, Jenny S. Kim, Ruchika Prakash, Edward McAuley, Steriani Elavsky, David X. Marquez, Liang Hu, and Arthur F. Kramer.
Beckman Institute & Department of Psychology and Department of Kinesiology
University of Illinois, Urbana.
Journal of Gerontology: MEDICAL SCIENCES
2006, Vol. 61A, No. 11, 1166–1170

“Aerobic Fitness Reduces Brain Tissue Loss in Aging Humans”
by: Stanley J. Colcombe, Kirk I. Erickson, Naftali Raz, Andrew G. Webb, Neal J. Cohen, Edward McAuley, and Arthur F. Kramer
Beckman Institute – University of Illinois, Urbana
Institute of Gerontology, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan
Journal of Gerontology: MEDICAL SCIENCES
2003, Vol. 58A, No. 2, 176–180


The Benefits of Self-Deprivation

by Margo Ruter

Flotation tanks have been making their way into the world of stressed out individuals for decades, but it wasn’t until 2005 that they started to get a bit of street cred in the Midwest when a Chicago Tribune reporter did some field research on the matter.  Kevin Pang found that his post-session state was the “epitome of tranquility and relaxation.”  Since then, these tanks have been re-defining relaxation.  A one hour session in this type of sensory deprivation tank has been considered the equivalent of eight hours of sleep.  Leave it to America to launch fast-food and now condensed relaxation sessions.

Sensory Deprivation is a technique initially used by neuro-psychiatrists designed to deliberately reduce or completely remove stimuli from one or all of the senses.  Traditionally called “perceptual isolation”, this technique can be as simple as wearing earmuffs or blindfolds to reduce outside distractions.

Just as stimulating your sense of smell can potentially aide your aching head, depriving your body of its senses may also have a beneficial effect.  Of course, there’s a placebo effect in many of these alternative practices, so let your practical self take a nap for a few minutes.

John C. Lilly decided to take it a step further than nose-plugs in 1954 when he began his academic research on the effect of sensory deprivation on his patients at the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.  A neuro-psychiatrist himself, he sought to answer the question of what keeps the brain going and what the origin of it’s energy is.  He wanted to know how the brain responded to the elimination of various senses, so he designed what today is known as an isolation tank.

Early versions of this isolation tank were before their technological time. The tank was filled with warm water the same temperature as the subject’s skin, in which the subject was required to wear a large head mask to enable underwater breathing.  Great idea, right?  Not exactly.  These large masks ended up negating the purpose of the tank by distracting the subject from the experience of isolation.  Silence was impossible due to the constant movement of oxygen bubbles in and out of the mask.  The lens of the mask was painted black to eliminate the subject’s vision, but this required assistance entering or exiting the tank.  Basically, these early tanks were a hassle.

Early isolation tank, circa 1950s.

Newer tanks have conquered many of these setbacks by adding Epsom salt to the water in the tank, raising the water density and causing the subject to float without the aid of a head mask. The subject wears earplugs to cancel sound and if he or she knocks an arm or leg on the side of the tank, the sense of touch is semi-eliminated due to the water temperature matching the body temperature.  The air and water in the tank become the same temperature, thus causing the subject to lose recognition of which is which.  If the water contains chlorine, the sense of smell is not fully eliminated, but close enough.

In the 1970s, Peter Svedfeld and Roderick Borrie at the University of British Columbia began to fully discover the therapeutic benefits of using the tanks. They were called flotation tanks at the time, but are considered the same technology as isolation tanks. This theory was called the Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy, or R.E.S.T. (I like how that worked out, we all need a little soul-on-soul TLC.)

“Most importantly, the float tank is not a hypothetical laboratory phenomenon, but a viable, proven technology.” – Dr. Henry Adams, Nation Institute of Mental Health

Modern day sensory deprivation tank.

Fast forward from 1954, today these tanks are available for the public to use during scheduled sessions.  It’s kind of like a tanning bed, but it lasts longer and won’t slowly kill you.

As the result of a person subjecting themselves to these seemingly strange conditions, he or she often feels refreshed, relaxed and stress-free. It has been considered a way to enhance meditation and offer an out-of-body experience.  The sessions are usually one hour long and are for anyone looking to unwind, not just mental patients. The first forty minutes of the session are similar to the first half hour of a meditation session.  Random itching can occur, but is similar to the feeling of your foot falling asleep, annoying, but harmless.  The last twenty minutes is the most crucial part of the session; this is the time when the brain waves switch from alpha and beta waves to theta waves, the state it’s in just before sleep and immediately upon waking up.  This is a different state of thinking for your brain, unlike how it functions at 2:30PM after a few cups of coffee.  This theta wave state lasts for several minutes without the subject falling asleep.

Many people use this treatment regularly to enhance creativity, solve difficult problems, or to superlearn.  It can help facilitate the same results as meditation, but with a little help. Clearing the mind is a great stress reducer.

Piere Schulz and Charles Henry Kaspar have done considerable work dealing sensory deprivation and have concluded that “it has relaxing effects and is therapeutically useful”.

For those of you who are still a bit skeptical about these tanks, Australian Senator Richard Jones claims that Sensory Deprivation tanks are “[the] second best thing to being in Heaven.”  Now, I’m not sure if he has access to direct flights to Heaven, but for now I guess we’ll have to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The senses are such a touchy thing with humans.  Increased sensitivity to various senses can have it’s benefits, but it seems that eliminating them can too.  Who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself in such a tank and come out feeling like the new Einstein.  ZAP!

Passed Out





An Apple A Day Keeps The Doctor Away – Or At Least Your Headaches

by Daniella Lee


There are never enough hours in a day, days in a week, or weeks in a month to get everything done. Whether it’s classes, internships, or work that consumes our 9-5, to do lists continue to grow and stress begins to creep.  Add boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, and children into our dramatic daily lives and that’s when it hits: that piercing pain in the middle of your brain.  Lights, sounds, even standing up can suddenly become unbearable.  This pain is not a fluke, it comes back and stays for longer than the last time. Migraines (just the word is painful) are a chronic type of headache that may occur with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light.  For many people, the throbbing pain is only on one side of their head.

Migraines can be set off by anything and people have a variety of ways of dealing with them.  Hot tea, sitting in the dark, self-medication, simply waiting it out (or my personal favorite: taking NyQuil and passing out), all help with the pain. Unfortunately, not everyone can take hours out of their day to sit around and be in pain, and that’s where our awesome research find comes in this week.  Doctor Alan Hirsch is the founder and neurological director of The Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago.  He specializes in the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of smell and taste-related disorders and has completed over 200 studies on sensory functions.

Dr. Hirsch is the guru for sense and taste, having conducted a variety of studies on smell and weight loss, aromas and male sexual response, and odor and kissing.  In one of his recent studies, Dr. Hirsch focused on the reduction of migraine pains by inhaling a green apple scent.  In a previous study by researchers Blau and Solomon, 50 migraine patients were interviewed and reported that certain odors trigger their migraines.  Dr. Hirsch, being the smelly guy he is, theorized that maybe certain smells could reduce migraine symptoms. Using green apple as his control fragrance since previous studies concluded that it reduces anxiety, Dr. Hirsch designed an in-study use inhaler filled with a green apple odor.  The volunteers would record three migraine attacks and would rate the severity on a given scale.  During the second attack, volunteers would use the inhaler and record the severity of their migraine.

This study found that those who liked the green apple fragrance recorded that the severity of the headache decreased.  For those who did not like the fragrance, there was no significant improvement in the severity of their migraine.  So what does this all mean?  Odors can possibly help reduce migraines if the scent is pleasurable to the migraine sufferer.  For people on the go and who can’t afford to spend their day in a dark room recovering, green apples might be a home-made remedy for curing that aching head pain.  And lucky for us, October is here and so are plenty of apple picking fests and farms.  If you can’t make it out to the boondocks, you can go to your local grocer and pick up some Granny Smith apples for your migraine.  Not to mention, apples are delicious and super nutritious!  Just make sure you like the scent of green apples, otherwise your migraine won’t go away and you’ll be pissed you read this!  Enjoy, and let us know if it worked for you.

The Effect of Inhaling Green Apple Fragrance to Reduce Migraine“
by: Alan Hirsch and Chil Kang
The Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation

All The Sushi You Can’t Eat

by Lizzy Sebuck

My Mom always told me when I went to college I would try new things.  As an adolescent bad-ass I always envisioned a daily three course meal of hallucinogens and happy drugs as my university diet, but to my surprise it was my appetite for trying new foods that developed, not my craving to be more like A+ role model Lindsay Lohan.

Up until college, the only food I ever accredited to the Japanese was Ramen Noodles (personally, I’m a chicken flavor kind of girl but I’ll indulge in the shrimp flavor packets whenever I’m feeling fancy).  My discovery of sushi started small; a California roll here, a Spicy Tuna roll there, and as my love for seaweed and raw fish grew, so did my desire for trying as many different rolls as possible.  Now nearing the end of my college career, I eat sushi at least once a week and take advantage of as many all-you-can-eat specials as possible.

Herein lies my biggest problem, once I start eating sushi I don’t want to stop.  My roommate and I sit down at least once a week and stuff our faces with about three rolls each before falling into a food coma and slumping onto the table each time.  Now keep in mind: I’m a girl who likes to eat until I’ve got a button on my pants undone and can hardly breathe, so this inability to scarf down more than three rolls has left me feeling ironically unsatisfied.

This past week, while dining on our favorite dish, we noticed something very peculiar at our neighboring table.  An employee at Ichiban was enjoying his lunch break after we had tortured ourselves into taking down our last few pieces of sushi.  We gazed at the employee with awe and astonishment as he ordered edamame, miso soup, as well as not three or four, but FIVE rolls for himself!  We agreed that there was no way he would be able to take down the entire fishy feast, but, to our surprise, this Japanese dude was able to wolf down the entire dish!  My first thought: jealous.  My second thought: how!?  I couldn’t help myself, I had to research why this little Japanese guy was able to eat more than Lizzy the Hulk.

It turns out that the Japanese have a different digestive makeup than other ethnicities which helps them eat sushi more easily than others.  Let Science Daily break it down for you:

Porphyran, a polysaccharide present in the cell walls of a red algae that is used notably in the preparation of sushi, is broken down specifically by an enzyme called porphyranase. This new enzymatic activity has been identified in marine bacteria and, surprisingly, in the bacteria that populate the gut of the Japanese. Scientists from CNRS and UPMC have explained this discovery by a transfer of genes between the bacteria, that allows the gut microbiota of the Japanese to acquire all the “machinery” it needs to consume the algae that surround sushi.

Get ready for some weird science people.  To realize the true difference between Japanese digestion compared to that of other ethnicities’, the researchers at Station Biologique studied the microbiota inside the human gut.  By looking at microbiota samples from 13 Japanese individuals and 18 North American individuals, they found the Japanese microbiota to contain the enzyme porphyranase, while the North Americans did not.

Micro Biota

Now, of course, this enzyme doesn’t mean that Japanese folks have magically expanding stomachs, but because they have this enzyme they’re able to digest the algae that surrounds sushi better than North Americans can ever hope to!  Having this enzyme allows the Japanese to digest sushi more easily because the enzyme speeds up the digestion process and is therefore easier on the stomach. It’s just not fair!  Through centuries of consumption of raw fish and marine bacteria, the stomachs of the Japanese have adapted to the delicious and super-filling carbohydrates in sushi.

So here’s some advice to my fellow sushi lovers:

1. If you have the opportunity in life to try a Mountain Roll don’t pass it up, they’re amazing.

2. Don’t try to challenge any of your Japanese friends to a sushi-eating contest any time soon.  Odds are they’ll probably kick your ass and leave you with a nasty stomach ache.

“Why The Japanese Can Easily Digest Sushi”
by: Jan-Hendrik Hehemann, Gaëlle Correc, Tristan Barbeyron, William Helbert, Mirjam Czjzek, Gurvan Michel. Transfer of carbohydrate-active enzymes from marine bacteria to Japanese gut microbiota. Nature, 2010; 464 (7290): 908 DOI: 10.1038/nature08937

In Wine There Is Truth… But Also In Brussels Sprouts

by Margo Ruter

“Wine is good for your heart!”, my friend said to me as I picked out the bottle of wine.  Well, that sure made me feel better about drinking on a Tuesday night.  “Everyone knows wine in moderation can protect you from cardiovascular disease…”

I heard the doubt in her voice as we both paused, thinking that one bottle of wine for the two of us might not be enough for the evening.  Is wine really the cure to cardiovascular disease (in moderation, of course)?  If it is, then why are people still drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon or water for Christ’s sake?

Good thing someone in Denmark had the same thought and sought out to link alcoholic beverages (specifically wine) to indicators of a healthy diet.  Using a total of almost 50,000 participants (both male and female) in two various cities in Denmark, researchers documented participant food and alcohol intake over a period of 2 years.

Red wine in particular is known to have non-ethanolic substances that act as antioxidants, but lifestyle factors have never been considered when linking the tradition of drinking wine to heart health.

These researchers found a consistent link between the participants’ preference of wine to the preference of healthier diets consisting of fruit, fish, cooked vegetables, salad and olive oil used for cooking. The same correlation was found when a Dane was increasing their wine intake, their intake of healthier foods also rose.

So what does this mean? Well, for starters, we should stop using the old, “it’s good for your heart” bit when justifying mid-week drinking.  This study reveals the healthy benefits of wine are heavily associated with the diet choice of consistent light wine drinkers.  The choice to have wine and eat healthy foods are considered linked variables and go hand in hand.

I wonder how healthy professional wine tasters are…

“Wine Intake and Diet in a Random Sample of 48763 Danish Men and Women”
by: Anne Tjønneland, Morten Grønbæk, Connie Stripp and Kim Overvad
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 69, No. 1, 49-54